Lecture: “The Value Of Being Actively Curious”


Malik Yoba, Actor, Educator, Inspirational Speaker and Author

Thursday, December 31, 2009




Are you curious? Why are you reading this right now? Is there something you hope to gain by taking in each word that is written here? What is it that you are reaching for in your own life that has brought you to this point- this exact moment in time? What is the dream, desire, thought, idea, sense of purpose or passion that awakens you in the morning and motivates you to look into your mirror and ask yourself the questions “Who am I,why am I on this planet and what do I need to do today that will bring me closer to my dreams and the desires of my heart?” Do you even HAVE dreams, desires, a passion or a sense of purpose? When you chose to log into Determined To today, were you thinking about that P.h.D you are going to earn in “Mastery of Self”? The doctorate that acknowledges the hard but rewarding work that you have done by becoming the best YOU possible. Do you constantly ask yourself the hard questions about what it takes to obtain supreme spiritual, physical, emotional, mental, intellectual and financial fitness? Do you actively work to achieve any of these goals? Are they even your goals? If you do have goals do you make a daily “to-do list” to achieve them? Do you believe you have the power to create the life you want? Do you understand how the thoughts that run through your mind AND the thoughts that don’t, largely affect your reality? That last question may sound simple, but so many people underestimate the power of their thoughts and words and the value of actively seeking out information and ways of thinking that will put them in true alignment with the desires of their hearts. How is it that some people appear to get all the breaks and others seem to always be on the losing team? Do any of these questions make you curious? Hopefully they do because today’s lecture will focus on “The Value Of Being Actively Curious”.

I recently attended a Thanksgiving dinner in Harlem with my children,my mother and some of my mother’s friends. The average age of the guests, excluding my children was probably around 65 years old. But this was no ordinary group of senior citizens. They were a vibrant, multi cultural, youthful successful array of artists, designers, entrepreneurs and just interesting people in general joined by a Yorkshire Terrier and a German Shepard. As soon as we walked in my 11 yr old daughter immediately announced to me how she was bored! We hadn’t been there literally for five minutes and already she decided that she was going to be bored for the rest of the time that we would be there. My daughter who loves dogs by the way, was so determined that she was going to have a horrible time she missed the fact that her furry little friends were just a few feet away. So I turned to my 7 year old son and asked him if he was bored. He replied “No, because we haven’t been here long enough yet. Who knows they might have a TV”. I laughed and then turned back to his sister and commented “You see that, your brother is choosing to make a different choice. He is choosing not to be bored. You can also make a different choice. For instance, you can choose to be curious. Look at all those interesting people in this room. They each have a story to tell. They can teach you something about themselves or even yourself for that matter. Go and talk to some folks. This is NYC there is no way you can ever tell me you are bored!! Just look at those people! Especially the lady in the hat! That hat alone can tell you a thousand stories.” My daughter just looked at me with a blank face and continued with her protest “I’m bored. I don’t want to be curious”. Of course, ultimately my son’s enthusiasm, the dogs and the fact that she is still a kid won her over and she found enjoyment and discovery in the world around her that evening.

That experience got me thinking. I had been asked recently to write a lecture for Determined To and as I was having that moment at Thanksgiving with my daughter, it made me think about how important being actively curious is. As a kid I was always asking questions and wondering what life was like in every part of the world besides Harlem and the Bronx where I grew up. I was fortunate to travel at a very early age so my curiosity for other cultures was peaked at 4 years old when we traveled to the Caribbean for the first time . So often as adults we forget to remain curious and enthusiastic about learning new things. According to my daughter, it appears we might begin to become disinterested as early as 11 years old. Yikes!! Can it be true that we start loosing that critical child like wonderment as early as 11 years old? I mentioned this to a friend who had recently read a study that confirmed my suspicion. According to this study, human beings start on this downward spiral of “playing it safe” and disinterest around the age of 6 or 7 years old. As we get settled in our ways, as things become routine its easy to become less interested in the people, places and things around us. Is this true for you? Here’s a simple test. In a place like NYC, with all the diverse cultures, if you frequently visit a store or business where the workers you see on a regular basis are speaking a foreign language that you don’t understand, how willing are you to ask “What language you are speaking?” or “Can you teach me how to say ‘hello’ or ‘thank you’ in your native tongue?” We often choose to stop asking questions like that for fear of looking rude or nosy or coming off as dumb, when in reality we may discover we have a facility for speaking languages. For as long as I can remember, the passion I have for learning and discovering new things, keeps me curious and asking questions. I learned to speak basic Korean in the deli’s in NYC just by asking the right questions- “How do you say ‘hello’ or ‘thank you’ or ‘excuse me’ ?” etc. I learned a lot of Spanish the same way. I’ve also studied Japanese and Arabic. I have found that just being curious enough to learn a new language has opened up entire worlds to me. So when I go into a Korean deli or Spanish bodega and speak in the native tongue of the workers there, their whole attitude towards me changes, especially if my pronunciation is on point. They really appreciate my effort to speak their language. They’re willing to teach me more and I have even been given a little discount here or there by the KOREANS!!!! Not to sound biased or anything but if you live in New York and know the history of African Americans and Koreans in the city you know this is a HUGE act of goodwill! Another benefit of speaking a foreign language is it makes me feel a little more human in the process. I love feeling that much more connected to another culture. My life is enriched. As a kid I had friends from Europe and Africa who grew up speaking four or five languages and they also helped peak my curiosity around learning languages. I felt if they can do it, I can do it too. I see so many Americans get angry when immigrants come to our country and open up businesses in our neighborhoods even though they can barely speak English. We complain about how they may be racist or how they need to go back to their own country and stop taking all the jobs. The part most of us miss when we think that way is, it was the immigrant’s active curiosity that brought them to this country in the first place. Regardless of their exact circumstance that might have contributed to their move here, one thing most of them will have in common is they are actively curious. They ask themselves the question “Can I make it in America?”. When we lack interest in anything out of our comfort zone we often grow complacent and accept that our life will just be as is. We convince ourselves that other peoples’ lives and cultures should remain foreign, be less interesting, more fabulous, happy, rich, famous and we shall be relegated to an average or separate existence. I constantly hear people say “Well, I’m never gonna be rich or I’ll never be able to do such and such or that’s too complicated so I won’t even bother”.

To me, all this comes down to is a lack of being actively curious. I admit, to be actively curious, requires a bit of fearlessness. It’s not enough to just be curious. One must fearlessly go in the direction of the very thing they question. They have to be willing to “look stupid” and take the action required to acquire the information they seek. In order to do that we must ask ourselves the right question. “What do I need to do to make the seemingly impossible, possible?” By asking this question enough to ourselves, God and others the energy within and around us begins to shift. We can’t just think about it, we have to BE about it. We have to go through it to get to it. Whatever the “it” is. We have to remain active in our pursuit of answers that will help build our lives up to the level we seek. We have to remain actively curious so that we can reach our goals. How often have you been lost on a road trip with a loved one driving who refuses to ask for directions? If you have been the passenger being driven around by a person like that, you know how frustrating that can be. So many people sit in the “drivers seat” of their daily lives that way. Frustrating themselves and the people around them, lost and blaming everybody else for their problems. Are you that driver? If so, what prevents you from asking for directions when you are lost. Is it pride? Ego? Fear? Were you ever that student in class that didn’t understand when a teacher just explained a lesson or the answer to a question yet when he or she asked the class “did everyone understand?” you nodded yes and pretended you understood?

When fear, ego or doubt get the best of us, usually confusion, delusion and complacency take over. At that point we have stopped being curious enough to look for answers and possibilities. We just say “Forget it!” Believing it’s too hard or scary or whatever mountain of excuses we choose to climb. When we make this choice we are choosing to stay stuck. Some might say, “Stuck on stupid”. Being curious takes energy. It requires asking questions and moving forward towards the answers. It requires taking action. When the new information comes we must incorporate that into what we previously knew and use it to build on or discard it if it’s truly useless. I remember as a kid, my father had a rather large vocabulary. He was constantly using words I didn’t understand and I was constantly asking for definitions. He would oblige me with answers but he also encouraged me to look up the words he used in the dictionary. The more I learned, the larger my vocabulary grew, the more I wanted to learn. I find this to be true about most things in my life, certainly for the most important things. In my spiritual walk, the closer I get to God the closer I want to get and I continue to seek out ways to get closer. The same could be said about making money, working out, acting, music, real estate development, writing, parenting etc. The list goes on! I constantly ask questions. When we have a seeking spirit, and remain actively curious, it leads us to want to know more about how things, feel, work, what they do, how we can access them. This is absolutely the way I live my life and something that I feel has been a key to my success. The best part for me is I remain actively curious about what tomorrow will bring so I stay focused on asking the hard questions of myself and others. As a result little by little, moment by moment, day by day, the answers come and the success I’ve been seeking since I was a curious little kid manifests before my very eyes!

Malik Yoba January 1, 2010

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Best known for his roles in the Disney classic, “Cool Runnings” and the hit Fox television series “New York Undercover”, Malik Yoba has proven himself as a man driven to raise consciousness through the use of his many talents. This actor, musician, activist, educator, inspirational speaker, playwright and entrepreneur and now author leaves no stone unturned in his quest to educate the community on the value of accountability, integrity, leadership and proper follow through. Born and raised in NYC, Yoba is not a product of his environment but a progression, an example to others that the same inner city streets that breed hatred and violence can give birth to positive ideas and upward mobility.  Yoba began educating youth when he was considered a “youth” himself.. Realizing at a young age that he had the gift to move others and raise consciousness, he was already very involved in mentoring and after school counseling by age 16.

Before the movie role and TV series that made Malik Yoba a household name, Yoba was an educator and very respected amount his peers in education and community activism. By age 20, he worked with 13 New York City Public schools in a program called AIDP (Attendance Improvement Dropout Prevention), in which he assessed students, faculty and parents needs to improve the quality, content and form of education, thereby improving attendance which was presented to the Board of Education in a book of findings.  From the ages of 19 to 24, Yoba was a full time educator and worked with the City Kids Foundation, a NYC based youth leadership organization.  By 23 years old, his work had not gone unnoticed and he was appointed vice president of the organization and served from 1991-1993. In 1989, he co-founded the City Kids Foundation branch in Los Angeles. Yoba designed and facilitated workshops on leadership, cultural diversity,  community organizing, conflict resolution and self- esteem. He has worked internationally with young people from Johannesburg Secondary School in South Africa to Rikers Island High School and Spafford Detention Center in NY as well as designed and conducted the first ever youth leadership conference in Belize, Central America. Yoba has been recognized by or worked with former President Bill Clinton, The Congress of the United States, The Mayor of New York City, NYPD, UNICEF, McDonald’s Black Achievers, Hale House, The Ethiopian Children’s Fund, The Conference of Black Mayors, The Congressional Black Caucus to name a few for his dedication to youth.

Yoba’s love for the arts is constant, he has been in over 20 films including “Copland,” “Smoke,” “Blue in the Face”, “Hooked Up,” “Harlem Aria,” “Vote for Me,” “Ride” and “Dreaming in Black and White”, winner of ‘Best Film’ at the 2003 Phoenix Film Festival to name a few.  In 2005 he starred in the comedy “Kids in America” a feature, also starring George Wendt, Rosanna Arquette and Nicole Richie. He recently played the recurring character “Ice” on the Emmy award winning comedy “Arrested Development” for Fox Television and can be seen in the recently released Warner Bros. film “Criminal” starring John C. Rielly and Diego Luna. Yoba has also starred in TNT’s first series “Bull” (TNT) and NBC’s short lived series “Kingpin” and had a recurring role in the 2003-2005 seasons of “Girlfriends” (UPN).  He starred in an independent feature “There Just My Friends” and FX Network series, “Thief” (March 2006) with Andre Braugher and Linda Hamilton.  In 2007 he starred in Tyler Perry,s “Why Did I Get Married?” Currently Malik plays “Commander Ted” on ABC’s “Defying Gravity.” He is also in the studio recording “Harlem To Hollywood” the soundtrack to his one man show titled “Harlem To Hollywood.” “Why Did I Get Married Too,” is slated for a February 2010 release.

Cited by the New York Times Magazine as “An artist who will most likely influence American culture in the next thirty years…” (Nov 1994), in 2006 Yoba is still on track to fulfilling this prophecy.  He served as an arts educator for over 20 years.  His theatre company, The Malik Yoba National Theatre (MYNT) Company, creates, acquires, produces and distributes content for the urban theatre market. This is a twenty year old market that is primarily African American females, ages 25-55 yrs old. He has co-written two musicals for stage “What’s on The Hearts of Men” and “Acoustic Chocolate” that have been adapted for screen.  The MYNT Company is also a proud sponsor of the Hip Hop Theatre Festival and Yoba is one of the partners in the new publication Urban Theatre and Entertainment Magazine, the first magazine to cover the urban theatre market. He has been a guest on Oprah, Charlie Rose, Regis and Kathy, Donahue, Arsenio Hall to name a few. He has performed as a musical artist at Carnegie Hall and New Yorks Theatre at Madison Square Garden. He was co-musical director for the Henson/ABC produced Saturday morning show the “CityKids” and wrote the theme song for the Jamaican bobsled team in the movie “Cool Runnings”.

In 1996 Yoba fulfilled a life long dream of being a restaurateur and became a partner in Soul Cafe, in NYC’s Times Square for nine years until it closed in 2004.

Yoba’s book, Please Return My Phone Call! Preventing the Demise of Personal and Professional Relationships, is THE handbook for business and interpersonal relationships, that is rapidly challenging the thought processes of students, individuals, business owners and billion dollar corporations as it pertains to interpersonal communication, integrity, accountability,  leadership, and proper follow through.  This book leaves readers “switched on” and conscious of their habits and habits of others in business and life.  Since February 2006 he has worked with Citrix, Columbia University Film School, and Yale University, Morgans Hotel Group to name a few (see book bio).  His message transcends from middle schools (instilling the idea of accountability) to corporations (confronting habits that cost companies millions).

For more information on the book, seminars, workshops or keynotes please go to