02/10/2014 05:22 pm ET Updated Apr 10, 2014

Jamie Foxx: The Modern Day Renaissance Man, Plus Life Lessons from Other Oscar-Winning Heroes


I grew up with Jamie Foxx and having done so may have been the most beneficial experience of my life.

From his comedic stint on In Living Color to the Oscar win that changed my life (I'll speak more on that later), Jamie Foxx is the Everyman who does everything. And not for lack of a better word, he truly is the modern-day Renaissance man. And while some singer-actors may have limboed in-between the superlatives of being a great musician and a great actor (albeit with some mediocrity in the latter), Jamie Foxx has balanced both without a single misstep; growing and pushing his crafts to its bounds with each and every project.

Although I've understood this for the past decade, I believe that with age comes a certain resonance with an ultimate hero and the solidification of an all-time inspiration -- Jamie Foxx has nabbed both for me. Being just 19-years-old, it's surely taken a while to really connect with someone who looks like me. And although I haven't explicitly gone "there" in my previous writings, it's just an all-too-familiar struggle finding inspirations who are -- well -- my skin color. But looking back, there's been a consistent trailblazing one who has filled the television screens of my mother's household for years; that man of course being Jamie Foxx.

Now, as I told my family and friends about this idea for my latest articles, they asked why Mr. Foxx over my other heroes including Will Smith or Denzel Washington (and trust me, Denzel Washington has considerably inspired me over the years. Just watch this clip). The answer is that, although they are trailblazing men who have inspired my world, I think that generationally in an age of social media, Jamie Foxx has just secreted the notion for me so much more with his overall disposition. Even when considering his admirably consistent and outward compassion for Trayvon Martin -- who would have been 19-years-old as well this week -- it just speaks volumes about the type of person he is. Magnanimous, progressive, and holistically inspirational, every public thing he does runs with an underlying sense of obligation and responsibility towards something much more than his craft. It's something that I deeply respect and admire about him.

So, although Jamie Foxx has always been a hero of mine, it wasn't really until his recent pop culture resurgence where he's been able to truly cement the idea. The story that I'm about to tell all began in recent interviews -- most notably, the unforgettable Oprah's Next Chapter sit-down at the Soho House -- for blockbusters like Django Unchained, that I've been able to really connect to his past on a level that I never thought I could before; in a way that I never thought was possible.

This past summer, I did the impossible with a bit of accidental, though inspirational help from Mr. Foxx. You see, at the beginning of my second semester of my freshman year in college, I had roommate who didn't necessarily have the best relationship with. We didn't talk often, but when we did, we discussed the weather. So, to diffusely avoid these conversations, I had the idea for an iPhone app and had reached out to what seemed like every college professor known to man to help me because I had never studied computer programming a day in my life.

They all said that it couldn't be done.

So, I thought I would do it myself. And I did -- I taught myself computer programming in three days and created the app in the following weeks. But it wasn't that easy (albeit although I had prepared through various readings). There were times of desolation where I wanted to give up; where I wanted to throw in the towel and allow the 90 professors to be correct whom had told me that I was too young and inexperienced to take on such a project. But somehow, in a spontaneous sort of idle rebellion to this ambitious feat, I landed on a YouTube clip that had changed my life when I first saw it at just 10-years-old.

You see, in 2005, Jamie Foxx was nominated twice for the Academy Awards -- once for Best Actor for Ray and another for Best Supporting for Collateral -- a feat that had only been done only twice before. But I always remember this time of my life vividly because I was compelled to enjoy both films. My family took me to see Ray three times in the theaters and Collateral was a favorite because of my aunt's affinity for Tom Cruise and the film's plot line.

But the clip that had changed my life was Jamie Foxx's acceptance speech.

I don't know if it was Oprah Winfrey jumping for joy in the corner of the screen. Or the gratuitous hug and handshake that he gave Halle Berry and Leonardo DiCaprio respectively. But what I know for sure is that the speech that he gave truly changed the trajectory of my life.

In it, he spoke intimately to the world about his meeting in Sidney Poitier at a Hollywood party hosted by Quincy Jones. There, Mr. Poitier told Jamie these words that I could never forget: "I saw you once and I looked into your eyes and there was a connection. I give to you responsibility." I don't know what it was then, but today they certainly hit home in that moment of feeling defeated. What I had realized that was because I had the thought, it must become a reality. In that moment, I fully understood what I had to do. So, I did create the app myself. And I did it for the young black boys who are told "No" by someone in the casual form of resistance that plagues our world today. It not only was a responsibility, but a duty.

But truly, what I understand now is that we all have that responsibility that Jamie referenced in the oh-so-memorable Oscar speech. Because we are here, in this skin, at this age, with these thoughts, (no matter who you are) it is our responsibility to act progressively. And if I want to be anything like the trailblazers who came before me, it's only necessary for me to continue to be this ambitious. I learned that it's honestly never okay to just be monogamous with our talents, but to aim for the fullest expression of our personal selves. Mr. Foxx has taught this lesson well.

So, as I embark on what I hope is the beginning of a long and sustainable career, I can only hope that I can be half the trailblazer that Jamie Foxx has been for me and the millions of young African-American boys around the world. Plus, with a year of high-profile films -- including the modern retelling of Annie (filmed by one of my favorite directors, Will Gluck) and sequels for The Amazing Spider-Man and Horrible Bosses -- I know that people will continue to see the magic and inspiration behind this man. And, with that, I'm thankful for all the lessons he's bestowed upon myself and the world.


Tywan Wade is a sophomore at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Read more about him in Impossible Dreams: The Story of Discovering My Superpowers.