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Santiago-Hudson to share his hometown success story

There were hundreds of moments in the life of award-winning actor Ruben Santiago-Hudson when he could have turned off the road to success.

"I had them in college, in my career in New York, in grad school in Detroit," he said. "I had them over and over again, and somebody was always there to support me and to guide me and to assure me my dreams would not be squandered if I put the work ethic in place to attain them."

The Lackawanna native -- who has won Obie and Tony awards -- will share his inspirational message Monday morning with students at the Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts. His talk will be simulcast to students at Bennett High School, Frank A. Sedita Academy and Waterfront Elementary School.

"I speak from the heart," Santiago-Hudson said. "I don't come with boring documentation and flipping pages. Anything you want to achieve is possible. Any dream you have is attainable."

As part of the "Success Looks Like Me" initiative, Santiago-Hudson also will appear at a fundraiser Monday evening at 6 at the WNED Buffalo-Toronto studios on Lower Terrace.

Santiago-Hudson is a homegrown example of achievement, which is precisely why a group of local civic leaders is sponsoring his visit.

Cultures of Giving Legacy Initiative, established in 2008 at the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, sponsors initiatives to aid disadvantaged youth. The mission statement is "to endow the future of our youth by giving them access to people, places and experiences," according Jennifer Parker, president of the Black Capital Network.

Two years ago, the group brought soprano Angela Brown to Kleinhans Music Hall. This year, Santiago-Hudson will offer the wisdom of a native son. After graduating from Lackawanna High School, he attended the University at Binghamton and earned his MFA from Wayne State University.

He got his big break when he was cast as Buddy Bolden in the musical "Jelly's Last Jam," starring Gregory Hines. He has appeared on Broadway and recently had a recurring role on ABC's "Castle" and wrote and starred in HBO's "Lackawanna Blues."

Santiago-Hudson said he was constantly challenged by the misconceptions people have of young African-American children while growing up.

"I always and continually had to prove myself," he said over the phone from Manhattan. "I had to prove I could do Shakespeare. I had to prove that I was intelligent, that I could act. I had to prove that I wasn't a robber, thief or killer. I had to prove I wasn't selling dope."

Today Santiago-Hudson said he is still proving himself.

"I have a Tony award, and I have to audition for little bitty roles, but that's part of this business and I accept it," he said. "If I do Shakespeare, that first five minutes of the play when I hit the stage everybody is leaning forward to see if I can do it and immediately they start leaning back. Most of the people who know who I am just sit back and cross their legs."

Samantha Doman, 17, who is Native American, will graduate from Hutchinson Central Technical High School in June with a major in computer science. Last year, she was one of 10 Buffalo students to visit Washington, D.C., on a civic engagement program sponsored by CGLI. Next fall, Doman starts at Rochester Institute of Technology.

"It turned my whole attitude around," Doman said.

"Close-Up Washington D.C." brings together hundreds of children from across the country who meet face to face with elected officials and civic leaders, said Parker CGLI.

For tickets to the gala reception and program featuring Ruben Santiago-Hudson, contact the Community Foundation (852-2857).