Just in time for Black Business Month, Oscar and Emmy-nominated actor Leslie Odom, Jr. of Hamilton and One Night in Miami has teamed up with Wells Fargo to amplify its "We Made A Way" summer short film series to celebrate the strength and tenacity of small businesses across America. With the help of four diverse up-and-coming filmmakers, the finance giant has brought the hero stories of four small businesses to life in an effort to highlight their grit, determination and perseverance — something Odom says he can definitely relate to. 

“I remember at a time when I was looking to quit the [entertainment] business, I met with a mentor of mine to get some career coaching about what I might do and how I could take these skills and use them [elsewhere]," Odom told Blavity exclusively. "I almost quit right before it got good — before Hamilton, before One Night In Miami and all the wonderful things that have happened to me recently. I wanted to be done with this thing and [my mentor] looked at me and said, ‘of course you can quit and we can talk about things you might do but I’d love to see you try first.’"

Like many small businesses over the last year in the pandemic, Odom has seen the highs and lows of what uncertainty can bring, especially as the son of a small business owner. Which is why the 40-year-old chose to collaborate with Wells Fargo: to urge the importance of perseverance before surrender.

“We’re at a time right now where before we quit we need to make sure that we’re doing all we can," Odom said. "This [partnership] is a way for us to let people know that this is another thing that they can do should they be open for business, the fund is there [for them].”

The Philadelphia-bred actor says that when he was approached with the idea for this campaign it immediately hit home for him, as one of the few businesses highlighted, the Gibson School of Music & Arts in Philadelphia, happened to be one he shared a personal connection with.

"I said if there’s anything that I can do to help you guys get the word out [about the campaign] then count me in," he added. "As you can see from the films, they put a premium in the initial rollout to make sure they were prioritizing businesses that were owned by women, Black people and people of color. So that was important to me because sometimes we can get left out when the help arrives.”

Beyond helping out small businesses, the Wells Fargo campaign also revealed to Odom the importance of diverse representation in filmmaking. Noting how much the industry has changed since he first hit the scene, the Hollywood actor says the representation we see today is largely due to the slew of Black creators we have thriving and telling our stories on screen. 

"It is undeniably a different industry than the one I entered almost 20 years ago," he said. "So for me to sit here and say there hasn’t been any change that’s crazy. When I graduated college and went out to [Los Angeles], it’s the same year that Grey’s Anatomy premiered so now Shonda Rhimes is on the scene. This is before Issa Rae, Donald [Glover], Lena [Waithe], Ava [Duvernay], Lee [Daniels and others], there are Black creators now. We’re not just looking for that [diversity] for Black people, but all people of color and the LGBTQIA+ community."

He said it takes "all that we've been doing" to actually see more change for diversity, equity and inclusion in places like the entertainment industry. In these spaces where we still have to fight to get a seat at the table, Odom says it's up to all of us — including celebrities with platforms, activists and agitators — to turn words into actions and "continue to push and make sure that we never get complacent."

"Lean on the powers that be to ensure that we continue to progress forward and make sure those doors don’t close behind us," he urged.