Denver Native Theo Wilson Makes History
By Ruby Jones
Theo E.J. Wilson is a renowned author, actor, orator, and activist, whose social media presence and community involvement have earned the respect and admiration of people around the world. Five years after publishing his first book, The Law of Action, Wilson is embarking on a journey into television as the host of the History Channel’s new show, “I Was There.”
Premiering on February 20, 2022, “I Was There” is an action-packed historical docuseries that carries viewers through history in an exhilarating new way. The show captures some of humanity’s most astonishing feats and chilling events, using computer-generated imagery (CGI) to merge past and present.
Years of formal performance experience and a passion for history make Wilson the perfect host for the show.
In 2003, a personal encounter with police brutality elevated the urgency of Wilson’s community involvement. Known by some as “Lucifury,” Wilson dedicated his time to the organization of the Colorado Organization for Racial Equity (C.O.R.E.) coalition and the award-winning Slam Nuba poetry team.
Following the loss of a close friend to police brutality in 2011, Wilson recognized the tremendous value and importance of time. He ramped up community engagement, hosting community forums called Shop Talk Live, and using social media platforms to build on his legacy of empowerment.
In 2016, Wilson published The Law of Action. “My ideas attracted folks, and I wanted to challenge myself to complete a work, if you will, of the best of what I have to offer,” he recalled. He continued to expand his viewership by posting meaningful content, but his growing influence attracted harassment and derogatory comments from antagonists.
Seizing the opportunity to explore the underlying hatred fueling the notion of white supremacy, Wilson infiltrated the alt-right. “I wanted to make sure that I had a good understanding of – what seemed to be at the time – an existential threat,” he said. “White supremacy has always been an existential threat to Black people. My initial impetus was not to find compassion, it was reconnaissance. I needed to know. As a Black man, I felt vulnerable for not knowing.”
In 2017, Wilson recounted his experience during a TEDx Talk, earning over 17 million views. His new moniker “The New BlackKklansman,” paid homage to Ron Stallworth, a Colorado Springs police officer who infiltrated the KKK in the 1970s. His public commentary gained the attention of a nonfiction film agent in New York.
By 2017, Wilson was in negotiations for his first television show. “They kept falling apart!” he laughed, explaining the unpredictability of the television industry. In 2020, he was presented with two potential shows. “It didn’t come a moment too soon.”
When the coronavirus pandemic forced worldwide shutdowns, millions of entrepreneurs and entertainers whose industries came to a screeching halt. Recognizing an opportunity to provide an invaluable product to poets, speakers, and business leaders, Wilson created the Spitfire Public Speaking Program. Yet, with a wife and newborn baby, he worried about the state of the country, potential threats to medical freedom, and the economy.
While volunteering at the Struggle of Love food bank, the organization’s co-founder, Coach Hodge, warned about the severe impact a shutdown would have on young people, saying, “If the economy stays closed these boys that I’m working with right now are going to go see an uptick in gang activity. They won’t have a reason to say ‘No’ to their homies this summer.”
Wilson disavowed the shutdown, calling for stores to stay open with the intention of protecting the youth. “A year later we saw that approximately 40% of Black businesses were wiped out…gang activity certainly spiked that summer…many school teachers saw an increase in depression, suicide, and self-harm because we couldn’t connect,” he countered.
The end of summer brought good news for Wilson, who was approached about “I Was There” in late July. During the selection process, Producer Andy Awes quizzed, “What do you know about history?” The answer was a no-brainer for Wilson.
As the grandson of a Tuskegee Airman, Wilson told Awes, “I bet you’re going to have a hard time finding someone with a better connection to history than me.”
He demonstrated his historical prowess when asked by Awes’ wife, Maria, to list historical events that he would have loved to see firsthand. His answer included Emperor Mansa Musa’s rule of the Malian empire, the day Mesoamerica was discovered by conquistadors, the construction of the Cahokia mounds of East St. Louis, and more.
“I wouldn’t have been able to answer those questions the way that I did had I not been immersed in history for the past 30-some odd years of my life,” Wilson beamed.
In “I Was There,” Wilson provides firsthand accounts of important moments throughout history, with a comprehensive analysis of each event. Expert testimonials, witness statements, and special effects recreate each scene with accuracy and precision. The process of creating a television series using CGI was a remarkable experience. “It felt akin to maybe what Marvel Cinematic Universe actors go through!” he exclaimed.
In its first season, the show documents the 1942 Battle of Stalingrad, the nuclear accident at Chernobyl, and other gripping historical events. Just weeks after the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act failed to be passed by the Senate, “I Was There” will revisit the 1965 Bloody Sunday attack, when 600 demonstrators were attacked by Alabama State Troopers in an attempt to suppress the Black vote.
“Black history specifically completes the narrative of American History,” said Wilson, whose entire life prepared him for this opportunity. “I was raised in history. A lot of it is because of who my dad is,” he said about his father, a Black Western history enthusiast.
Whether his success can be attributed to destiny, hard work, or a combination of both, Wilson’s responsibility to his family helped him overcome challenges along the way. “My daughter can’t eat my excuses. Period. Excuses won’t keep the lights on.” Knowing that at some point the rubber had to meet the road, his dedication catalyzed a turning point.
“Always continue to keep your wheels in motion. Always do what’s in front of you,” he instructed, sharing encouragement through the same principles he wrote about in The Law of Action. “Every moment in life comes to you as a picture – take care of what’s in this frame.”
Wilson encourages fans and supporters to watch, inviting feedback and dialogue while expressing gratitude for the people and institutions that played an integral role in his journey. “Thank you guys for always supporting me,” Wilson emphasized. “I realize that I’m a representative of the community that made me, so thank you.”
Editor’s Note: “I Was There” premieres on the History Channel on February 20 at 8:30 p.m. MST, 10:30 p.m. EST. For more information about Spitfire Public Speaking Program, visit https://SpitfirePublicSpeaking.com.