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Photos by Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego Publications

Giancarlo Esposito of 'Breaking Bad' Inspires Crowd at Black History Month Scholarship Brunch

Actor Giancarlo Esposito may best be known as “Gustavo Fring,” from his Emmy-nominated portrayal of a cold, calculating drug kingpin who led a double life as a legitimate businessman on the critically acclaimed TV series "Breaking Bad." The man who spoke to a crowd of hundreds at UC San Diego’s annual Black History Month Scholarship Brunch Saturday, however, couldn’t be more different. The celebrated film, TV and theatre actor was animated, energetic and warm as he spoke about a variety of topics.

Esposito weaved together insights from his personal life and career as well as the importance of honoring black leaders who fought for the rights of others. But his overall message was simple: live in the present if you want to have a fulfilling life.

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“If you live in the present, your life becomes about sharing. It becomes a give and take relationship you have with the universe around you,” Esposito said. “You will never stop being inspired if you are in the present.”

Esposito, whose credits include the television series “Revolution” and “Homicide: Life on the Streets” as well as films, such as “Malcolm X,” “The Usual Suspects” and “Fresh,” spoke about how living in the present has influenced his acting.

“I have been acting for 50 years, this year, and I can tell you every day I do it, I learn something new.”

The annual Black History Month Scholarship Brunch raises funds for student scholarships and recognizes student academic achievement. Proceeds from the brunch benefit the Ujima Network Black History Month Scholarship, awarded to two students every year. The event is one of many highlights of UC San Diego’s Black History Month celebration, which is coordinated by the Black History Month Planning Committee. The celebration includes a wide range of educational and celebratory events and programs throughout February and March.

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“A lot of work went into planning the program of events for Black History Month, and I thank all of the committee members for putting together this important campus celebration,” said Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla, who spoke prior to Esposito’s talk. “Through these programs, our campus honors African American culture and history and learns more about the history, struggles and contributions of the African American community.”

Esposito echoed similar sentiments and spoke about the importance of learning from African American heroes, some of whom he knew personally.

“My inspiration from African American history has been a beautiful one…from Martin Luther King, Jr. to Malcolm X and Ruby Dee,” Esposito said. “Yesterday, I flipped through my phone and Ruby’s number came up and I had tears in my eyes. She was such an inspiration in her beauty and eloquence. She fought for what she believed in, politically and artistically. I thought of her husband Ossie Davis too, who passed before her. I am so blessed to have known such incredible people who, through their journey to become citizens of the world, they championed for others who did not have the means to fight for themselves.”

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Esposito spoke about his personal story and how he struggled to define his identity growing up.

“Being born to an African American mother from Alabama and a Neapolitan father from Italy, it was confusing to me. Especially because I was born in Copenhagen, raised in Rome ‘till I was 5 [years-old] and then brought to America.”

Esposito said he finds great satisfaction in being of service and sharing his story, as he hopes it will inspire others. In particular, he spoke of the delight that speaking at the Black History Month Scholarship Brunch brought him.

“The joy and love that I experienced walking through the doors today is fantastic,” Esposito said. “It hasn’t been easy, being born into an interracial marriage and trying to find myself in a creative world.”

He added, “All of those in the room who I met this morning keep bringing [this event] back to the students and they keep bringing it back to what is ultimately most important, and that is being of service,” Esposito said. “Those of you here, who spent many days planning this event, who spend your years teaching, all of you deserve a big round of applause. You deserve to know that what you are doing is changing the world, in a deeply inspirational way.”