1963 Allegan High School grad finds retirement fame
(Corrected) This year has been quite the journey for 1963 Allegan High School graduate Sylvester Boyd Jr.
In one evening, TV viewers could see him as an extra on the NBC drama “Chicago PD” then turn the channel to FOX and see him hobnobbing with stars on the popular series “Empire.”
He’s also been a movie extra on the pilot for the new Netflix series “APB;” portrayed an international court judge in the Amazon series “The Patriot;” played an attorney on episodes of “Chicago Justice;” and been on Showtime’s “Shameless,” to name a few.
His wife Pauletta tells the 73-year-old to forget about retirement because he’s busier now than he ever was with an eight-hour-a-day job.
“Sometimes I have to pinch myself and ask if this is really real,” Boyd said after landing on sets alongside such actors as Teraji Henson, Terrance Howard, Vivica Fox, William Macey, Jason Beghe and Ernie Hudson.
“I was just walking down the road one day and this guy stops me and says, ‘You look like someone who should be in the movies.’”
From there, Boyd was cast as an extra in “The Dilemna” with actors Vince Vaughn and Kevin James. At the time, he thought it would be a one-time deal, but after being cast in 25 to 30 episodes across several networks, he’s been promoted to a core extra and most recently filmed a six-day role as a patient in “Chicago Med.”
The Chicago native is also a motivational speaker, substitute teacher for Chicago Public Schools and author of his first book, “The Road from Money; a journey to find why?” which received a 5 Star Award book review from Readers Favorites.
As a motivational speaker, he urges people to persevere no matter what their circumstances and how actions and choosing the right path leads to a better life.
His book is an example of that, following his aunt Estella’s footprints after being born in 1917 among the cottonfields in Money, Miss. Using stories told by family members over the years, Boyd mingles historical aspects of the era in the background, while bringing to the foreground the journey of a young African American girl and her family living under the trying times of Jim Crow in the South.
Estella faces racism, segregation, exploration, brutality, poverty, the joy of family life, battling to get a good education, her first love; and above all, trying to figure out why things are the way they are in a time highlighted by many of America’s weaknesses.
“It’s 60 percent fact and 40 percent fiction,” he said. “She gave us the bricks and I filled in the mortar.”
Boyd’s second book in the trilogy follows Estella during the Great Migration of African Americans to Chicago at the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. It will be released in March 2017.
Also in 2017, Boyd will be attending his 54th Allegan High School class reunion. “I’ve only missed three in my lifetime,” he said.
At the age of 15, Boyd moved from Chicago’s south-side public housing projects to Allegan amid the Civil Rights Movement in 1958. He first attended the Lindsley one-room schoolhouse before going to Allegan High School in 1961.
“All my classmates treated me like another classmate and no one used any derogatory terms,” he said. “’61 to ’63 were the best years of my life and gave me my solid foundation and bedrock.
“I’ve always been proud of the community and school.”
All seven of his siblings graduated from AHS, including Joe James who retired this year as principal of Dawson Elementary School.
Boyd said until she died in 2013, his mother Elizabeth James lived in the house on 108th Avenue that he and his stepfather built.
“She raised me to get things done with no excuses, not to give up on my dreams, and to be civic minded,” he said. “She served on many committees and boards (including the ACRDC for 36 years) and earned a degree in social work from WMU at the age of 64.
It is his mother’s sister “The Road from Money” is based on. As a child, he used to visit Estella on summer weekends at her home in Chicago and was inspired by her journey from the Mississippi cottonfields to living among Chicago millionaires.
Boyd himself received an associate’s degree of arts at Kennedy King College, then attended Chicago State University where he acquired a bachelor’s degree in geography and minored in history.
He worked more than a decade at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport where he became crew chief. Boyd called it the crossroads of America where he crossed paths with the likes of Muhammad Ali, Bobby Kennedy and then state senator Barack Obama. It was a career that allowed him to travel extensively across the World, and in 1981, he founded one of the largest minority-owned advertising specialty companies in southwest Michigan, which allowed him to continue his travels.
Now “semi-retired,” Boyd says the road to Allegan was a journey he cherishes.
“That’s where I learned English,” he said referring to becoming an author in his 60s. It’s also where he was the Tigers’ student manager when winning the 1964 state basketball championship.
So can he share with his hometown audience what to expect in Empire’s next episode in March?
“I can’t even tell my wife that,” he said.
Editor's note: The story above has been corrected to note Mr. Boyd's correct age: 73. The Allegan County News regrets the error.
Virginia Ransbottom can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (269) 673-5534.