Fayetteville man has dream of portraying King in film
By Chick Jacobs
Staff writer

"Take the first step in faith. You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step."

- Martin Luther King Jr.

Those words come easily to Stephon Ferguson. As a man who can recite entire speeches fayob_picby Martin Luther King Jr., they flow from his lips with the Baptist preacher cadence of the slain civil rights icon.

Recently Ferguson dedicated himself to living those words, not just reciting them. The Fayetteville native has quietly launched a national campaign, one that he hopes will take him across country to take part in one of the most anticipated films in decades.

His goal: the man who would be King.

"Auditions will be held in January, and I'm planning on being there," Ferguson said in his town home off Reilly Road. Like King, he lives modestly, speaks softly in conversation and deflects any praise with a slight, almost shy grin.

There's never been any question that he can imitate King. For nearly a decade, Ferguson has portrayed his hero at business meetings, civic gatherings and churches.

He even has the endorsement of the King Estate, which gave him permission to perform as the civil rights leader.

"It's a God-given talent," Ferguson said. "It's something that came naturally. I didn't really look for it. It found me.

"It all started about 10 years ago, when a friend and I were watching something about him. I rolled out a little bit of the 'I Have A Dream' speech, and his mouth dropped. He said, 'You sound just like the man.' "

"The man" - it's a statement of respect, even reverence, that Ferguson has for the man he portrays. Even when talking about him, Ferguson always adds the "Dr." to his name.

"His messages of love and forgiveness, or fairness and truth, they're all just as meaningful now as they were the day Dr. King first said them," Ferguson said. "Those who were too young to remember his speeches then can still find meaning in his message today.

"That's what keeps me going. I'm not just trying to show the past. I hope that Dr. King's words through me can find a new generation."

Ferguson has mastered both the cadence and the words of King. Like a human tape recorder, each pause, each inflection and crescendo are spot on. He's also able to recite whole speeches, not just highlights. Like his skill for speech, Ferguson says his ability to memorize is a gift.

"I just take each speech in chunks, over and over until I've got it," he said. "Then I put the pieces together."

As he mastered the speeches, Ferguson said he was compelled to learn more about the man. He devoured biographies and studies of King, traveling to sites across the South.

His activities drew the attention of the King Estate, which stridently guards all re-creation of King and his works.

"They said, 'We love what you're doing, but you don't have our permission,' " Ferguson said. "Once I sent them the proper paperwork and they could see my mission, they gave me permission to perform. They're very serious about it. They don't just let anyone do it."

Which is one reason the life of King has been so long delayed on film. A TV miniseries 30 years ago, with Paul Winfield in the title role, is as close as King's life has gotten to film. And at 300 minutes, it was a challenge to sit through.

Still, when Steven Spielberg received the rights to make a King film last May, Ferguson heard about it quickly.

"I must have gotten 100 e-mails from friends and people who had seen me perform," he said. "They all said, 'This is your chance.'

"So I began researching, seeing who they had chosen for roles."

Turns out, no one had been chosen. Some heavyweight names, such as Denzel Washington and Jamie Foxx, have been floated, but no one was signed.

That's when Ferguson decided to take that first step. He launched a Web site, www.thedreamlives.com, and began taking acting lessons.

"I don't think anyone could do a better job in the presentation of his speeches," Ferguson said. "But I need to be able to know how to act like the man.

"It's difficult. There's really very little film of him when he wasn't speaking or in the public eye. There's a lot of Dr. King as an icon, but not just as a man.

"That's the big challenge: how to portray him as the man as well as the leader."

Locally, Ferguson says, support has been overwhelming. He hopes that people will reach out to friends and "create a buzz" on fan sites as the auditions get closer.

"It's going to be an uphill struggle, but all I'm asking for is the opportunity," he said. "If I can get a shot, I think ... no, I believe ... that I can play the role.

"It's going to be a long journey, but I have faith that I can do it."

One step at a time.

King-sized challenge For more information on Stephon King's bid to portray Dr. Martin Luther King in the upcoming film, or to see him in character, go to thedreamlives.com

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