Mekhi Phifer shares why he’s giving back to teachers and which classic film role he’d revisit

The actor is giving back to teachers in a big way with the help of a major corporation

Mekhi Phifer has portrayed a myriad of memorable roles since he hit our screens in 1995 in Spike Lee’s Clockers. It was the first role that he landed after his first big audition.

Fast forward 25 years later and Phifer has solidified his spot in Hollywood in both film and television and has worked alongside some of the greats. He spoke with theGrio about which role he would play again, which acting veteran gave him advice that he still follows today and why he decided to give back to teachers during the pandemic.

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Phifer lives a quiet life out of the spotlight and that is how he prefers it. Even in a social media-obsessed world, he’s managed to dodge the blogs and mostly stay out of the headlines for things other than acting. He says that’s because he moves strategically. Phifer will admit he’s friends with fellow Hollywood heartthrobs Omar Epps and Morris Chestnut and they hang out at each other’s houses from time to time, but there is one place he says you will never spot him.

“You aren’t going to find me out at the club, at the 40/40 or something like that,” said Phifer with a cackle by phone from Los Angeles. He did accept an invitation to a dinner at Quincy Jones’ home, though, and Oscar-winning icon Sidney Poitier was there to offer him advice he still follows.

“He said to me, ‘they won’t pay to see your movies on Saturday if they see you at the club on Friday.’”

Phifer has easily played some fan favorites. So when we asked which one of them he would revive, it was no surprise when he said, “I would definitely bring back Mitch.”

Mitch or “money-making Mitch” as he was affectionately called was the character Phifer played in the classic movie, Paid in Full. The movie was based on the real-life story of ’80s drug dealers in Harlem. The actor says strangers still approach him as Mitch.

Mekhi Phifer, Wood Harris and Cam’ron in ‘Paid in Full’

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But despite all of the talent he’s had the privilege to work with, Phifer says the person who had the biggest impact in his life was the one he knows best offscreen.

“My mother was a teacher and to this day people will stop me and say, ‘hey your mother, Ms. Phifer was one of my favorite teachers,’” he said.

The actor grew up with his mother, Rhoda Phifer, in Harlem, New York. He says he was ahead of his friends academically when he was younger because she instilled in him the importance of education and made sure his learning didn’t stop outside of the classroom. Today he passes along those values to his 12-year-old son and is dedicated to giving back to teachers.

The actor is collaborating with Nutri-Grain to help educators who teach K-12th grades by providing them with snacks for their students. According to, 94% of teachers spend money out of their own pockets to provide resources for their students, including snacks.

“The company is giving away a million bars,” says Phifer. “That is incredible because teachers are the real superheroes.”

Current K-12 teachers who would like to submit to win a “Got Your Back” bin filled with Nutri-Grain bars, click here.

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