Keith Amos stood in front of 50 kids at the Robinwood after-school program yesterday and told them they could be where he is now.
In fact, he promised to help them get there.
Amos, an Annapolis native who is now an actor in Hollywood, returned home last week to talk to kids at the Kunta Kinte festival about making the most of their lives. He spent his last day in town yesterday bringing the same message to kids in Annapolis public housing.
"I grew up here in the Annapolis community, just like you," said Amos, who wore a fluorescent green running suit. "When I was your age, I decided I was going to do something with my life. It can happen to any one of you, if you want it."
Amos showed the group a 15-minute videotape of shows in which he has appeared -- "Hill Street Blues," "Tour of Duty," "Murphy Brown," "Family Ties," "Newhart" and "21 Jump Street," among others.
But the kids -- most under 12 years old -- were enthralled by a television advertisement he did where he played a drug dealer who turns into a snake by the end of the segment. Amos used that curiosity to drive home another point.
"There are people who are gonna be nice to you, and in the process, they're going to get you hooked on drugs," warned Amos, who gives his age as "under 25."
But his message was mostly about success, and making the most out of young lives.
"A lot of people in this community didn't come to this, but for some reason, you came," he told them. "You want something better than this."
Amos, who acted in plays at South River High School, then moved on to Howard University, Broadway and Hollywood, told the kids that education was important. "Would I have gotten all this if I hadn't gone to school?" he asked. "The answer is no."
He urged them to communicate with parents and others, enlisting their help in getting where they want to be. "If you ask for help, I guarantee you, they will help you," he said.
Amos said he would keep track of the kids' progress in school, with the help of Darius Stanton, youth coordinator of the county's Office of Drug and Alcohol Programs. The two passed around a yellow legal pad to get the kids' names and addresses. Amos gave them his name and phone number so they could get in touch with him.
He promised he would buy them things they wanted or send them to movies they wanted to see if they did well in school. And he promised he would help them with tuition if they went to college.
He told them to be proud of their heritage. "You guys come from kings and queens in Africa," Amos said. "There is a strong blood line that extends down to all of you. In order to find your kingship or queenship, you've got to educate yourself. That's what's going to take you to my level. Drugs is not the way."
Amos said he talks to kids often.
"For me, the power an entertainer has is the light while it is burning," he said. "That's when you, as the human being, will have the power to influence not one person, but 21 million people. These kids are hungry.
These are the ones you gotta reach."