By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer
Whether he’s playing royalty on Broadway or a teen trying to navigate his way through awkward high school years, actor Ramon Reed is making a name for himself.
Actors like Reed, 17, make it look easy. But auditioning, learning lines and rehearsing is a lot of work. Doing it all while dealing with sickle cell disease is something he has taken in stride.
“I’m fine,” the rising star told The OBSERVER. “I haven’t had a sickle cell crisis in two years, which is amazing. A lot of people who have sickle cell can’t say that.”
Reed’s credits include starring as Young Simba in “The Lion King” in both the Broadway production and national tour, and roles on the TV shows “9-1-1: Lone Star,” “Just Roll With It” and “13: The Musical.” Reed got lots of positive feedback from fans and social media followers for “13,” particularly for shining during the “Bad, Bad News” number in which he and other boys sing about their friend picking the wrong girl.
Reed, a native of Charlotte, North Carolina, started working at age 11.
“When I was younger, I was just always doing stuff — singing, dancing, just being extra all around,” Reed said.
“Acting wasn’t something I wanted to do, it was something I just stumbled upon when my mom actually pushed me in — not in a forceful way. She pushed me to go into these talent conferences, [and in] putting myself out there and putting my talent out there, I realized that this was a passion that I had, that now I turned into a professional career.”
While he comes from a family of creatives, Reed is the only one, so far, to have his name in lights.
“I’m the first to ever go the extra mile and really dedicate my time and talent and gifts that I’ve been given to really pursue acting and just being a creative in general,” the teen shared.
Being an up-and-coming actor in an industry where diversity doesn’t always take center stage can be rough, but with each role, Reed is watching, listening and learning.
“We’re getting more representation on the screens and on the stages, but it’s still a battle out here, just with simple things such as finding hairdressers that know how to do our hair. It could even be makeup that matches our skin tone. There’s been plenty of times where I’ve had to bring in my own barber or production has had to pay for me to get a haircut by my own barber.”
Speaking up is important, Reed said.
“I definitely think using our voice is more powerful than just moving on saying it’s OK.”
Another young Black actor, Caleb McLaughlin, recently spoke out about racism and bigotry he has faced while promoting his popular Netflix series, “Stranger Things.”
All Eyes On Me
Reed looks comfortable on screen, whether he’s “the one Black kid” or performing in an ensemble cast that reflects the viewing audience. He also understands the responsibilities of being young, gifted and Black.
“There’s definitely pressure,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it’s pressure to ‘save the race,’ I think that’s a collective effort. That’s not just a one-person thing. [Like saying] ‘I have to save the whole race’ by doing this and saying this in every interview. But there is pressure to perform, especially at a high level, and deliver quality content throughout everything that I do.”
Growing up in front of the camera famously has its drawbacks, but Reed envisions a life and career that takes a more positive direction like Regina King, Marsai Martin, Zendaya, and KeKe Palmer, who have avoided pitfalls and earned opportunities to shine. Like them, Reed credits his family for helping him remain focused, with his eyes on the prize. If he even thinks of “going Hollywood,” his loved ones ground him by breaking out his family nickname.
“Just having a solid foundation that you can always fall back on such as my mom and my grandfather, who is out here, and individuals who I’ve worked with who have now become like my family, who I can always call. I think that’s how you really achieve success and avoid those pitfalls that are very easy to fall in, especially when you’re living in Los Angeles.”
Reed plans to be around for a while.
“My pedal is definitely still to the metal,” he said. “I’m still pushing.”
Reed admires other Black actors who are leading the way as Hollywood’s leading men. Men like Will Smith, who he met in 2019 at Disney’s premiere of “Aladdin,” Oscar winner Denzel Washington, Michael B. Jordan, Courtney B. Vance and the late Chadwick Boseman. As his icons have all done, Reed sees himself working behind the camera as well and aspires to direct and executive produce his own projects. He’s working on an undisclosed project.
“I’m just super excited to get that out. Hopefully somebody buys it.”
Living With Sickle Cell
Reed’s family didn’t learn he had sickle cell until he was a toddler.
“I would always cry when I was younger and they just didn’t know why,” he said.
“Around 2, my mom figured out that she had the sickle cell trait and my father had the trait. I got tested, the test results came back that I did have sickle cell and then from there, it’s been a lifelong journey with all that sickle cell entails.”
While he hasn’t had a crisis in a long while, Reed recalled the extreme pain associated with one.
“You don’t even have to be touching me for me to be in pain,” he said. “ I’ve never been shot, but I would like to say it’s like being shot and like an elephant stomping on you while you’re also being stabbed.”
Reed “mostly” deals with sickle cell retinopathy.
“It’s when the blood vessels in my eyes burst,” he shared. “Then, of course, your body tries to make more little tiny blood vessels, but those blood vessels are no good and they keep bursting. Then it can lead to blindness and, of course, bleeding into the back of the eyes, so we’re trying to deal with that now and keep that under control.”
Reed is open about telling people and educating them about what sickle cell is and how it affects him personally.
“As far as telling individuals on jobs, me and my team, we’ve always been transparent about what I was dealing with. Thankfully, it’s never prohibited me from having a job.”
Producers, he added, have been “extremely understanding.”
“They try their best to accommodate me and make sure that I’m always OK, which is a blessing. But as far as living with sickle cell, people don’t understand the constant battle. You definitely have to take your medicine and if you miss a day, anything can go wrong. If you get [something] as simple as a cold, that can trigger a sickle cell crisis, which could be life threatening.
“It’s definitely a struggle that I embrace, that I don’t try to shy away from. I try to use it as a story that no matter what our cards may be in life, you can always flip it and make something out of it.”
Reed is also helping others deal with the disease. He looks forward to National Sickle Cell Awareness Month, observed in September, and the chance to assemble care packages for fans.
“I know there’s a lot of individuals with sickle cell who follow me on my Instagram. I will post on my Instagram and I’ll tell people to enter their name and we’ll write all the names down and we’ll pick one out of the hat. We’ll send them a care package with water bottles and heated blankets and snacks, a series of things. I love doing it, especially just seeing how much it impacts people. Last year we did two so I think this year, I want to do around four to five.”
Reed is also looking forward to possibly serving as a spokesperson for a sickle cell organization in the future. Until then, he’ll continue to walk in his purpose.
“To create relatable and emotionally evoking content – that’s what I really believe my purpose is,” he said. “No matter where I am, I always strive to create something that’s relatable, that somebody can either laugh or cry at and that they can go and talk about with others.”
When The OBSERVER talked to Reed, he’d just wrapped up filming the high school comedy “Incoming.” The movie is in post-production.
“It’s an amazing film,” Reed said. “It’s hilarious. It’s definitely different from everything else that I’ve done. Fans will definitely see me in a new vein once it comes out. Hopefully not in a negative one.”
The young actor advises others looking to make it in Hollywood to follow your dreams.
“You have to be carefully relentless,” he said. “You have to have a mindset that this is where I’m going to be no matter what anyone else says. Keep that mindset, keep going, don’t let anybody shake the mindset that you have, even though they might call you crazy or whatever have you. They just don’t know the bigger purpose for you.”
This article is part of a series that highlights sickle cell’s impact on the African American community and how medical professionals are working to remove barriers to care and ensure that patients get the treatment they deserve.