There’s a special bond between Walking Dead’s kindhearted Tyreese and baby Judith on the popular TV show, and one that isn’t a stretch for actor Chad L. Coleman.
The father of a 15-year-old daughter and toddler son, Coleman takes his real-life role quite seriously. When he was just 11 months old, his 7-year-old brother was attempting to cook for his four siblings when a fire broke out in their apartment in the Richmond, Va., projects. The children had been abandoned by their parents, authorities discovered. After becoming wards of the state, they went to live with foster parents.
“They saved our lives. George and Lottie Byrd taught us about character and integrity. Our foster father was a hardworking junk collector, and every day our foster mother was relentless about good grades,” Coleman says. “They taught us it didn’t matter how much money you have, and they gave us the confidence to be successful.”
Coleman got guidance from others, too. “It takes a village, right?” he says, explaining that his oldest brother, Donald Coleman, who is now a minister and a Richmond school board chairman, was more like a father to him, and that his high school drama teacher, actor Robert Pemberton, guided his first steps toward an acting career in New York following a stint in the military.
“I had supportive teachers, and my brother is my mentor and my hero. He fights the good fight for the community and told me, ‘Chad, choose the light,’ ” Coleman says. “I’m a believer in forgiveness and redemption, both in my own life and for others.”
Coleman gives back by working with a variety of organizations, including Camp Diva, a Richmond-based nonprofit providing summer and after-school programs for girls 11-17, with an emphasis on African-American culture.
“I never saw myself as a victim—I was always so excited about life,” Coleman says. “I want others to feel that way, too.”