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Meet Gwendolyn Mukes


Today we’d like to introduce you to Gwendolyn Mukes.

Gwendolyn, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Having taught for 52 years (1st grade – Higher Education) and FINALLY retiring in 2017, I moved to California from Oklahoma City to pursue my dream of becoming an actor.

When I was around ten years old, I told my mother I wanted to become an actor, and she said, “No! Negroes can’t make a living acting,” so I suppressed my desire to act in order to please her. My role model was Dorothy Dandridge and I had wanted to be just like her.

I always remembered my mama’s words so when I moved to Wichita, KS in 1975, and was given a second or third-grade class, I received a memo January 1976 from the District Office stating that I was responsible for teaching my students Black History. Since I only had two African American children in my classroom, and 22 white students, I felt it was a challenge for me to turn them onto Black History and pondered what I could do to teach them…something that would be unforgettable. And for that task, I decided to think outside the box! And how would I get my students’ attention when they were accustomed to action (video games and TV)? Harriet Tubman, of course! Soon, Harriet and I were on a quest to educate audiences about slavery, physical abuse, the Civil War, and other topics kids could personally relate to. “We” were together for over 35 years having visited schools, churches, senior citizen homes throughout Kansas, Austin and San Antonio, Texas and Miama, Florida…wherever there was a need for “us” to appear, we went. “We” received a National NEA award, Kansas and local NEA awards and recognition as an exemplary teacher. And that is how the Acting Bug bit me; now I’m here in California, not wanting to be famous, but to show people who are afraid and have lost their dreams, that it is possible, if only they believe. Also, surround yourself with people who are not hatahs but encouragers.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I moved to California knowing I needed to have one main ingredient…faith; therefore, I really have no complaints for I feel blessed for being out here. I prefer to look at the few rocky roads I’ve encountered as a blessing in disguise. In other words, I try to stay positive for I feel every job I receive is a blessing.

One humongous struggle has been not knowing how to properly self-tape…I now shy away from them until I learn how to correctly self-tape. Another struggle is living so far away (Palmdale) from the hub of the entertainment world. Because of the cost of apartments, I am fortunate to live with my eldest son and his family in Palmdale, but at one time, I lived with my daughter and her family in Sherman Oaks. Driving back and forth is taking a toll on my body and car. One last struggle I’ll mention is I struggled making monthly payments in order to join Sag-Aftra, but now that I have paid that mighty sum, I look back with pride…that I did it! Of course, there were many who advised me not to join because there aren’t that many jobs for union members and my age range, but I had faith. I have been a union member since my junior year in college and subsequently, 52 years of teaching. Once a member of a union, always a union member, I say! Plus, with my “Toilet-roll tissue of life” getting smaller and smaller by the day, I thought I didn’t come out here to pussyfoot around…I’ve got things to do, to achieve. Those are all my challenges.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
Well, I don’t have a formal business currently, but after attending an orientation for new members of Sag-Aftra in September, I am seriously thinking about starting a business because acting is a business. I would like “once young” people to know that regardless of age and personal circumstances, they should go for their dream and work their dream.

I think my qualities are goofiness and kindness; I attempt to use those two qualities to perk people up when they are down in the dumps.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
1. Not being late for a job. After not showing up for a job in November 2017 (I had overslept), Central Casting placed me on probation for 30 days….that TRULY hurt my ego and I haven’t been late after that. I usually leave Palmdale 2-3 hours ahead of time (Think “the 14, 5, 170 and 405. Lol) just to ensure I am not late…EVER AGAIN! But there have been two occasions I have had to call Central Casting to let them know I was caught in traffic (accidents) and would be a few minutes late.

2. Having my own clothes/costumes; you can perhaps imagine what my closet looks like. LOL. I like to arrive on the job dressed and with a suitcase of clothes just in case wardrobe would prefer I wear something else.

3. A willingness to “go with the flow” and not complain when given a task to complete.

4. Be excited and thankful for each job that you have applied for.

5. And last, support others and don’t be jealous of the opportunities they’ve received… Don’t ask, “Why them and not me?”

Contact Info:

  • Address: 3607 Desert Palm Drive
    Palmdale, CA 93550
  • Phone: 316-990-9983 (Yep, it’s a Wichita phone number so my former students and I can stay in touch)l
  • Email:
  • Instagram: GwendolynFullerMukes
  • Facebook: GwendolynFullerMukes
  • Twitter: GwenMukes

Image Credit:
Alex Wallace (1st photo); Jeff Xander  (2nd photo)

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