ANCHORAGE - When Cedric Sanders attends future reunions at East High, he'll have a lot to talk about. Since graduating in 1999, he has honed his acting chops in college, New York and Hollywood.
On Monday, his career received a major boost at the 18th Annual NAACP Theatre Awards in Los Angeles, where he won the award for Best Lead Male Actor in an Equity production.
To get an idea of how big of a deal this is, last year Laurence Fishburne of "The Matrix" and "Event Horizon" won the award.
"It was like a roller coaster," Sanders said Wednesday on the phone from Los Angeles. "(I feel) very humbled but very anxious and excited," he said. "I was surrounded by most of black Hollywood, people I've seen in TV since I was young, and they were genuinely happy for me."
Sanders won for his portrayal of Johnson Whittaker, the lead role in the drama "A Matter of Honor." The play is about a black cadet who endured brutal treatment at West Point in 1877.
Sanders' career has spanned college productions, "Law & Order" appearances, small but substantive parts in major motion pictures like "American Gangster" and more. But his performance in "A Matter of Honor," has started a snowball effect.
Independent director Mark Young was so impressed with Sanders' performance that he cast him in a lead role in his upcoming film, "The Least Among You," opposite veteran actor Lou Gossett, Jr. The film also stars Lauren Holly ("NCIS") and William Devane ("24").
The role got him nominated for the major NAACP acting award and the chance to rub shoulders with celebrities he'd only seen in magazines, including Kimberly Elise ("Diary of a Mad Black Woman"), Malcolm Jamal Warner ("Malcom & Eddie"), Vivica Fox (an honoree for the night), Randy Jackson ("American Idol") and Barry Manilow.