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Phillips is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. He attended the University of the Pacific as a communications major, but later transferred to the acting conservatory at New York University where he graduated with a BFA in acting in 1983.
Phillips is an ambassador for the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America. He has spoken extensively about the disease and its effect on the family. He is also a member of the Screen Actors Guild, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, Actors Equity Association, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, was National Co-Chair of the African American Steering committee for Bush Cheney '04, was named a member of the Republican National Committee's African American Advisory Board, was appointed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to the state board of directors of the California African American Museum and was named a 2005 Claremont Institute Lincoln Fellow.