By Jovane Marie
It has been more than 30 years since Riverdale star Robin Givens walked away from an abusive marriage, the traumatic union dissolving in a highly publicized fashion. While it’s a chapter she doesn’t feel the need to dwell on, she has used the experience, along with her platform, to assist and empower fellow survivors of domestic violence and raise awareness for the cause.
Her advocacy has included service as a spokesperson for the National Domestic Violence Hotline, working in support of the YWCA USA (a leading provider of domestic violence and sexual assault programs and services) and DV Leap, which fights to advance legal protections for victims of domestic violence. Givens also serves as a keynote speaker, donates supplies, and makes personal visits to shelters.
It’s an admittedly hard thing to do, and Givens acknowledges that after decades of dogged involvement, she has eased up on revisiting the past to focus on the future.
“I’ve been fully involved for almost 20 years, and it’s not an easy thing to do, because I have to travel back in time,” she says. “When I went through that moment in my life, I was younger than my oldest son—I was a baby! I don’t want to walk around with the weight or badge of that—no one does. I’m ready to live, thrive, and be all that God intended me to be.”
Her eyes may be set toward the future, but her hands remain behind to uplift those battling their way through a storyline she knows too well. It is, she accepts, a part of her purpose.
“We all wrestle with our purpose,” she says. “But why go through something if you can’t use the experience to help someone else? It can be hard, sure. But I try to do what I can, as much as I can, whenever I can.”
Her message to those who are facing or living in the aftermath of abuse is clear, concise, and urgent: “You are not alone, and it is not your fault. You have to leave to be safe. And when you get out, and you’re tired of living just to survive, turn your focus to thriving. Now is your time.”
The Power of the Post
After a recent appearance on the Wendy Williams Show, Givens was asked if she could imagine going through her tumultuous marriage during the age of social media—wouldn’t it have been crazy?
Her first thought? That time in her life couldn’t have gotten much crazier. Her second? That actually, a social media presence might’ve proved to be a useful tool in showing her she wasn’t alone and convincing her to leave earlier.
“I look at the impact that social media has had on the #MeToo movement, and I think the domestic violence issue is closely aligned in that it involves an abuse of power, and there really is something to social media when it comes to speaking your truth,” she said. “I say it’s wonderful in that you can stand up for yourself—if someone says something about you that isn’t true, you can just hop on Twitter or wherever and say your peace. Your voice has a platform, and there’s extreme power in that.”
Givens is far from labeling the societal mainstay as an absolute positive, though, admitting that society’s fascination with the image of perfection has definite setbacks. As a mother, she laments, thinking about the pressure young people in general and her sons in particular must feel to look a certain way and portray a perfect life.
“It’s a tricky thing, and I’ve played it from multiple perspectives—from being out of the spotlight and not caring in the least about followers or posting to being told I need to boost my engagements and post multiple times a day. It’s really hard to wrap my head around,” she says. “When it comes down to it, there’s an upside and a downside to social media—that’s where balance comes in, and we have to do our best to navigate the waters.”
It’s a balance Givens is learning to measure with increasing precision as she spends more and more time in the digital space promoting her current show, Riverdale, and hosting upcoming projects.
True to form, Givens never planned on landing a role on the hit show Riverdale as the town’s mayor. It’s an opportunity that found her in Houston cheering on her youngest son at a tennis tournament, of all places.
She’d spent the last few months easing back into acting after being challenged by her publisher to make herself her own project.
“It was actually pretty funny. My children were older and preparing to leave the nest, and telling me, ‘you’re always around mom, go do something,’ and I’d respond, ‘you’re what I do—what do you mean?’ So, when I received the call from my agent asking me to come out to audition, I didn’t think twice. I flew out, read, and by the end of the day, I had a job.”
Based on the Archie comic strip, Riverdale follows the life of teenager Archie Andrews and his high school exploits in the seemingly idyllic town. If you’re expecting the cookie-cutter storylines of comic strips past, though, you’re out of luck.
“I grew up in the age of Archie and the Pussycats and the whole gang, and I loved them, but in no way is this the Archie I grew up with,” she said. “The creators were brilliant in bringing everything current and dealing with issues that our youth are facing today.”
The best part of the remake by far—and what Givens is most proud of—is the diversity of the cast and the ease with which it’s accomplished.
“The thing I love most is that when you look at the show, you have black people and white people and gay people—so many people are covered, and it’s done effortlessly. It just looks like the world is supposed to look and moves the way the world is supposed to move.”
Riverdale isn’t the only role on her radar. As Givens continues to answer passion’s call, the upcoming projects are starting to stack up.
She stars on ABC’s newly premiered series The Fix, a legal drama co-written and executive produced by Marcia Clark (lead prosecutor in the O.J. Simpson case) that centers on a famous prosecutor searching for redemption and justice after losing a case and freeing a killer years earlier.
Givens is also set to lead an ensemble cast in OWN’s upcoming family drama Ambitions, produced by prolific producer Will Packer and set to premiere later this year.
What’s next on the list? Without a doubt, Givens has her heart set on two future goals: authoring another book and finding her way back to Broadway. Those plans aren’t written in ink, though—she knows they’ll manifest when they’re meant to—and not a moment before.
“It’s not necessarily part of a plan—those are just things I feel it’s important to do for me,” she says. “I’m at a point in my life where I realize that my happiness and passion for life is more important than having what people deem to be a ‘successful’ career; I’m just going with the flow and working on being the best, healthiest, and most well-rounded person I can be.”
God, truth, authenticity, and yoga. It’s a tried-and-true combination that has seen Givens through her highest peaks and deepest trials.
She’ll be the first to admit that had just one circumstance changed along her journey, life would’ve looked completely different. If her mother had anything to do with it, we’d have never known Givens as the femme fatale Imabelle in Rage in Harlem, the unapologetically feminist Jacquelyn Boyers in Boomerang, or the militant Kiswana Browne in The Women of Brewster Place—we’d be calling her Dr. Givens instead. But, despite the rollercoaster of ups and downs, she acknowledges her path has molded her into a woman she is proud of today.
“I’m very much a work in progress, and it’s hard to say I’m happy for all the difficulty I’ve experienced in my life, but it’s a big part of who I am now,” she says.
“I truly believe there is opportunity in adversity,” Givens continues. “When we find ourselves in the midst of a storm or some unimaginable circumstance, those are the moments to push and stretch to become all we were intended to be.”
Becoming…now that sounds like a plan.