Afropunk recently marked its 15th year as an arts and music festival dedicated to showcasing black talent, initially within the punk subculture, but has since expanded its horizons to including black creativity at large.
Beyond the music lineups that are typically the pull to the festival, (this year’s performers included Tierra Whack, Junglepussy FKA Twigs, Death Grips, and more) Afropunk has solidified itself as a fashionepicenter. Much of the excitement and the build-up that surrounds the idea of attending Afropunk is being able to experience and observe that art of dressing.
Today, it’s really hard to define punk style as monolithically as it has been defined in the past (white male working-class rage), especially when it pertains to black folks and other people of color taking the aesthetic and building off of it based on their lived experiences. At Afropunk, you’ll see everything from interpretations of Afro-Futurism to Banjee Girls, Death Metal Mamas, awe-inspiring takes on gender-bending, and larger than life cosplay-esque ensembles. Among the overflow of afros, braids, neons, chainmail, kaftans, dashikis (the list actually goes on) is a sense of camaraderie, respect, and belonging– shared and recognized among festival-goers.
This year, the theme of the festival was “WE SEE YOU,” a declaration that Afropunk organizers say, “brings together Afropunk ideology and the people who support it, under the banner of acknowledgment, in resistance to those who strive to oppress.” What better way to be “seen” than the most obvious form of self-expression itself? Fashion, of course.
To say that festival-goers wreaked havoc on their wardrobes could be an understatement, but that, combined with the right treatment of an outfit is destined to be a win-win. And we witnessed lots of wins over the weekend, fashion home-runs to be exact!
Teen Vogue spoke to some of the best-dressed Afropunk attendees to learn what “punk” meant to them and of the many ways style can help you live your life as authentically as possible.
Continue on to Teen Vogue for the interview and more AfroPunk looks.
Twenty-seven years after the Losers’ Club defeated Pennywise, IT has returned. Now adults, the Losers have gone their separate ways, but with people disappearing again in Derry, Mike calls them back home. Damaged by their past, they must each conquer their deepest fears to destroy Pennywise once and for all.
In a story first reported by The New York Times, Charlotte Nebres, a student at the School of American Ballet, danced her way into ballet history as New York City Ballet’s first black Marie, the young heroine of a show that dates back to 1954.
The annual production also includes a diverse cast of other young leads this season, including Tanner Quirk, Marie’s Prince in the ballet, who is half-Chinese; Sophia Thomopoulos, the ballet’s second casting of Marie, who is half-Korean and half-Greek; and Kai Misra-Stone, Sophia’s Prince, who is half-South Asian.
“It’s pretty amazing to be not only representing S.A.B., but also representing all of our cultures,” Nebres told “The New York Times.” “There might be a little boy or girl in the audience seeing that and saying, ‘Hey, I can do that too.'”
Charlotte, who was just 6 years old when Copeland became the first female African American principal at American Ballet Theater, recalled being inspired when she saw Copeland perform for the first time.
“I saw her perform and she was just so inspiring and so beautiful,” she told The New York Times. “When I saw someone who looked like me on stage, I thought, ‘That’s amazing.’ She was representing me and all the people like me.”
Charlotte, whose mother’s family is from Trinidad while her father’s side of the family is from the Philippines, is becoming a trailblazer herself with the role of Marie.
For Charlotte’s mother, Danielle Nebres, the experience for her daughter is a meaningful one, because she was also a dancer growing up.
Nebres, who described Charlotte as quiet and artistic, said, “You don’t know what people are seeing in your child, and they are definitely seeing something in her.”
Although Charlotte is making waves being cast as Marie, the 11-year-old is just enjoying the moment and doing what she loves most: dancing.
Continue on to ABC News to read the complete article.
Rosa Parks was honored with a new statue in downtown Montgomery, Alabama, on Sunday, 64 years to the day she was arrested for refusing to move to the back of a city bus. Sunday marks the second annual Rosa Parks Day in Alabama, after the Legislature approved the honor for the civil rights icon last year.
Events were slated to take place throughout the weekend, including the dedication of a statue Sunday afternoon.
“Today, on the second official Rosa Parks Day, we honor a seamstress and a servant, one whose courage ran counter to her physical stature,” said Mayor Steven Reed, the city’s first African American mayor. “She was a consummate contributor to equality and did so with a quiet humility that is an example for all of us.”
“No person ever stood so tall,” Gov. Kay Ivey said, “as did Rosa Parks when she sat down.”
Parks was on her way home from work on December 1, 1955, when she refused to give up her seat on a public bus for a white man. Her subsequent arrest prompted the 381-day boycott of the Montgomery bus system, organized by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
A later ruling by the Supreme Court desegregated public transportation in Montgomery, but it wasn’t until the 1964 Civil Rights Act that all public accommodations were desegregated nationwide.
Networking is a delicate art. While it’s certainly evolved in the past decade, there are still certain situations (and certain industries) where you must abide by a particular set of strict, unspoken rules. Mess one of these up, and you risk missing out on a critical opportunity to advance your career.
When speaking to someone more senior—and business networking usually involves an “ask” for help from senior people—you need to convey respect and recognition of their status.
Remember: People will go out of their way for you if they like you and feel inspired by you. But turn them off, and they’ll tune out.
With that in mind, consider skipping any of the following casual or unprofessional expressions:
1. “Hey, I’m ______”
Introducing yourself casually is fine in most situations. But this language can come across as too casual if you’re introducing yourself to someone older or more senior who might be a good lead for a job.
Saying “Hello” is a better bet. And giving both your first and last names is more professional. You don’t want that other person walking away and thinking, “I met someone named Paul, but I never got his last name.”
2. “I’m VP of sales for company X”
When networking at a business event it’s tempting to rush in with your title. After all, you want your new contact to know you’re a professional with some status. But it will sound arrogant to add this so quickly.
I recently met a young woman at a networking event, and within the first 15 seconds she let me know that she worked for a big Silicon Valley firm and had a good job in IT. She never bothered to ask my name, work situation, or title. I was not interested in speaking to her again because the encounter was one way.
Rather than hurling your job title at a new face, wait until the other person asks for that information. If you ask them about themselves, they will likely raise the same questions about you. It means a lot more when they ask you what you do than when you shout it out to them.
3. “That’s cool”
Once you get into conversation with an executive, your words will define the kind of relationship you want to have with that person. If you’re too casual, you’ll sound like you don’t necessarily aspire to a professional connection.
Suppose you’re in conversation with a vice president who works in a firm you’d like to do business with. You ask, “Who do you hire for your sales training?” When you find out, you might be tempted to say something like “Hey, I know them,” or “Cool.”
Instead, opt for a more polished expression, such as “Yes, I’m familiar with that firm, and I believe we can offer something more.” This positioning will get you further in pursuing a possible business contact.
4. “Can I impose on you to make a call?”
Once you’ve gotten a good conversation going, you may be ready to pitch the other person for a lead. But the “ask” has to be handled with delicacy.
The phrase “can I impose on you” sounds like you haven’t done the groundwork for the “ask.” So go through the steps that will make you feel you are not imposing. This can include a lot of listening and selling yourself. Once you’re convinced you are not imposing, you can confidently say, “I’d love it if you could make a call on my behalf.” Now you’re off and running!
5. “Let me know how it goes”
If someone has been kind enough to speak to someone else on your behalf, be sure you do the follow-up—don’t expect them to get back to you.
Ask your new contact when you should follow up with them. You might also inquire “What is the best way to reach you?” They may give you their business card or phone number or say “Text me at this number.” The point is that you want to close on this networking opportunity, and that means the next step should be very clear.
By Samar Khoury, Managing Editor, Black EOE Journal
There are many fearless individuals out there who, rather than follow the norm, dare to think outside the box and be true to themselves. They don’t worry about being different from the rest. We here at Black EOE Journal like to celebrate those influencers who enjoy taking the road less traveled and pave the way for others to do the same.
We’ve packed this current issue with movers and shakers who every day are upsetting the status quo, have left their mark, or who are aiming to do just that. Our cover star, Gabrielle Union, is one of those people. The America’s Got Talent judge wants people to feel comfortable enough in their own skin to gain the confidence to be who they want to be. “I realized that assimilation can be a path to becoming invisible and complacent,” Union says, “I’d rather be ‘other.’”
Shaking things up isn’t just a good thing—it’s everything. Toni Morrison, who passed away this past August, was a prime example of that. She wrote stories that rang true for so many—even if some didn’t understand or downright didn’t want them published. Morrison flew in the face of that by becoming one of the most iconic writers of our time, as you’ll read more about on page 58.
Take a look at the influencers on page 36 who show that being extraordinary pays off. From the talented, record-breaking Serena Williams to the Duchess of Sussex, these individuals are making history. But that’s just a glimpse of what you’ll see in this issue. Like our jam-packed supplier diversity section. Khalia Collier shows us anything is possible—at just 31 years old, she’s the only black woman in St. Louis to own a pro sports team! And while construction is largely still a male-dominated industry, Cheryl and Deryl McKissack don’t let that stop them. See how these trailblazers are taking the industry by storm.
No matter what you’re looking for, this issue of Black EOE Journalhas you covered. Just remember, embrace your uniqueness and keep thinking outside the box. Because no one ever achieved their dreams by being ordinary.
I’m an only child, and growing up it was a constant challenge to entertain myself. I’ve been keeping busy my whole life: I’m primarily an actor, but I’ve been DJing since I was a teenager. I’m a producer and a director. I’ve done fashion collaborations, and I have a music label.
Imagine you’re a farmer with a piece of land, and you’re growing crops. Some vegetables need a full cycle to grow, others grow quicker. You realize you have to juggle each one’s seasonal pattern. That’s how I think of my projects. I like having some variety, so I could be in a few episodes of something funny [like The Office] and then do something more serious [such as Luther or 2021’s The Suicide Squad]. Or I could act [Hobbs & Shaw], and direct [Yardie], and DJ. I have an incredible assistant, Marsha, who keeps everything on track. Every night, she texts me the plan for the next day. It took us a while to find our system, but it’s bulletproof now. We used to do a phone call, but that didn’t work as well. WhatsApp is easier.
I don’t think in terms of minutes or hours or days or dates, especially because I’m traveling between time zones. My home base is London, but I could be working anywhere around the world. I pretty much know my schedule for the whole year, and I think of it in terms of blocks of time, where each project is a block.
Clubs and festivals are busier in the summer, and this season was a really busy one for me. I played Coachella for the first time. I’m part of a wave of producers and DJs who adopted a smaller, more nimble studio model. Instead of producing in a big room, I’ve adopted a series of laptops, phones, apps, iPads, headphones that I can take anywhere. I’m a real tech head.
Time he gets up: Between 6 and 8 a.m.
First thing he does in the morning: “I pick up my phone and check my messages. Then I’ll get up, sit on the edge of the bed for a little bit, take the day in, and take a shower.”
How he handles social media: “I’ve been trying to wean myself off. I used to post a lot more, but it’s been putting me off lately. And Twitter’s just not how I want to receive my news. I read the news aggregated on my iPad, but I can’t check it constantly—I’m not proud of it, but it’s true—because it makes me feel depressed.”
Just a few decades ago, Black art was hard to come by in mainstream markets. Artists were largely only viewed at African American museums and at niche galleries.
In 1995, two young African American males in South Los Angeles set out to bridge the gap between Black art collectors and the everyday consumer. Shades of Color fuses Black art into its product line to celebrate one of America’s most influential cultures on household products including home décor, shower curtains, floor mats and kitchen aprons.
As of 2017, the home decor industry was worth $582 billion, and is projected to increase to $741 billion by 2023, according to PR Newswire. There has been an increase in home ownership which has tremendously impacted the home décor market, as stated on the Allied Market Research website.
While the home décor market is constantly expanding, there are still seldom companies that honor African American art on their products. Shades of Color’s partnership with African American artists is proving to be a solution that brings art into the homes of the consumers that truly appreciate it.
“We work with artists to mass produce their art on products which exponentially increases exposure to their craft,” says President, Adrian Woods. “Our artists are an extension of our family and are relatable from the girlfriends of Cidne Wallace to the strong Black fathers by Frank Morrison to the more contemporary styles of Larry Poncho Brown. Our goal is to highlight these artists and be a driving force in ethnic home décor.”
Black art is a reflection of American culture, and Shades of Color’s community is making that art more accessible. All types of consumers have essentially become art collectors without even knowing it. The company’s direct to consumer website features African American artists, a vast catalog of products and global conversations around culture and current affairs. With its ties to community involvement the company is also supporting its greater network. Schools, churches and community groups have earned well over $2 million through the company’s fifteen year fundraising program that is open to everyone.
What began in the mid-90’s as strictly a calendar company is now a leader in an ethnic niche market selling through mass retailers, organizations, main street gift shops and quaint Afrocentric stores across the country. The flagship calendar line preserves history and brings facts, accomplishments and current milestones to light in a time when typical classrooms across the country are still neglecting to include Black history. The entire product line is infused with positive aspirations and imagery that embody this very important aspect of Americana.
“It is touching to hear the reactions,” says Production Manager and Marketing Director, Janine Robinson. “Across social media followers comment on what it feels like to walk into their bathroom, for example, and see a reflection of themselves on a 70” x 70” panel that fills the room. It’s not rare to get several comments saying, ‘That’s me!’ Not only does the product fill the room literally, the art and statements fill and ignite the spirit too. That is the part that makes it all worth it.” #UpliftandInspire
About Shades of Color
Founded in 1995, Shades of Color, LLC is a small Black-owned business producing high quality calendars, stationery, kitchenware, home décor, bags and gifts. It licenses and commissions Black art from renowned African American artists. The company manufactures and distributes its own collections to a global audience. Learn more about their products at www.ShadesGifts.com. Learn more about their Home Décor Collection at www.shadescalendars.com/product-category/homedecor
Tyler Perry is footing the bill for an Atlanta couple who was forced to remain in Mexico after they were unable to pay a $14,000 medical bill.
Stephen Johnson and his fiance Tori Austin were traveling on a Carnival cruise ship when he was diagnosed with pancreatitis and diabetes, according to multiple reports. He fell into a diabetic coma, prompting staff on the ship to send him to the hospital in the Mexican port city of Progreso.
WGLC reported that the couple didn’t have medical or travel insurance and was unable to pay the ensuing medical bill. They claimed that efforts to set up a payment plan were rejected, forcing the hospital to lock the doors and windows and monitor them in an effort to discourage them from leaving until they found a way to pay up.
A source told Fox News that Perry took notice of the story and has agreed to pay the man’s medical bill as well as the couple’s travel expenses home so that they may leave the hospital once doctors give Johnson the all-clear on his health.
“Today I am thankful for and will always be thankful for Tyler Perry,” Austin wrote on Facebook. “My mom also was a huge fan of his.
People reports that Austin previously wrote on Facebook that Stephen has several ulcers that need to be treated before it’s safe for him to travel. In an update on Facebook, Austin previously notes that neither she nor Johnson blames Carnival in any way for the incident. In fact, they praised the staff’s efforts to ensure his safety.
Tyler Perry’s new Atlanta studio will be home to the 2019 Miss Universe competition. The three-hour-event, hosted by Steve Harvey for the fifth consecutive year, will air live from Tyler Perry Studios on Sunday, December 8 at 7 PM ET live/PT tape-delayed on Fox. Additionally, the event again will be simulcast live in Spanish exclusively on Telemundo.
“The Miss Universe telecast is distributed to more than 170 countries,” said Paula M. Shugart, president of The Miss Universe Organization. “We have always been proud to give a global platform to diverse, ambitious and strong young women – our leaders of tomorrow.”
Women representing more than 90 countries will compete in multiple categories, including personal statement, swimsuit, evening gown and interview, culminating with the reigning Miss Universe, Catriona Gray from the Philippines, crowning her successor.
Perry opened his 330-acre 12-stage facility on the former Fort McPherson Army Base earlier this month. The writer, producer, director and actor recently premiered his two newest series Sistas and The Oval on BET, the first projects stemming from his mega film and TV deal with Viacom he inked back in 2017.
Continue on to Deadline to read the complete article.
When director Kasi Lemmons started work on the first major movie about Harriet Tubman, the 19th century slave turned hero of the Underground Railway, she decided to focus less on the brutality of slavery and more on human stories.
“I really felt that I wanted to speak about a different kind of violence, which was family separation, which I hadn’t seen as much of but is very much the Harriet Tubman story and what she was motivated by,” said Lemmons. Lemmons co-wrote the screenplay for “Harriet,” which opens in U.S. movie theaters on Friday.
“This image of her sisters being taken away, her brother having to leave his wife right after childbirth, her sister saying, ‘no, I can’t leave my children.’ The choices that people had to make and the fact that she was motivated to go back to rescue her family,” Lemmons added.
Tubman was born into slavery in the early 1800s in Maryland. As a young adult, she escaped slavery by running nearly 100 miles through forests and fields. She then risked her life several times to return to Maryland and lead dozens of slaves to freedom via the Underground Railroad.
The petite, 5-foot-tall Tubman is played by Cynthia Erivo, a London-born actress with Nigerian parents who won a Tony award in 2016 for her lead role in the Broadway revival of the musical “The Color Purple.”
The casting of a British actress to play a woman seen as an African-American icon has caused controversy in the United States, but Lemmons said she thought Tubman’s story “was big enough to share.”
Continue on to NBC News to read the complete article.
When the film “Jurassic World 3” hits theaters on June 11, 2021, moviegoers will see DeWanda Wise front and center as the lead.
The Maryland born actress just joined the cast, according to Deadline, which includes Laura Dern and Jeffrey Goldblum, who starred in the original 1993 film “Jurassic Park.”
If you recognize Wise, it’s because she starred as Nola Darling in the now-defunct Spike Lee Netflix series “She’s Gotta Have It.” She also played in TV shows such as “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” “The Good Wife” and the soap opera “One Life to Live.”
Wise celebrated the news of the role Friday on Instagram, where she also thanked the people encouraged her along the way. According to the actress, the constant motivation she received is what helped her land the “Jurassic World 3” role.
Wise celebrated the news of the role Friday on Instagram, where she also thanked the people encouraged her along the way. According to the actress, the constant motivation she received is what helped her land the “Jurassic World 3” role.
“If you believe in the power of words, in the strength of positive energy, as I undoubtedly do, you know that every ‘Can’t wait 2CU in more movies! You should play _____! Go Awf! You inspire ✊🏾 Queen
Shine 🌟Please play ______ Yaaassss 👏🏾👏🏾👏🏾 And of course… I love you ♥️’ Went into this,” she wrote. “#ThankYou beyond🙏🏾See you in #JurassicWorld 🦖🦖.”
And Wise’s followers continued to provide encouragement under her post.
“GO KILL IT, GIRL!!!💛👏🏻,” someone wrote. “🙌🏾🙌🏾🙌🏾🙌🏾🙌🏾! So so excited for you @dewandawise !! Love seeing you on our screens! It’s where you belong! Congratulations!!! 💕👑.”
“You truly deserve this!” a second person commented. “So happy and excited for you, really can’t wait to see it either you’re are the PERFECT addition to this franchise!! ✨✨✨🙌🏾✨✨✨.”
Back in July it was announced that “She’s Gotta Have It” would be cancelled after its second season. But one of Wise’s fans told her the new role made up for that and then some.
“One door closes and an even bigger one opens!” that person wrote. “So excited your talent is coming to the big screen in a blockbuster no doubt!”
Gabrielle Union found her way into the mainstream and straight to our hearts at the start of the new millennium with her breakout performance as the leader of the East Compton Clovers in Bring It On.
In the nearly two decades since then, the actress’ life has evolved to encompass a multitude of additional roles across a personal and professional spectrum—outspoken activist, best-selling author, fashion-forward designer, dedicated wife and, most importantly, doting mother.
Actress to Activist
Union’s influence emanates far beyond her on-screen portrayals. Proudly raised by her parents to have a world perspective, she supports a multitude of causes, from racial justice to ending violence against women, voting rights to eradicating poverty, and diversity to health initiatives.
Her tenacity in standing up and speaking her mind was cultivated through education and life experiences, both positive and negative. As a young black girl growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood, Union admits she wanted nothing more than to completely assimilate, letting racially tinged jokes and perspectives roll off her shoulders to avoid being seen as “other.”
Exposure to African-American studies while attending UCLA had a huge influence on Union’s mindset, highlighting the importance of calling out injustice and oppression and opening her perspective to a treasure trove of change-makers.
“Learning about those brilliant Black activists and authors encouraged me to have pride in myself and in my voice,” she said. “I realized that assimilation can be a path to becoming invisible and complacent. I’d rather be ‘other.’”
With the strength of those lessons at her back, and following a sexual assault that threatened to marginalize her even further, she began speaking her mind fearlessly and unapologetically, raising awareness about the issues that mattered to her—a characteristic that has endured in her day-to-day life.
“My goal is to use my platform to provide a sense of connectedness
for those who suffer in silence,” said the activist, who was appointed to former President Obama’s National Advisory Committee for Violence Against Women in 2010. “It’s been a journey and an evolving consciousness—not an easy process, but definitely worthwhile.”
She’s a Boss
As she’s solidified her place in the film and television industry, the America’s Got Talent judge has lent her efforts to establishing and growing her commercial empire, calling upon her down-to-earth persona and relatable personal brand to connect with fans and consumers.
In 2004, she became a brand ambassador for Neutrogena, a successful partnership that lasted for more than a decade.
In 2012, she partnered with Napa Valley-based winery JaM Cellars to develop a full-bodied Chardonnay cheekily named Vanilla Puddin.
In 2014, she became the first celebrity ambassador—and creative advisor—for nail beauty company SensatioNail.
And in 2017, her entrepreneurial spirit erupted with both the launch of Flawless by Gabrielle Union—a hair care line created specifically with black women in mind—and the announcement of her partnership with major consumer fashion brand New York & Company, where she serves as the face of the brand’s 7th Avenue Design Studio and launched an acclaimed namesake collection.
The Flawless brand was born through Union’s experiences with trying to care for her natural hair while working in the industry. More often than not, she lamented, the stylists on set would have no idea how to manage her textured mane, leading to damage and dismay.
When the opportunity came along to create a line of products that catered specifically to her hair care needs, she jumped at the chance, working with a team, including former Macadamia Beauty CEO Vince Davis, to produce a range of catered shampoos, conditioners, repair masks, oil treatments, edge control, and more. A common thread throughout the brand’s offering is the use of a group of key ingredients proven to promote healthy hair, including argan, marula, macadamia, coconut, and avocado oils, as well as pea protein.
“My goal with our Flawless products is to help women with textured hair create ever-changing looks without compromising the health of their favorite accessory—their hair,” Union said of the collection, which is sold online, in JCPenney Salons and at ULTA. “I just want them to have great hair days. Period.”
Union’s collaboration with New York & Company’s 7th Avenue Design Studio materialized to the star’s admitted surprise—she never expected to be courted by the popular retail chain to serve as a brand ambassador. Operating as a sub-brand and inspired by her character on series Being Mary Jane, the line features chic dresses, modern suiting, and versatile separates that “embody the career woman who needs easy, effortless, styles that are polished and on trend.”
“Mary Jane’s style reflects power, leadership, and risk taking,” she explained. “She wears classic styles, but with a twist, which is why I think she’d definitely shop at New York & Company.”
Beyond her ambassadorship, which features Union modeling fashions on the company’s website, in print and digital advertisements, and on social media, the actress has ventured into a “whole new game” with the launch of her namesake collection, featuring a wide range of fashionable choices, all reminiscent of the style icon’s eclectic taste.
“I wanted to offer on-trend fashions at affordable prices that flatter all body types—that’s the bottom line,” said Union, who was given free rein to design whatever she chooses and prides herself on being fully hands-on with the creative process.
Two years into her venture, the designer recently pulled from a new source of inspiration to drive her latest launch—five-month-old daughter Kaavia James Union Wade. The adorable all-inclusive capsule collection, entitled Kaavi James by Gabrielle Union, features an array of stylish dresses, T-shirts, jumpers, and onesies (many of them unisex!) in sizes 0–24 months, all within a $15–$45 range. In addition to serving as fashion muse, Kaavia (whose parents recently trademarked her name for future projects) serves major face in the campaign’s advertisements, posing alongside her mom with her hilarious signature “Shady Baby” expression.
When it comes to priorities, the multi-hyphenate talent makes it clear—nothing is more important than her family. Just check her social media (which is plastered with their faces). She married NBA star Dwayne Wade in 2014, in the process becoming stepmother to his three boys, Zaire, Zion, and Xavier.
After struggling with infertility due to a form of endometriosis, the couple turned to surrogacy, welcoming Kaavia in November 2018.
The new mother has been open and honest about her fertility struggles, believing there is healing in the knowledge that many couples face similar challenges as they try to conceive.
Union’s life today may seem like a fairytale, but it has required blood, sweat, tears, self-love, introspection, and a dogged determination to succeed to transform her life from then to now.
A Pre-Destined Path
Union embarked on her acting journey in the mid-90s, performing in a guest role capacity or as a supporting character for a number of popular sitcoms, including Family Matters, Moesha, 7th Heaven, and Sister, Sister.
Interestingly enough, she hadn’t grown up with stars in her eyes, dreaming Hollywood dreams. The driving force behind her foray into the acting world, she admits, was money to help pay for college.
“You want to know when I became serious about being an actress?
When I made money! It really wasn’t for the love of it, in the beginning,” said the star, who graduated from UCLA with a BA in Sociology. “My plan back then was to eventually go to law school, but pretty quickly, I realized I could make a living doing this. So, I recalibrated—and never looked back.”
She hit a double whammy in 2000, appearing in Love & Basketball (as superficial high school mean girl Shawnee Easton) and co-starring with Kirsten Dunst in Bring It On (as captain of the East Compton Clovers, Isis), both of which were extremely popular and have since become cult classics.
Her role in Bring It On held a great significance for Union—she credits it as one of the biggest boosts of her career—as it not only addressed the real issue of appropriation but also served as a catalyst for her to be conscious of the roles and narratives she agreed to portray on screen.
“It’s interesting, because I had wanted a part in another cheerleading movie that came out around the same time, but they didn’t pursue Black women for any of the roles. I couldn’t even get an audition,” she revealed. “In this movie, the very premise was about cultural appropriation and how the hard work of African Americans has been repackaged with blond hair and blue eyes. The social justice of it appealed to me.”
The role directly led to her casting in the ground-breaking medical drama City of Angels, which held the distinction as network television’s first medical drama with a predominantly African-American cast. The show, which ran for two seasons on CBS, featured a who’s who of eventual Black Hollywood royalty, including Blair Underwood, Viola Davis, Maya Rudolph, and Vivica A. Fox.
It was her portrayal of successful TV news anchor Mary Jane Paul on
BET network’s Being Mary Jane, however, that truly solidified Union’s superstar status and staying power. The award-winning series, which ran from 2013 to spring 2019 over the course of four seasons, followed the personal and professional life happenings of the broadcast journalist as she searches for “the puzzle pieces that she, and society, insist are missing from her life as a single Black woman.”
The show was an absolute homerun for BET (debuting as its highest-rated show and quickly becoming the network’s signature series) and was praised across the board for its complex characters, captivating storylines, and willingness to tackle powerful issues. African-American women across the world hailed the series as they saw themselves and their families reflected on a weekly basis.
For Union, participation in the project was a labor of love and her greatest creative decision, offering an opportunity for her to take a role she cared about, while playing an imperfect, complicated, messy character.
“I didn’t want to play a perfect character that was a fully wholesome role model who had all the right answers,” she said. “I’d never been challenged like this—I could be required to show a bunch of different colors within one scene. In many ways, we shared similar struggles and triumphs, loves and losses, and especially the penchant for epic reads. This role was one of the most gratifying of my life.”
Producing for the Future
Building on years of experience in front of the camera, in 2014 Union added to her repertoire by stepping behind the camera to produce, starting with the Lifetime original film With This Ring. In the years since, she has served as an executive producer on a number of projects, including last year’s Breaking In (for which she was awarded Breakthrough Producer of the Year at the CinemaCon Big Screen Achievement Awards) and Spectrum Originals first major original series LA’s Finest (a Bad Boys spin-off co-starring Jessica Alba).
She also launched her own production company, I’ll Have Another (named as a nod to her best-selling book, We’re Going to Need More Wine), signing a first look deal with Sony Pictures TV last year to develop broadcast, cable, and digital projects.
It is a responsibility Union doesn’t take lightly, as she realizes that she is one of but a handful of Black women who head their own production companies.
“As I’ve taken on new projects, I’ve become more aware of the lack of diversity behind the camera,” she noted. “It’s been proven that real inclusion actually makes dollars and cents, and Hollywood is starting to change, but we still need to increase the diversity of directors, executive producers and studio heads.”
The Road Ahead
With her family by her side, her career expanding, her businesses and partnerships blossoming, and her voice for social justice reverberating, Union is living life unapologetically and striving daily to reach her full potential.
“I’m just trying to think limitlessly and not put a cap on my dreams,” she said. “When you’re open like that, the world will take you all sorts of places you could have never imagined.”
It’s obvious that for this multi-tasking mama, the best is yet to come.
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