Reading Toni Morrison at 17, 25 and 35 It took nearly 20 years, but revisiting ‘Sula,’ I finally saw myself in her words, as only a grown woman can

In the documentary Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, the poet Sonia Sanchez offers a method for reading and understanding the work of her friend, the only black woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize for literature.

“In order to survive,” Sanchez says, “you should reread Toni Morrison every 10 years.”

After the news broke last week that Morrison had died, her death hit with the same intensity one associates with the passing of a beloved auntie. And yet I found comfort in three things. Unlike the beginning of her career as a novelist, when Morrison’s genius was up for debate and her choice to write free of concerns about the opinions of white people raised hackles, the entire world rose up to mourn her and celebrate her many contributions. Second, she graced the earth for 88 years. It didn’t feel as though someone had been prematurely stolen from us, like Lorraine Hansberry dying at age 34 or being forced to say goodbye to Jimmy Baldwin when he was 63. And third, I decided to follow Sanchez’s advice, starting with Sula.

Toni Morrison attends the Carl Sandburg Literary Awards Dinner at the University of Illinois at Chicago Forum on Oct. 20, 2010.

Photo by Daniel Boczarski/FilmMagic

For most of my childhood, Morrison’s works were beautifully crafted abstractions. The words were accessible, and yet admiring them was not the same as understanding them.

When I read Morrison’s first novel, The Bluest Eye, as a high school senior, my approach was practically clinical. I absorbed the work the same way I pored over the words of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn — that is to say, in obsessive pursuit of an “A” — reading and regurgitating literary criticism and taking apart the book’s symbolism, context and ideas. But there was one moment when I connected to Morrison as a black girl.

During a class discussion, a white girl in the nearly all-white class asked the teacher what “high yellow” meant. I piped up because I actually knew the answer. “It’s a couple shades lighter than me,” I explained.

The girl turned and glared at me. “Well, thanks for that, Soraya,” she snarled, and then went on to admonish me for employing such a graphic example. I was confused and a little embarrassed. Why was she angry with me? Why had she reacted with such venom, as though I’d pointed out a deficiency that had embarrassed her? A wall grew between my blackness and that which Morrison had recorded for posterity, and I learned that it was offensive to connect the two. So Pecola Breedlove, the book’s main character, meant about as much to me as Ivan Denisovich. Two fascinating foreigners in two different gulags.

It wasn’t until my 20s — after having studied at Howard, the same university Morrison attended and taught at — that I picked up her work again, dared to see myself in it and read for my own pleasure and edification.

I chose Sula. Morrison’s second novel, published in 1973, is the story of friends Nel Wright and Sula Peace, who grow up in a small town and whose adult lives move in different directions. Probably about 10% of it stuck with me. I remember being enchanted by Sula’s clothing. Wrote Morrison:

She was dressed in a manner that was as close to a movie star as anyone would ever see. A black crepe dress splashed with pink and yellow zinnias, foxtails, a black felt hat with the veil of net lowered over one eye. In her right hand was a black purse with a beaded clasp and in her left a red leather traveling case, so small, so charming — no one had ever seen anything like it before, including the mayor’s wife and the music teacher, both of whom had been to Rome.

Sula had left her tiny community of Medallion, Ohio, for college in Nashville, Tennessee, and had returned worldly, glamorous and uncontainable. I grew up in a small North Carolina town I had no desire to revisit. After spending a summer working in Jackson, Mississippi, and another in Kansas City, Missouri, I realized I had something in common with Sula, which was that the provincial life was not for me. I yearned to be in a real city with black people and public transportation. And like Sula, I didn’t much see the point of marriage.

Those with husbands had folded themselves into starched coffins, their sides bursting with other people’s skinned dreams and bony regrets. Those without men were like sour-tipped needles featuring one constant empty eye. Those with men had had the sweetness sucked from their breath by ovens and steam kettles. Their children were like distant but exposed wounds whose aches were no less intimate because separate from their flesh. They had looked at the world and back at their children, back at the world and back again at their children, and Sula knew that one clear young eye was all that kept the knife away from the throat’s curve.

The married women of Medallion were cautionary tales, especially for a young adult woman with no children. Every time a relative or a stranger made a remark about my potential as a wife and mother, I wanted to scream, the same way I wanted to scream every Thanksgiving in my grandmother’s house when all the women were conscripted into domestic duties while the men got to sit and watch football.

So Sula’s words to her grandmother, Eva, made perfect sense to me. “You need to have some babies. It’ll settle you,” Eva told Sula.

“I don’t want to make somebody else. I want to make myself.”

“Selfish. Ain’t no woman got no business floatin’ around without no man.”

Award-winning New York author Toni Morrison is seen here at the Harbourfront’s International Festival of Authors in Toronto in 1982.

Photo by Reg Innell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

I supposed I, like Sula, would simply be selfish. Sula made sense to me. I didn’t fully grasp why Sula kept bouncing from man to man — I suppose I thought of her as the Samantha Jones of her day — but I understood choosing yourself first.

Their evidence against Sula was contrived, but their conclusions about her were not. Sula was distinctly different. Eva’s arrogance and Hannah’s self-indulgence merged in her, and with a twist that was all her own imagination, she lived out her days exploring her own thoughts and emotions, giving them full reign, feeling no obligation to please anybody unless their pleasure pleased her.

So what if she died young? At least she had the sense to do a little living first. My admiration was superficial and grounded in my own stubborn, rather narrowly defined pursuit of the feminist cause. The darker details of Sula’s life slid by in my mind, and for the next 10 years, I walked around with an incomplete understanding of her.

And then the woman who created Sula died.

Recently, I’d been skipping around Morrison’s essays in The Source of Self-Regard, which, on some level, is a helpful guidebook for how to be a black woman in America without going mad. And I’d seen Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’ wonderful documentary about Morrison.

Her words were still important, but I was mostly obsessed with Morrison’s life and personality. She was a lioness of American literature, yes, but she was also charming, sensual and self-assured. Here was a woman with a Pulitzer and a Nobel Prize grinning as she talked about how good she was at making carrot cakes, how she indulged her sexual appetites as a Howard student without a lick of shame or regret. To Morrison, chasing ambition did not require abandoning pleasure.

Toni Morrison attends Art & Social Activism, a discussion on Broadway with TaNehisi Coates, Morrison and Sonia Sanchez, on June 15, 2016, in New York City.

Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for The Stella Adler Studio of Acting

For some time now, my editor has sent me on assignments and reminded me to have fun. My responses are always halting and awkward because I’m going to work, and work requires focus, and fun just seemed inappropriate.

And yet here was the freest black woman in the world, and she lived her life in such a way that pleasure and style were not antithetical to intellectual rigor. If anything, they fed it. The fact that Morrison was a writer made this seem all the more superhuman. Writing is typically characterized by long bouts of misery rewarded with occasional pearls of short-lived but deeply intense satisfaction. Morrison seemed to have found a way to supply herself with a steady stream of joy.

Rather than living literary goddess, I began to think about Morrison as a fellow writer, a fellow Howard grad, a fellow woman. There were whole worlds in the lives of my mother, my aunts, my grandmothers and their grandmothers that I thought were none of my business because, well, they told me they were none of my business. What did a child need to know about the personal exploits of her ancestors? That was grown folks’ business. I realized that reading Morrison’s books feels like gaining entry into a club of black adulthood. They turn ancestors into contemporaries.

So I revisited Sula last week because Sula, like so much of Morrison’s writing, is a grown woman novel. The fact that Sula slept with her best friend’s husband is, frankly, the least interesting thing about her. I saw Sula through new eyes, as a woman who did a horrible thing as a 12-year-old (accidentally killing Chicken Little by throwing him in the river, where he drowned) and never fully got over it, no matter how hard she tried.

This time, I marveled at Morrison’s freedom. So much focus has been paid, and rightfully so, to how she didn’t seek white validation. But it’s more than that. Morrison possessed the moxie to create whatever world she pleased and follow whatever road beckoned in it. In doing so, she could create a heroine who slept with everyone’s husbands but genuinely didn’t mean anything by it. Who else breaks taboos with such gentle elegance, without the need to shout about it in the prose, but simply allows it to unfold?

Now I think the thing Sula actually spent most of her adult life chasing was joy, the love she felt she deserved, and she kept coming up short. She’d try on a man, then do away with him the moment she knew he didn’t have what she was looking for. And she kept doing it until she met Ajax.

Morrison was unafraid of letting everyone in Medallion regard Sula as a witch while daring to assert how Sula’s presence actually improved the lives of those in her community, whether they recognized it or not. When the people of Medallion don’t have Sula to kick around, they lose the vessel for all their displeasures and frustrations and insecurities and simply fall prey to them again.

This time, I paid closer attention to Nel, Sula’s best friend, and her realization that motherhood will be the most interesting thing about her life. I thought of my friends who are now mothers, and I felt grateful that I am able to make space for their children and their partners in my heart instead of walling myself off from the changes they welcomed in their lives. I got lost in Sula and Nel’s friendship in a way I never had before, and in this passage in particular, when Sula is alone on her deathbed:

While in this state of weary anticipation, she noticed that she was not breathing, that her heart had stopped completely. A crease of fear touched her breast, for any second there was sure to be a violent explosion in her brain, a gasping for breath. Then she realized, or rather, she sensed, that there was not going to be any pain. She was not breathing because she didn’t have to. Her body did not need oxygen. She was dead.

Sula felt her face smiling. “Well I’ll be damned,” she thought, “it didn’t even hurt. Wait’ll I tell Nel.”

It took nearly 20 years, but I finally did what Morrison had been inviting me to do, through decades of writing: to see myself in her words, as only a grown woman can.

Natasha Hastings runs down the obstacles of being a pregnant Olympic hopeful 400-meter relay medalist hopes to go to Tokyo after she has her first child

As soon as Natasha Hastings, 32, learned she was pregnant, she began to wonder.

She pondered all the fraught physiological and cultural questions that undergird the modern motherhood industrial complex: How would her body change? Would her fiancé share equally in the work of round-the-clock baby care? What happens when she returns to her career — and would she even have a career to return to?

But she also had some custom asks: Would she ever run a quarter-mile in 52 seconds or less, again, and if so, how soon? What support would it take for her to make it to the Olympics one last time? And, crucially, would sponsors stick by her as she tries to make the trip?

Early this month, Hastings, a gold medalist in the 4×400-meter relay at the 2008 and 2016 Olympics, revealed on Instagram that she was 5½ months pregnant. She also announced her intention to return to world-class competition, saying, “I’m going to go to Tokyo! Win a couple more medals!”

Instagram Photo

Questions about balancing pregnancy and world-class athletics aren’t new. At the 1960 Rome Games, sprinter Wilma Rudolph won three gold medals 16 months after having a baby, although few knew it. But Hastings is part of a new visibility and debate about the physical capabilities of female athletes after motherhood, and what systems and protection — health, economic, child care — they need around them. They are conversations we’ve rarely had, around questions we’ve hardly asked.

Hastings has been running professionally for 12 years. But now, as she pursues her dream of sport and family, she’s about to cover new ground.


When she found out that she and her fiancé, former Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback William Gay, were expecting, Hastings remembers thinking, My God, what’s happening? She saw the excitement in his face, and he saw the dismay in hers. Yes, she wanted a baby, eventually. But she was just back from a knee injury, training for her outdoor season and hoping to compete in this year’s World Championships. They were planning to marry next year and, fingers crossed, she would qualify for the Olympics. For someone who’d been in communion with her body since she began running competitively at 10, the timing felt all wrong.

Natasha Hastings of the United States competes in the women’s 4×400-meter relay heats during Day 9 of the 16th IAAF World Athletics Championships London 2017 at the London Stadium.

Patrick Smith/Getty Images

“Track is my life, you know,” Hastings said. “My job relies on my physical abilities.” Everything she’s planned for the next phase of her life — building her 400M Diva cosmetic and beauty line, and her Natasha Hastings Foundation to advocate for women and girls in sports — was predicated on exiting track on her own terms. “I’m not the first woman who has thought about family versus career,” Hastings said. “But I don’t know any man who has to make that choice, you know?”

Hastings was worried her family might be disappointed in the timing. And she was especially worried about her sponsors, particularly Under Armour, which she’s been with since 2012.

“I took a while to share with my sponsors for fear of, just, I don’t know what this looks like, I don’t know how they’re going to take this.” She didn’t know “if I’d have a job at all. Or I shouldn’t say a job, but financial support to continue to train and go after the Olympics.”

While Under Armour continued to sponsor Hastings, her fears were understandable.

Middle-distance runner Alysia Montaño, a six-time USA Outdoor champion, competed in the 800-meter race at the 2014 U.S. Track and Field Championships while eight months pregnant. In a Mother’s Day editorial in The New York Times, Montaño wrote that female athletes are often forced into physically dangerous choices because companies such as Nike, which sponsored her, can suspend their contracts and health insurance when they get pregnant.

“I’m now entering a new world of mommyhood, and unfortunately our worst critics are other moms.” — Natasha Hastings

Athletes are always vulnerable to risk and injury that is often heightened during pregnancy. And they largely don’t get maternity leave. Some sports have responded to the challenges.

When Orlando Pride star Sydney Leroux posted pictures of her training while five months pregnant in March, her Twitter mentions included people worried about the health of her baby. But teammates and other female athletes rushed to offer their support.

Two members of the U.S. World Cup soccer team in 1999 had children. The 2015 U.S. World Cup team had three mothers, and a culture of inclusion has taken root in the sport, including paid maternity leave. Moms have been a part of the WNBA for more than 20 years and have a portion of their salaries and medical expenses covered through the league’s collective bargaining agreement.

A bobblehead of Phoenix Mercury All-Star DeWanna Bonner features her holding her twin baby girls.

But non-team sports often seem to think female athletes don’t, or at least shouldn’t, get pregnant at all.

The message from the culture has been that female athletes should retire to have children, said Amira Rose Davis, an assistant professor of history and gender studies at Penn State University.

“So we haven’t had a lot of cases that have been able to be visible role models, modeling what it looks like to be working moms within sports,” she said. Her own earliest memory of an athlete mother was fictional: Sanaa Lathan’s character in the 2000 movie Love & Basketball. But she calls this new era of visibility a chance to engage in granular conversations about child care, what breastfeeding looks like when you’re also pushing your body athletically and how to bring abdominal muscles and hips back to world-class form.

Davis cites Serena Williams, who almost died after giving birth to her daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr., via emergency cesarean section in 2017. Her story highlighted the WTA’s lack of maternity leave policies. And her well-documented struggles, both emotional and physical, to return to competition opened a new front in motherhood conversations worldwide.

From left to right: U.S. women’s 4×400-meter relay team members Courtney Okolo, Natasha Hastings, Phyllis Francis and Allyson Felix celebrate their gold medals on the podium during athletics competitions at the Summer Olympics inside Olympic Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on Aug. 20, 2016.

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

In track, Hastings is familiar with the history of sprinter Marion Jones, who failed to qualify for the 2004 Olympics after giving birth the year before. (She was also banned from the sport for two years and had her Olympic medals stripped after charges of doping.)

Sprinter Allyson Felix, whose six Olympic gold medals include the 2016 4×400-meter relay on a team that included Hastings, struggled with complications during her pregnancy last year and had to have an emergency C-section. Her daughter was hospitalized for a month, Felix testified at a recent congressional hearing on the crisis in maternal mortality. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that black and American Indian/Alaska Native women are three times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes as white women.

Like Hastings, Felix is also hoping to compete in Tokyo.

Along with Under Armour, Hastings’ sponsors — which include the New York Athletic Club, as well as cosmetic and feminine care products companies — congratulated her on her pregnancy and continued their sponsorship.

Hastings feels “blessed. … If there’s anything that can speak for me, it’s that I have been a resilient person and athlete and my back has been against the wall several times.” That resilience helped her get past her failure to make the 2012 Olympic team. It helped her overcome a hamstring pull before the 2016 Olympic trials. She’s relying on it now, including for all the difficult conversations about pregnancy that she wasn’t prepared for.


In deciding on child care post-baby, Hastings says she and her fiancé have had some pointed exchanges. Hastings is thinking about how she will balance the needs of an infant with her own need for speed. She can’t run if she doesn’t sleep. And in discussing her options with other women, including hiring a nanny, she’s found these mommy conversations can get thorny quick.

“I’m now entering a new world of mommyhood, and unfortunately our worst critics are other moms,” said Hastings. She’s finding her instinct to rely on their wisdom difficult to square with her own world-class ambitions. “I mean this with respect and honor, and I know that they’re coming from a good place and I know that I’m also, I am coming from a place of the unknown, right? But then there’s also this space of what I do that is unknown for them.” So there’s a disconnect “even in the conversation of a nanny, you know? It’s almost like, well, you’re less of a mom for having a nanny.”

She’s running toward her future, not just for the girls who come next but also for women right now who are watching her for clues about their own postpartum possibilities.

She’s always had to curate the people around her and the voices she allows in her space. “I’m in a small population of the world that thinks that what I go out and do every day is possible. I’ve lived up to a standard that to most is impossible without having a child in there, right?” Her career has always been hard. “I’m no fool to what I’m going up against,” she said. “I’m going up against probably the hardest challenge I’ve ever had to face in this sport.” But if she dwells on that, her race is already lost.

Hastings is trying to keep her second-most important athletic instrument — her spirit, her willpower, her determination to completely dust the women running next to her — honed and ready.

As to her body, she’s trusting her longtime coach to help with that. It’s been an adjustment for him as well.


Darryl Woodson of Training Ground Elite in Round Rock, Texas, has been working with Hastings for more than seven years. He’s never coached a pregnant athlete before, so this is new space for him as well.

When Hastings told him she wanted to get back to the Olympics, Woodson said, she was focused on whether things would change between them — if he would start to take her less seriously as an athlete.

He became disciplined about keeping their same routines early on.

Elite coaching is physical, he said, but it is also about keeping athletes in their right mind. “There’s a psychological situation for a person where they’re always feeling like, uh-oh, you’re giving up on me,” Woodson said. When athletes are injured, or have some other physical limitation, “if you make them more aware of it then it starts to bother them, and if you treat them normally then they get through it a lot better.”

Natasha Hastings celebrates winning the gold medal in the women’s 4×400-meter relay final at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro on Aug. 20, 2016.

AP Photo/Martin Meissner

As her pregnancy progressed, they made adjustments for her schedule and how Hastings was feeling. He takes cues from her, but he said her dedication to the work hasn’t wavered.

“I’m not a prenatal coach,” he said. She’s in consultation with her doctors, who say her body will let her know how much she can handle. “And that’s when we stop. Obviously, I have altered some of her workouts” to make sure they’re not overly demanding.

Typically, she’d be in the outdoor season now. She’d be doing flat-out runs over 400 meters to build strength and endurance and doing other anaerobic work. At six months pregnant, she’s not doing that, or weight training, running stairs or jumping hurdles.

She’s continuing to do 150-meter sprints. Normally, she would run it at about 16 or 17 seconds. She’s four or five seconds slower now, and she can get frustrated that she’s not hitting her pre-pregnancy marks.

“That’s where the pick-me-up comes from me, where it’s like, ‘Let’s look at the circumstances,’ ” Woodson said. “The numbers matter nothing at all if we’re not stopping training so that your body doesn’t need to get reintroduced to this next time.”

She’s actually working harder because she’s carrying more. Woodson is sensitive about using words such as weight. If she keeps her body trained, her times will rebound when she’s no longer pregnant.

“My job is to modify the program and get the same results or better and not put her under the same psychological stress,” Woodson said. His job is to listen and give her the best shot at what she says she wants. The baby is due in July, and he’s hoping she returns as soon as September but no later than October.

“We don’t know what we can and will be able to do. We just know psychologically, emotionally and spiritually what we want to do,” Woodson said. “We’ll keep pushing the same way as we always have been.”


On the track and off, Hastings wants to be a role model. Davis said it matters that she’s a black woman doing this work. This is not only because of the recent spotlight on black maternal health but also because “the tropes about black women’s femininity and sexuality within athletics have been so tied to ideas of their bodies.” Pregnancy pushes back at larger stereotypes about what is feminine, and what sport does to femininity.

“I didn’t get to this level by thinking it was impossible,” Hastings said. “I had to know and believe that it was possible, and that came with having a plan, putting the plan in place, being able to adjust here and there when you have to.” And that’s what she’s still doing.

She’s running toward her future, not just for the girls who come next but also for women right now who are watching her for clues about their own postpartum possibilities. She’s doing it for her athletic dreams of speed and glory. For her entrepreneurial dreams of reward and influence. For her dreams of black family and baby love. She focuses on that as she circles the track, chasing the person she’s always striving to be.

Motherhood is the guiding light in Los Angeles Sparks Candace Parker’s life ‘I like to say my daughter chose me’

Los Angeles Sparks champion Candace Parker and her daughter Lailaa will have to share her special day That’s because this year, Mother’s Day falls on May 14—Lailaa’s 9th birthday.

And Parker has a big surprise planned.

“Lailaa doesn’t know. See she’s a zoo person,” Parker told The Undefeated. “She loves animals. We have two dogs. We had a pig. So we’re going to San Diego. We’re going to do a little private tour of the zoo to meet some kangaroos and do all that stuff. She doesn’t know yet.”

Parker was a 22-year-old newlywed when she announced her pregnancy just after being named the 2008 WNBA Rookie of the Year award. Like dozens of other WNBA moms including Leslie, Tina Thompson, Sheryl Swoopes, the 6-foot-9 forward/center’s career continues to flourish.

“I like to say my daughter chose me, Parker said. “I feel like I’m lucky from that aspect that she’s in such an important part of my career.”

Basketball has given the mother and daughter the opportunity to travel the world together. “We’ll be sitting at dinner and she’ll say things like, ‘Mom do you remember in Dubai when we?…’ or ‘Mom do you remember my friend in Russia?’ She has memories of traveling. She has memories of winning a championship. She has memories of being at the Olympics so those are all things I feel fortunate to have shared with her and I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t had her at such a young age.”

Instagram Photo

“I have a really cool daughter and we love each other,” she said. “That’s my best friend. I know she’s growing up but I hope to continue to remain close with her because she’s a special kid.”

As for trying to find that elusive work/life balance? It’s been made a bit easier thanks to the Sparks’ organization.

“She’s able to go on all the trips, all the planes, all the buses, stay in my hotel rooms,” Parker said. “There has never been a problem.”


Parker credits Lailaa for one of her biggest life lessons. Even after a lifetime surrounded by friends and family, it was her daughter who changed and sharpened her outlook and awareness of the people and world around her.

“I didn’t realize becoming a mother would make me a better teammate, a better friend, a better basketball player, a better daughter. I’ve read somewhere and I think Obama said it — they’re like little heartbeats. They’re like your heart walking around outside your body. They’re running around, bumping into stuff and falling. You’re able to kind of live life again through them. It’s so special to be able to be a part of her life and to bring her along and to see how she grows and see how much she’s my personality twin it’s just amazing.”

The best piece of advice about motherhood Parker received is to “do as I do.”

“I think a lot of people come from the generation of do as I say and not as I do,” Parker said. “But everything I do my daughter is watching. And she listens to what I say but she really listens to what I do. There’s like ways for her to pull up stuff and see so I just want to make sure I’m doing what I’m telling her and what I’m showing her to do.”

There was one instance when Parker cried after a loss in a basketball game.

“We’d lost a big game and our season was over and a couple of months later she was playing soccer and she cried because she lost and I said, ‘We don’t cry when we lose,’ and she said. ‘But you did.’ It’s like every single day she’s watching what I’m doing.”

Parker’s blueprint of motherhood comes from her own mother, Natasha Parker.

“For my mom, I feel like I’m the most important thing – me and my brothers — just her support and her ability to always put us first. [Now] getting up with Lailaa in the morning before school and having a conversation, making sure that she’s taken care of and she knows that I care and that I’m able to talk to her and have that type of relationship,” are the lessons Lailee has learned from her own mom.


The first overall pick in the 2008 WNBA draft, Tennessee’s Parker led the Los Angeles Sparks to their third WNBA championship where she scored dominating 28 points a 12 rebounds in Game 5 against the Minnesota Lynx and took home the WNBA Finals MVP. No stranger to winning, Parker was the WNBA Most Valuable Player in 2008 and 2013, WNBA All-Star Game MVP (2013) and Olympic gold (2008, 2012).

Lailaa plays soccer. She also loves dance and participating in hip hop performances. For Parker, there are those gut wrenching times when work means missing those performance.

“The hardest part is now that she’s older is she has activities of her own, so it kills me to not be at everything,” Parker said. “With Facetime videos I’m able to see all her games, all her performances but it’s hard for me to not actually be present when she does everything.”

Laila also enjoys math science and the two create slime together on a regular basis.

“I think she’s going to, at some point, be a scientist,” Parker said. “She loves slime. She goes crazy over slime. We make slime. We color slime. We decorate slime.”

This Mother’s Day marks Parkers second year she’s honored other mothers through her #CPNomAMom campaign. Using social media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, she asked for nominations by mothers for other mom’s they thought deserve to be pampered. The lucky mom this year will win an Adidas prize pack and LA Sparks tickets to a home or road game!

“I think it’s really cool to recognize moms,” Parker said. “And it’s not just your mom, either. It’s recognizing other moms because really it is kind of a thinkless job. You don’t get paid for it and I feel like it’s the most important job in the world. I think it’s just another way to thank moms.”

Motherhood is the guiding light in Los Angeles Spark Candace Parker’s life ‘I like to say my daughter chose me’

Los Angeles Sparks champion Candace Parker and her daughter, Lailaa, will have to share her special day. That’s because this year, Mother’s Day falls on May 13 — Lailaa’s ninth birthday.

And Parker has a big surprise planned.

“Lailaa doesn’t know. See, she’s a zoo person,” Parker told The Undefeated. “She loves animals. We have two dogs. We had a pig. So we’re going to San Diego. We’re going to do a little private tour of the zoo to meet some kangaroos and do all that stuff. She doesn’t know yet.”

Parker was a 22-year-old newlywed when she announced her pregnancy just after being named the 2008 WNBA Rookie of the Year. Like dozens of other WNBA moms before her, including Lisa Leslie, Tina Thompson and Sheryl Swoopes, the 6-foot-9 forward/center’s career continues to flourish.

“I like to say my daughter chose me,” Parker said. “I feel like I’m lucky from that aspect that she’s in such an important part of my career.”

Basketball has given the mother and daughter the opportunity to travel the world together. “We’ll be sitting at dinner and she’ll say things like, ‘Mom, do you remember in Dubai when we?’ … or ‘Mom, do you remember my friend in Russia?’ She has memories of traveling. She has memories of winning a championship. She has memories of being at the Olympics. So those are all things I feel fortunate to have shared with her, and I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t had her at such a young age.”

Instagram Photo

“I have a really cool daughter, and we love each other,” Parker said. “That’s my best friend. I know she’s growing up, but I hope to continue to remain close with her because she’s a special kid.”

As for trying to find that elusive work/life balance? It’s been made a bit easier thanks to the Sparks organization.

“She’s able to go on all the trips, all the planes, all the buses, stay in my hotel rooms,” Parker said. “There has never been a problem.”


Parker credits Lailaa for one of her biggest life lessons. Even after a lifetime surrounded by friends and family, it was her daughter who changed and sharpened her outlook and awareness of the people and world around her.

“I didn’t realize becoming a mother would make me a better teammate, a better friend, a better basketball player, a better daughter. I’ve read somewhere, and I think Obama said it, they’re like little heartbeats. They’re like your heart walking around outside your body. They’re running around, bumping into stuff and falling. You’re able to kind of live life again through them. It’s so special to be able to be a part of her life and to bring her along and to see how she grows and see how much she’s my personality twin. It’s just amazing.”

The best piece of advice about motherhood Parker received is to “do as I do.”

“I think a lot of people come from the generation of do as I say and not as I do,” Parker said. “But everything I do my daughter is watching. And she listens to what I say, but she really listens to what I do. There’s like ways for her to pull up stuff and see, so I just want to make sure I’m doing what I’m telling her and what I’m showing her to do.”

There was one instance when Parker cried after a loss in a basketball game.

“We’d lost a big game and our season was over, and a couple of months later she was playing soccer and she cried because she lost, and I said, ‘We don’t cry when we lose.’ And she said, ‘But you did.’ It’s like every single day she’s watching what I’m doing.”

Parker’s blueprint of motherhood comes from her own mother, Natasha Parker.

“For my mom, I feel like I’m the most important thing, me and my brothers, just her support and her ability to always put us first. [Now] getting up with Lailaa in the morning before school and having a conversation, making sure that she’s taken care of and she knows that I care and that I’m able to talk to her and have that type of relationship” are the lessons Lailaa has learned from her own mom.


The first overall pick in the 2008 WNBA draft out of the University of Tennessee, Parker led the Los Angeles Sparks to their third WNBA championship, with a dominating 28 points and 12 rebounds in Game 5 against the Minnesota Lynx to take home the WNBA Finals MVP award. No stranger to winning, Parker was WNBA Most Valuable Player in 2008 and 2013, All-Star Game MVP (2013) and an Olympic gold medalist (2008, 2012).

Lailaa plays soccer. She also loves dance and participating in hip-hop performances. For Parker, there are those gut-wrenching times when work means missing those performances.

“The hardest part is now that she’s older is she has activities of her own, so it kills me to not be at everything,” Parker said. “With Facetime videos I’m able to see all her games, all her performances, but it’s hard for me to not actually be present when she does everything.”

Lailaa also enjoys math and science, and the two create slime together on a regular basis.

“I think she’s going to, at some point, be a scientist,” Parker said. “She loves slime. She goes crazy over slime. We make slime. We color slime. We decorate slime.”

This Mother’s Day marks Parker’s second year in which she’s honored other mothers through her #CPNomAMom campaign. Using social media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram), she asked for nominations by mothers for other moms who they thought deserve to be pampered. The lucky mom this year will win an Adidas prize pack and Sparks tickets to a home or road game.

“I think it’s really cool to recognize moms,” Parker said. “And it’s not just your mom, either. It’s recognizing other moms because really it is kind of a thankless job. You don’t get paid for it, and I feel like it’s the most important job in the world. I think it’s just another way to thank moms.”

How to think about Clair Huxtable after Bill Cosby’s conviction On Mother’s Day, re-examining a character who once personified Ideal Black Motherhood

Here’s a question for this #MeToo moment: What exactly are we supposed to do with great female characters who sprang from the minds of awful men?

Specifically, what are we to do with Clair Huxtable?

Some feminist writers once argued to let her die. Hold a funeral, say, “Happy Mother’s Day” one last time, bury her and move on.

But now it would appear we’re going to need a lot more shovels, because Clair Huxtable is only one of many female characters created in part by ostensibly progressive men who have serious Woman Problems. There’s Pamela, the mother of Louis C.K.’s children from Louie. There’s Jasmine, the interesting, irritating, tragic lead of Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine. There’s Beatrix Kiddo of Kill Bill and Viola de Lesseps of Shakespeare in Love, women we maybe wouldn’t have met were it not for Harvey Weinstein and Miramax.

Is it even possible to enjoy these women anymore without the nausea that comes from knowing that we’re contributing to a residual that’s getting direct-deposited into the bank accounts of their sleazy progenitors?

The #MeToo era has put everything up for the burdensome task of re-evaluation. It’s one thing to smugly say you always knew Junot Díaz had screwed-up attitudes toward women, because all you had to do was read his work. It’s another to say you divined the same from watching Clair.

After all, Clair used to occupy a different space entirely. When she first arrived in 1984, there was a limited spectrum of black on-screen mothers. Even now, she exists alongside Mary from Precious, Annie Johnson from Imitation of Life, Florida Evans from Good Times, Harriet Winslow from Family Matters, Dee Mitchell from Moesha, Nikki Parker from The Parkers, Rainbow Johnson from black-ish, Van from Atlanta, Cookie Lyon from Empire and many a black woman who wasn’t just mother to her own children but also Mammy to someone else’s white ones.

All of this is one massive, foggy, uncomfortable gray area.

Next to them, she seemed suspended in untouchable perfection, a Damien Hirst installation of Ideal Black Motherhood.

Here was a woman with five children, a full-time job as a lawyer and an almost endless reserve of patience, kindness, wit and radiant energy, along with a healthy sex drive. And she was gorgeous and stylish too.


Part of what was special about Clair Huxtable was that she offered so singular and so rare a portrait of black women, and she was universally enjoyed and celebrated. For a generation of black people, she was The Prototype. Clair made it possible for our racially segregated country to see a black woman and not later be astounded that someone like Michelle Obama could exist.

But we also have to acknowledge that Clair benefited from a false sort of specialness. Scarcity is what makes these conversations of what to do with The Cosby Show and how to think about Clair after Cosby’s conviction so fraught.

The only way to ameliorate that anxiety is to keep pumping more interesting black women and mothers into the cultural atmosphere. It’s only in recent years that black on-screen mothers have occupied some middle area between the perfection of Clair and the monstrosity of Mary from Precious. That’s why images of Rainbow’s postpartum depression and Van harvesting her daughter’s urine to pass a drug test take on heightened value: They provide human, flawed contrasts to Clair’s effortless and perpetual role modeling.

Of course, both Van and Rainbow were created by men as well. If anything, what happened with Cosby has taught us to embrace our skepticism, to be leery of heralding any one artist as some sort of racial savior.


All of this is one massive, foggy, uncomfortable gray area. Actors have a significant hand in shaping their characters and making them memorable. At least part of the mental calculus that allows us to still enjoy these characters is that we could see the actresses behind them as victims of a sort. (Both Gwyneth Paltrow, who portrayed de Lesseps in Shakespeare in Love, and Uma Thurman, the martial arts assassin behind Kill Bill’s Kiddo, came forward with allegations against Weinstein.)

But even that doesn’t work with Clair. After all, no matter how much Phylicia Rashad poured into Clair, she’s also the person who dismissed Cosby’s victims as pawns in a game of tearing down an important black cultural legacy.

Rather than remaining quiet, Rashad went the Cate Blanchett route, defending Clair’s creator when the tide had turned against him. “Forget these women,” Rashad told Showbiz 411’s Roger Friedman about Cosby’s accusers in 2015. “What you’re seeing is the destruction of a legacy. And I think it’s orchestrated. I don’t know why or who’s doing it, but it’s the legacy. And it’s a legacy that is so important to the culture.”

Hell, maybe we don’t want to give Rashad that residuals direct deposit either.

But there were so many things to admire about Clair. We’d like to think that if she lived in the real world and knew what Bill Cosby was doing, she’d condemn him too. After all, one of the most popular clips of her on the internet is one that’s remembered as “Clair’s feminist rant.”

Before we had the black women writers of Feministing and the Crunk Feminist Collective, we had Clair. Before we had Beyoncé standing on a stage at the MTV Awards with the word “FEMINIST” behind her, before we had Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Melissa Harris-Perry, we had Clair. Before we had Michelle Obama telling a convention full of women that fathers don’t babysit their own children, we had Clair. She was a rare pop culture representation of a black feminist, someone who brought gender theory out of the ivory tower and into everyday life, with everyday words.

Clair was the woman who kindly but firmly informed her daughter’s boyfriend that she does not exist to “serve” Dr. Huxtable. Clair was the woman who said, “That … is what marriage is made of. It is give and take, 50-50. And if you don’t get it together and drop these macho attitudes, you are never gonna have anybody bringing you anything anywhere anyplace anytime EV-AH.”

And then there’s Rashad, the person who said “forget those women.” Rashad later said she was “misquoted.” But even when she clarified her comments, Rashad did something that was extremely common before the #MeToo movement gained steam last year. She weighed the cultural impact of one man and made it more important than the harm he’d done to any one woman. And for most of human history, that’s been the status quo.

We’re finally acknowledging how screwed up it is to make one man too big to fail. When women come forward, we’re starting to see them as human beings just as deserving of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as the talented men who harmed them. Finally, maybe just a little bit, women are becoming people.

And perhaps we can appreciate Clair Huxtable for helping us get there, even as we turn our attention to new battles we can only hope she’d support.

Celebrity docuseries are usually fluff. Not HBO’s ‘Being Serena.’ A life-threatening post-delivery scare gives series on Williams a far more serious tone

Whenever a celebrity agrees to a documentary, there’s always a question about how much we’re actually going to learn about the person. Answer: only what they want you to know.

These shows tend to fall along a spectrum. There are the VH1 or Lifetime series that are full of folks hoping to launch themselves off the B- or C-lists into actual celebrity. There are the series that pretend to be serious, even though they know good and well they’re not, such as Mariah Carey’s 2016-17 E! concert series, Mariah’s World. And then there’s Being Serena, HBO’s new docuseries following Serena Williams through the beginning of her pregnancy, childbirth and her postnatal return to professional tennis, which begins airing Wednesday at 10 p.m. EST. It is a celebrity docuseries, yes, but one with the imprimatur of HBO Sports.

The higher the profile of the subject, and the more involved the person is in the project, the more these films tend to be pretty exercises in hagiography. That doesn’t mean they’re without value, just that you shouldn’t expect to see truly unflattering bits. It’s why the most insightful documentaries about famous people usually don’t come until after they’re dead.

That said, Being Serena ends up offering more insight than most, given the athlete’s harrowing hospital experience after the birth of her daughter with Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian. Williams became a high-profile example of a problem affecting black mothers all over the country. Last year, ProPublica and NPR published a series examining high rates of maternal mortality in American women (it was a Pulitzer Prize finalist). One chapter was especially disturbing. “Nothing protects black women from dying in pregnancy and childbirth. Not education. Not income. Not even being an expert on racial disparities in health care,” the organizations reported.

Williams had blood clots in her lungs (known as pulmonary embolisms) and had to advocate for herself, asking for a CT scan with contrast to find them after first asking for an oxygen mask because she could not breathe. She knew what to ask for because Williams has a history with blood clots and she knew what an embolism felt like. And so what began as a TV project on a world-class athlete returning to the top of her game turned into a docuseries in which the best women’s tennis player ever confronted her own mortality.

“I almost died,” Williams says in the series. She wrote about the experience in an op-ed for CNN, connecting it with other, less famous, less wealthy black women.

Being Serena, executive produced by Michael Antinoro (Battle of the Network Stars, The Ashley Graham Project, Jim Rome on Showtime), can sometimes be overwrought. There’s a lot of B-roll of the camera panning through treetops. It’s got some tonal inconsistencies, which I think can be attributed to the fact that no one expected Williams’ labor and delivery experience to be so fraught. Williams had planned for a vaginal delivery but had an emergency cesarean section because her daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr., was in distress.

What began as a TV project on a world-class athlete returning to the top of her game turned into a series in which the best women’s tennis player ever confronted her own mortality.

HBO provided the first two episodes for review, and they offer a glimpse into Williams and Ohanian’s relationship — they’re complete opposites, Williams says. There are tender moments of Richard Williams, Serena’s father, meeting his granddaughter for the first time. And we see Williams trying on wedding dresses and she and Ohanian installing her Australian Open trophy (the one she won while pregnant) in Olympia’s nursery. (The nursery is tricked out with a gorgeous rose gold crib, and I admit I found myself yelling at the TV, “No! Crib bumpers are dangerous! Get rid of those!”)

By the end of the second episode, Williams is out of bed and hitting balls on the tennis court. It’s an abrupt shift from watching her struggle to carry Olympia in her car seat across the driveway to her house. But Williams, by and large, is open about the fact that even for someone as healthy and fit as she is, childbirth can be dangerous and scary. It’s certainly a contradiction to the studied peacefulness of her Instagram feed from that time. Williams is mostly bedridden and in pain for six weeks after delivery, waiting for her C-section scar to heal and for the removal of a filter that doctors put in her body to prevent blood clots from reaching her heart.

When she finally does begin hitting again, she’s honest about the pain she’s feeling because her joints have expanded as part of pregnancy. She argues against current WTA rules that treat pregnant women like players returning from injury when it comes to determining tournament seeding. The current rules, she says, discourage women from having children during their playing years. That’s likely to become an issue if more women attain the career longevity that Williams, 36, has managed.

Being Serena has some unforced errors, sure, but its value lies in what it reveals to be a woman and a professional athlete right now. Williams is tender and nurturing, but she’s more than retained her competitive spirit. She’s unapologetic in her ambition, and for a country that still struggles to accept that in women, it’s a welcome contribution to the television landscape.

Parker Curry, a little black girl just being her own amazing self Ever since the photo of her staring at Michelle Obama’s portrait went viral, she’s become a star on the toddler circuit

An hour before her big moment, Parker Curry was doing the same thing that the rest of us were doing at Nationals Park: shivering. With a game-time temperature closer to freezing than not for the Washington Nationals’ home opener versus the New York Mets, standing on the field meant dealing with the just plain cold weather outside. Her pink bubble parka was in tow, but the cameras were out, and she was wearing her Bryce Harper jersey with matching white Converse Velcro Chuck Taylors, so it was time to stunt.

For Parker and her mother, Jessica Curry, this was a slightly less controlled environment than usual for her media appearances, but also the least personal. The 3-year-old rose to fame when a photo of her staring at former first lady Michelle Obama’s official portrait at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery went viral, and since then she’s become a star on the toddler circuit.

“Life has been busy, but good busy,” Jessica explained. “A lot of people have reached out to us for appearances and things like that, and for the most part things have normalized. We’re back to ballet, we’re back to gymnastics. I’d say now it’s been about three weeks since she took the picture … and every week we’ve had a number of opportunities and we just take it one day at a time, and whatever we think is a good opportunity for Parker then, we’re open to.”

The run has been pretty meteoric. She got to actually meet Obama, which for many people would be the highlight of a lifetime. She also got to appear on Ellen, America’s Adorable Child Show of Record. Ellen DeGeneres did her best not to act like she wasn’t tight about the fact that Obama stole her bit and danced with her, but it was all good. They re-enacted the photo moment instead. In all seriousness, the online sensation made it all the way to CNN Tonight with Don Lemon, cementing her status as the most precious child in America for 2018.

But on Thursday, a lot was going on. Both teams had to be introduced. There was a national anthem to be sung. There were accolades to be handed out. Fireworks were going off, and on top of that, Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser had just arrived to help with Parker’s portion of the show. Before that, she’d taken a quick potty break to make sure things didn’t go awry before the big moment, but now that we were here, the scene was a tad hectic.

Like many grown-ups would probably be likely to do when feeling a tad overwhelmed, Parker cried a little. For a 3-year-old, surrounded by a crowd of 40,000 people, with people yelling her name and sticking cameras in her face, it was understandable. Luckily, there was a Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pie to the rescue nearby to lighten her mood.

Bowser, whom Parker had met previously — her mother is a D.C. native and a baseball fan who goes to a fair number of Nats games — was there to yell “Play ball!” and officially open the season. Parker, although a star, isn’t exactly a method actor yet, so relying on her to deliver the line wasn’t easy. Thus, the two rehearsed. They practiced their pageant waves, and Bowser went over the script. “I’m going to say, ‘On behalf of Parker, myself and all Washington Nationals fans: Let’s. Play. Ball!’ ”

By the time the two had scrambled on top of the dugout to deliver the line and get the game started, Curry was just hanging out, watching her child dazzle a ballpark crowd with the mayor of her hometown. Which led to the question, exactly how hectic is this child’s life? Curry, who runs Happy Mama Happy Babies, a motherhood and lifestyle blog, says she’s not letting things get out of control.

“It’s not stressful because of the fact that I realize that to some extent, I’m in control of the situation,” she said. “I don’t interrupt her nap times, I don’t interrupt her meal times, I don’t take away her activities that she does on a usual basis. If something comes up and it works with the schedule that we already had, that she already had before all this happened, then we do it. And if it doesn’t, then we don’t do it. I’m not letting it get to a point that I’m stressed out.”

Sometimes, however, plans do change. Lunch with the mayor was not exactly on the schedule, but what can you do? By the time we got into the Delta Club at the yard, Parker was walking around the dining room with her giveaway towel looking for food. Up until that point, it had been a day like any other. They’d had a big breakfast at home, and according to mom, she was hoping to see Muriel, her new close personal friend, at the game.

Overall, though, Curry is just glad that they’ve gotten the opportunity. For outside onlookers, the appeal is obvious. And in a world in which our children are so often portrayed in ways that are unfair to every part of their being, Parker’s life is a window into an existence we saw more of: a little black girl just being herself.

“It’s been really cool; we’re really blessed. I feel really honored that so many people are kind of interested in Parker, and interested in following her,” Curry said. “We’re back to doing everything that we normally do. Going to the library, going to museums, hanging out. It’s just that now there’s way more people watching what we’re doing. I’m happy to have the opportunity to inspire other parents to do cool stuff with their kids and inspire their little kids to do great things.”

But we gotta be real. The stunt factor is no joke. Most 3-year-olds don’t have the kind of Rolodex that Parker does and Curry has to manage that, no matter how ridiculous it may all seem.

“I no longer deal with the regular 3-year-old tantrums,” she said with a laugh before brisking off to eat. “I’m now dealing with tantrums that include pleas for Michelle Obama and Muriel Bowser and Ellen [DeGeneres]. These are the types of women that I have to deal with her asking for when she’s upset with me.”

Some call that Black Girl Magic.

The woman behind CoverGirl’s ‘I am what I make up’ marketing campaign Ukonwa Ojo added Ayesha Curry and Issa Rae as brand ambassadors

When Ukonwa Ojo left Nigeria for the United States to attend the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, she had no clue she’d eventually become global senior vice president for Coty Inc.’s CoverGirl brand, but she knew she had a dream.

“My parents were gutsy enough to let me move to America by myself to follow my dream,” said Ojo. “I always knew that I wanted to work in business, and America was like the nirvana of business.”

Fast-forward to the present day, where that same bravery kicked in when Ojo, who joined CoverGirl in the fall of 2016, gave the brand a makeover by changing its slogan, “Easy, Breezy, Beautiful CoverGirl,” to “I Am What I Make Up” after just a year at the company. Ojo and her team added more brand ambassadors to round out their roster. Along with singer Katy Perry, the new CoverGirl ambassadors included chef and author Ayesha Curry, who is half of a power couple with NBA All-Star Stephen Curry; Issa Rae, the creator of HBO’s Insecure; fitness guru Massy Arias; 69-year-old model Maye Musk; and professional motorcycle racer Shelina Moreda.

It wasn’t an easy decision, but the feedback has been incredible and allowed CoverGirl to bring a lot of innovation to market with bolder colors, deeper tones and glitter with a spring collection that will launch 114 new products.

Making tough decisions isn’t new for Ojo, who decided to change her career after working nearly six years in the finance department at paper company MeadWestvaco. A finance and accounting major in college, she was good at math but realized that she wasn’t in love with it and couldn’t see herself doing it for the rest of her life. Then she heard about brand management.

“I realized that what I didn’t like about finance was that I worked alone most of the time. But with brand management, I’m constantly collaborating and building together with so many departments,” said Ojo. “I’m a classic extrovert, so I get energy from other people.”

Ojo earned an MBA at Northwestern University and, while there, interned at General Mills, where she spent seven years. She handled marketing for brands such as Betty Crocker, Honey Nut Cheerios and Progresso from 2004-11. Later, she worked on branding for the French’s mustard portfolio, as well as Durex and K-Y in London for the British multinational consumer goods company Reckitt Benckiser until 2015. She stayed in London and joined Unilever as senior global director for Knorr, the food and beverage brand, before moving to New York as a CoverGirl senior vice president. With more than 20 years of marketing and brand management experience, she now oversees the cosmetic brand’s global strategy, advertising and communications.

The Undefeated visited Ojo at Coty’s offices in the Empire State Building to learn more about CoverGirl’s evolution, how she exemplifies why “you are what you make up” and why she lives by her Instagram bio, “working hard, playing harder and praying hardest.”


What is a typical day like for you?

There is no typical day, which is one of the things I love about this job and the beauty industry: It’s so fast-paced. I can be looking over the innovation within production operations, presenting to our board of directors or the executive committee, reviewing a pitch from our media partners who may have an amazing idea to meeting with our sales team on how we’re going to drive growth for that quarter. The scope of my role is so broad that it keeps things interesting and my brain challenged.

What’s the most rewarding and challenging part of your job?

The brand means so much because of the impact it has on culture, and that creates such a rewarding feeling for us. The challenge derives from that same responsibility of running such an iconic brand. Whatever you do, you know you’re standing on the shoulders of giants and that you’re pushing culture forward through the brand and the business.

What was behind the decision to change CoverGirl’s slogan from “Easy, Breezy, Beautiful CoverGirl” to “I Am What I Make Up”?

The decision came from really listening to people. I learned how makeup is so much more than cosmetic, and every day when they stand in front of the mirror with their makeup bag they are actually creating who they wanted to be that day. Women play so many different roles in society, and our makeup changes based on those roles because it’s a form of self-expression, and there’s a story behind each look. We realized that some of these looks weren’t so easy, breezy, and in some ways that was limiting us to go on that journey with her to create whoever she wanted to be that day.

How has CoverGirl evolved in how it chooses ambassadors?

It’s never easy picking a CoverGirl because of the legacy and history of what it stood for. It’s one of the hardest things we do as a team because it’s far more than just beauty that meets the eye. We’ve historically always stood for inclusiveness and diversity, but it was primarily limited to ethnicity. We wanted to continue to celebrate ethnic diversity but also the beauty that comes in all ages and vocations. A lot of our CoverGirls usually come from the entertainment industry as models and actresses, but we thought, ‘How awesome would it be to show women in various roles that are pushing society forward?’

Why did you choose Ayesha Curry, Issa Rae, Massy Arias, Maye Musk and Shelina Moreda?

We loved that Ayesha Curry was a chef, entrepreneur, a mom and a wife and was playing these roles in such an inspiring way. Massy Arias, a fitness sensation that could kick anyone’s butt at any time, is balancing that with brand-new motherhood and the ups and downs that come with that and was still thriving on that journey. And then we have Issa Rae, who we loved because she was really pushing the boundaries in Hollywood about what entertainment should look and feel like. She’s a director, producer, writer, actress and just a strong role model for women. [Model] Maye Musk exemplifies how even at 69 years old you can still do what you love and inspire at that same time. Shelina Moreda is the first woman to have raced at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and at the Zhuhai International Circuit in China.

We just wanted to show all of the different ways that women really thrive in society and have that be an inspiration to us and other women out there.

How can we increase diversity in managing advertising and brand campaigns?

I believe it’s a combination of not knowing that this is a career path and how there’s still a long ways to go on representation on all levels in this field. That’s why I try to be visible in my role, whether that’s with mentoring, participating on panels and speaking engagements so African-Americans not only know but see that this is a path here for them too. Brands, especially those that impact culture, have to have diversity in front and behind the camera to authentically push diversity and inclusivity. I’m very intentional at building a strong and diverse team.

Is it better to be feared or loved as a leader?

I don’t subscribe to fear and would never want to generate that on my team. If I had to pick a word, it would be respect, and I would choose that over being loved. As a leader, you’re going to make decisions that people aren’t always going to love, but if they respect you and you’re transparent, then they’ll recognize that your intent is right.

What is your advice to young women who don’t feel beautiful because they compare themselves to what they see on social media and in Hollywood?

Beauty really does come in every shape, size, ethnicity and vocation. It’s so important that we champion that and show how beauty is confidence. People try to water it down to an idealized vision of beauty. But at the end of the day it is confidence, and when you learn to accept who you are, you will automatically perfect beauty into the world.

What would be your personal theme song and why?

“Live Your Life” by T.I. featuring Rihanna, because I believe in writing your own rules. People could have statistically said where I should end up or what a senior executive should look or lead like. I love challenging those notions. Like our slogan says, ‘you are what you make up,’ and you can become whoever you want to be.

Serena Williams and daughter Alexis Olympia grace the cover of ‘Vogue’ magazine The tennis icon and her baby girl have taken mommy and me to the next level

The greatest of all time has done it again! Serena Williams may not be heading to the Aussie Open to win another Grand Slam title, but she has given us the gift of another amazing Vogue magazine cover — and this time baby Alexis Olympia has joined her!

The tennis star gave the magazine exclusive access to her stunning November 2017 wedding to husband Alexis Ohanian. Now the couple’s beautiful baby girl is making her debut, and she’s already got her smize game down pat!

The cover photo, which was shot by Mario Testino, shows Williams in a red dress with a simple sweetheart neckline, gold accessories and her massive engagement ring. Meanwhile, baby Alexis is serving up onesie realness.

In the accompanying article, Williams discusses motherhood, marriage and what’s next in her already phenomenal career, and she doesn’t mince words: There are more wins on the way.

“Maybe this goes without saying, but it needs to be said in a powerful way: I absolutely want more Grand Slams,” Williams says.

She also plans on teaching her daughter the secrets of black girl magic:

“Women are sometimes taught not to dream as big as men. I’m so glad I had a daughter. I want to teach her that there are no limits.”

Besides adorable mommy and me shots, the issue contains gorgeous flicks of Williams and her husband in full marital bliss, and others of the tennis star with her family looking very pajama party chic.

Vogue magazine has started the year off strong with black women gracing the covers of both the January and February issues. Last month, actress Lupita Nyong’o kicked off 2018 with her cover.

Check out the full article and stunning photos on Vogue.com.

Remembering pioneering Atlanta journalist Amanda Davis She inspired us with her many years as a TV anchor and her off-camera struggles

I don’t remember the first time I saw Amanda Davis — the Amanda Davis — in the flesh, in the newsroom, but I bet I stopped in my tracks and stared.

I was an adopted “ATL-ien,” by way of New Orleans, who had grown up watching Davis on Fox 5 News in Atlanta. One of my BFFs during my days at Clark Atlanta University (CAU) had the biggest crush on her. He’d gush about her dazzling smile, beautiful eyes and that signature sultry voice that made lots of Atlantans tune in daily. Somehow the death and destruction that fill much of TV news is more palatable when shared by someone who makes you feel like she’s your best friend. That was Amanda.

This week, I join countless fellow fans and black journalists in mourning her unexpected death on Dec. 27 at the age of 62 after she suffered a stroke at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. She was about to board a flight en route to her stepfather’s funeral. Davis was a Clark College (now CAU) alum, an award-winning journalist and a devoted friend, mother and daughter to many. But it was her backstory that would ultimately make us admire her most.

In the early 2000s, thanks to Sidmel Estes Sumpter, the first woman president of the National Association of Black Journalists, I’d landed a dream job as an associate producer for Good Day Atlanta on Fox 5. By that time, Davis, who’d launched the popular program with Sumpter as executive producer, had moved on to anchoring the evening newscast. But her groundbreaking role at the station and on the morning show, which featured an eclectic mix of hard news with newsmaker and celebrity interviews, was still widely celebrated.

I’d always admired Davis from afar, but my fandom reached new heights when I was invited to a soiree at her grand home in suburban Atlanta. I was touched that she thought to include lesser-known young-uns like me, and I remember feeling excited and a bit intimidated about celebrating the recent promotion of Fox 5 anchor Lisa Rayam in the midst of such pioneering black broadcasters as Brenda Wood, Karyn Greer and Monica Kaufman. My nervousness subsided quickly when they all embraced me, literally and figuratively, during that spirited celebration of “Black Girl Magic.” That night amid greatness ignited in me a deep sense of pride and a profound sense of purpose that would later catapult my own career. I hoped to make the women who’d inspired me proud.

Although I’d always appreciated Davis, as I struggle now with balancing a journalism career and motherhood, I find myself thinking back to the stories I’d heard from Sumpter and fellow Good Day alum Patrick Riley and Michael Watts about how Davis, as a single mother, would bring her beloved daughter to work with her in the wee hours of the morning. Still in her PJs, little Melora would sleep in a vacant office while her mom dazzled Atlantans on air. Then Davis, or a trusted member of the Good Day team, would take Melora to school. The struggle was real, but with dogged determination, Davis displayed the resilience of women, especially black women, with grace and strength.

We would learn in recent years that her ambition came with an even higher price than we knew. A few years ago, a DUI arrest ultimately ended Davis’ 26-year reign at Fox 5. But she didn’t give up and melt into the shame of a very public downfall. She brushed herself off and did what I believe was probably the hardest thing she’s ever had to do — be transparent.

She began speaking publicly about her long-standing struggles with alcoholism and the insecurities she endured as a result of a tumultuous romantic relationship that ended with a painful failed engagement. Davis embodied the phrase “grace under pressure” as she shared her testimony. I, like countless other fans and colleagues, cheered from the sidelines.

Davis landed back in the anchor chair a year ago, this time at Atlanta’s CBS affiliate. I kept up with her success through social media and checked on her through mutual friends. Her own posts in the minutes before her death, interestingly, have helped me to make peace with her untimely departure.

She gleefully posted photos of her Lyft driver, who had picked her up decked out in a festive holiday outfit with a vehicle decorated in similar fashion. Despite the emotional reason for her trip, she was smiling and in great spirits as she recorded herself walking toward the airport, joking about dreading long security lines and having to check her bags. She looked happy and beautiful, in a vibrant red turtleneck, eyeglasses framing her famous face.

It’s still hard to accept, but seeing her so happy and upbeat in what would be the last moments of her life has given me a sense of calm. Davis made it through the lowest of lows and inspired us all in the process. I hope she can rest in peace knowing that her biggest assignment — the lessons she lived to teach us all — was finally complete.