Grant Hill speaks out about the nation’s opioid crisis The NBA legend is on his way to the Hall of Fame, but he won’t let that overshadow his latest passion

On Sept. 7, millions of basketball fans will witness NBA playmaker Grant Hill’s induction into the 2018 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Hill helped Duke win two NCAA titles (’91, ’92) and was the ACC Player of the Year. He boasts a 19-year NBA career, including seven All-Star selections, and he’s now part-owner of the Atlanta Hawks.

But his accolades do not overshadow his community work and his latest passion: fighting opioid addiction.

Hill has teamed up with Choices Matter, a campaign designed to empower and encourage surgery patients to proactively discuss postsurgical pain management, including non-opioid alternatives, with their doctors. He partnered with the campaign once he realized its goals were aligned with his.

“It’s been fun and it’s been consistent, and aligned with how I believe in terms of playing against pain and the campaign, and just really try to make people aware there’s an epidemic right now in our country and this is just a way to try to minimize that, and to try to prevent people from going down that road that we know so many have as a result of overprescription of opioid pain medications. So it’s important, it’s the right thing, and I’m excited to be a part of it.”

During his NBA career, he underwent 10 surgical procedures and was prescribed painkillers. His short-lived brush with opioids ended when he asked his doctor for an alternative to the painkillers.

“I had so many surgeries during my playing days. And as you go through your pain management process, you are exposed to so much, so many opioids. I just never liked how I felt,” Hill said.

“So I’m given a bunch of pain meds to manage my pain,” he said. “And I just felt horrible and did not like how I felt, and could not wait to get off. At that point, you start investigating, talking to doctors, trying to get a sense and understanding of what it is you’re taking. And at that time, the internet was just sort of in its infancy. But you realize how dangerous and addictive these drugs are, but that was the only protocol that was around.”

He went through more surgeries, but before one of his final operations, he was exposed to an alternative, eliminating postsurgery pain meds.

“It’s like, wow, there’s another option,” Hill said. “Having that exposure, that experience, and also understanding that at the same time this opioid epidemic is occurring, [I’m] really just trying to make people aware as they go through their surgical procedures that there are options for pain meds, that there is an alternative.”

Hill describes his alternative as a block, “a numbing agent that they insert into your body and it lasts for three or four days, which is typically the time period where pain postsurgery can be where it intensifies and can be problematic. Once that block wears off, typically the pain has started to go away and you had no exposure to any opioids.”

A United States for Non-Dependence report, conducted by the QuintilesIMS Institute and issued in September 2017, found that enough opioids were prescribed in 2016 for every man, woman and child in America to have 36 pills each.

“Anytime you have surgery, and whether you’re an athlete, whether you’re a weekend warrior, whether you’re a stay-at-home mom … whatever it is or whatever you do, and whenever you’re considering having surgery, you want to be able to sit with your doctor and really understand what you’re about to embark upon, not just from a pain management standpoint but also just understanding what the surgery is, what they’re doing and what the recovery is,” Hill said. “And if anything I’ve learned through my 10 surgeries during my career is really to educate yourself. And I think the same thing goes in terms of what are my postsurgery pain management options.”

According to Choices Matter, 1 in 3 families in the United States is affected by addiction. Hill, who is the father of two daughters with his wife, singer-songwriter Tamia, takes his responsibility to educate his children about drug use very seriously.

“As a parent, that’s part of your responsibility, to try educate and inform, and then try to use your own experiences,” Hill said. “Dad’s had surgeries, Dad’s taken these things, Dad doesn’t like how they made him feel. And having this type of back-and-forth, I think as a parent, is healthy and important.”

In October, President Donald Trump declared the epidemic a public health emergency. On Nov. 4, 2017, Hill showed his support for ending the epidemic by appearing at the Atlanta 5K Run/Walk hosted by the nonprofit organization Shatterproof. He’s also part of the organization’s national campaign, Rise Up Against Addiction, which works to end the stigma of addiction. More than 58 teams participated in the event that raised more than $1.75 million for the crisis in which only 1 in 10 Americans seeks treatment and 141 people die of an overdose daily, according to Shatterproof.

“It was a great event. It was cool to see folks who are recovering, had been through it or maybe had a family member who had been through it, and sort of just coming together and bringing awareness, raising money. … There’s a real sort of community that it can really galvanize, and I saw that firsthand,” Hill said.

According to an article in The New York Times, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows studies that reveal the opioid drug death rate is rising among blacks between the ages of 45 and 64. “Drug deaths among blacks in urban counties rose by 41 percent in 2016, far outpacing any other racial or ethnic group. In those same counties, the drug death rate among whites rose by 19 percent,” the article reveals, finding that the drug fentanyl is one culprit.

“I’m not an expert when it comes to politics, but I think there needs to be a serious conversation,” Hill said. “I think we need to bring in folks who are experts, bring in people in the medical profession to have open and honest conversation, to discuss it.

“So much of this is the result of people being overprescribed from doctors and there being drugs left over, and people using them and becoming addicted,” Hill said. “You don’t need 50 pills for a surgery. Trust me. I’ve had 10 of them, I know. That’s when you have issues. That’s when stuff is hanging around and it gets in the hands of the wrong person … And next thing you know they have an issue. I do think the conversation needs to be had and there needs to be pressure put on our government officials to do something.”

South African choreographer reinterprets ‘Giselle’ as a vehicle for female rage Dada Masilo’s ballet recalls Angela Bassett’s famous torching-the-Beemer scene in ‘Waiting to Exhale’

It’s the most recognizable scene from Waiting to Exhale: Angela Bassett, playing the wronged first wife Bernadine, decides to get herself some good old-fashioned revenge.

Upon learning that her husband is leaving her for his white assistant, Bernadine, clad in a white dressing gown and black negligee, gathers her husband’s collection of expensive executive wear and stuffs it through the doors, windows and sunroof of his BMW. Once the walk-in closet is bare, Bernadine douses the Beemer with lighter fluid. She sets fire to the car and watches the flames for a beat before lighting a cigarette.

Bernadine turns to walk back into her house and casually tosses the cigarette over her shoulder into the burning car without looking back. The entire emotional thrill ride is distilled into the flick of one cigarette: He had it coming. Which is why, more than 20 years after the movie was released, the scene lives on as internet shorthand for scorched-earth female rage.

South African dancer and choreographer Dada Masilo, 33, has brought the spirit of Bernadine to the ballet, and, boy, is she cold-blooded.

On Tuesday night, Masilo’s company, the Dance Factory, opened her reimagining of the classic romance Giselle at The Joyce Theater in New York. The show runs through April 8 before continuing at the Wallis Annenberg Center in Los Angeles (April 12-14) and the Quick Center in Fairfield, Connecticut (April 18). All of the dancers are black, and Masilo has choreographed a Giselle that’s a mix of ballet, modern dance and traditional South African dance.

He had it coming.

Albrecht is assaulted by the Wilis in an earlier production of “Giselle” staged in Johannesburg.

John Hogg

For this whole Giselle-inhabits-the-spirit-of-Bernadine metaphor to make sense, you should know something about this ballet. A two-act French ballet from 1841, the work takes its name from its tragic title character. Giselle (danced by Masilo) is a peasant girl who catches the eye of a nobleman named Albrecht. Albrecht is already engaged to a noblewoman named Bathilde, but he can’t help himself. He wants Giselle, and he poses as a peasant to woo her. She falls madly in love with him. Another peasant, Hilarion, who’s also in love with Giselle, recognizes Albrecht’s deception. But she only has eyes for Albrecht.

Soon enough, Albrecht’s true identity is revealed and he runs back to his noblewoman. Giselle dies of a broken heart.

In Act 2, both Hilarion and Albrecht visit Giselle’s grave. This is a terrible idea, thanks to a group of angry undead spirit ladies, called the Wilis, all of whom have been betrayed in some way by their lovers. They’re sort of like graveyard Sirens: If you’re a man, you don’t really want to cross them, and if you do, they’ll force you to dance until you die.

Hilarion is forced to dance to death. But Albrecht enjoys a different fate. The Wilis want Albrecht too, but thanks to the grace, love and forgiveness of Giselle, he is spared. The Wilis force Albrecht to dance until sunrise, but he lives. Albrecht gets to run back to his fiancée and remain rich. Giselle’s spirit gets to rest.

*Cue record scratch*

Masilo has remixed the second act of Giselle to allow her title character to tap her inner Bernadine. This is Masilo’s thing. Before Giselle, she was famous for deconstructing another classical ballet. In her version of Swan Lake, not only are the dancers black, but she makes the prince gay and everyone wears tutus, including the male characters.

Masilo makes radical changes, yes, but she’s not an agent of cheap provocation. She reconstructs the classics and infuses them with modern bodies and modern politics. Her Giselle is set in a South African village, and she sets it off with nods to South African culture. South African composer Philip Miller adds African rhythms and sounds to Adolphe Adam’s original score. Myrtha, queen of the Wilis (Llewellyn Mnguni), wields a traditional grass broom that resembles a cat-o’-nine-tails. When Bathilde (Liyabuya Gongo) leaves her high heels behind after a harvest party, Giselle’s mother (Khaya Ndlovu), who’s a drunk, decides to take them. She can’t fit in them but figures she can sell them and get some cash to get “lit.”

Masilo imagined the Wilis as a coven of wronged individuals led by the sadistic Myrtha. And just like she did with her gender-bent Swan Lake, Masilo complicates things further with the addition of two male Wilis. The inclusion of male Wilis prompts questions: Are they men who have come to see things the way the women do? Are they nonbinary? Have they experienced similar romantic betrayal? Regardless, they are just as enthusiastic about forcing Hilarion (Tshepo Zasekhaya) and Albrecht (Xola Willie) to dance to their deaths.

Myrtha persuades the heartbroken Giselle to see things her way, like a dungeon mistress tutoring a newly converted follower. And when Giselle allows herself to be angry with Albrecht, Myrtha gives her a whip to exact her revenge.

In an earlier production in Johannesburg, Albrecht is the sole character played by a white dancer, which adds another layer of revelation. I wish they’d kept Albrecht white for the current production, but Masilo’s Giselle works perfectly well focusing on gender politics and the power of untapped feminine rage. There are plenty of dastardly men of all races.

Masilo waits until the very end before she rewards us with her Bernadine moment. The Wilis exit one by one, walking into the heavenly light that beckons from stage right, until only Giselle is left with the crumpled, lifeless Albrecht. She walks across the stage to him and steps, rather unceremoniously, over Albrecht’s corpse and into the fading light.

He had it coming.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness. But Masilo’s Giselle doesn’t need her love for Albrecht to serve as her guiding light. Choosing herself will suffice.

Marvin ‘Krondon’ Jones III embraces himself fully as a rapper, a villain , and a black man with albinism The MC-turned-actor portrays Tobias Whale in the CW’s ‘Black Lightning’  

A supervillain who has the lyrical chops to keep up with your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper? That’s Marvin “Krondon” Jones III for ya. Hailing from South Central Los Angeles, he’s a longtime member of the California hip-hop collective Strong Arm Steady. Throughout his career has written for artists including Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre and Xzibit. And now he has a lead role in The CW’s Black Lightning, inspired by the DC Comics series.

Jones portrays politician-turned-crime boss Tobias Whale, who serves as the leader of a gang called The 100. In the made-up city of Freeland, Jefferson Pierce, aka Black Lightning, is the hero, and Whale is his antagonist — a character Jones brings to life via his powerful voice that bellows over top of his thick red beard. A characteristic Jones shares with the Whale is that both men are African-American with albinism, a rare genetic condition affecting 1 in 20,000 in the United States. Jones completely embraces his rareness. Before the wrap of season one of Black Lightning, The Undefeated spoke with Jones about the moment he got the call to audition for Tobias Whale, his favorite musical artists, past and present, the plight of Colin Kaepernick and the experience of being a black man in America with albinism.


How were you approached for the role of Tobias Whale?

I was working on a solo album with a friend of mine, Evidence of Dilated Peoples … Next thing you know, I get a call … and I have this role in my email. I’m asked to come in and audition for it. I was completely taken aback by the whole thing. I did some research on the comic book characters of Black Lightning and Tobias Whale. I went in and did what I was supposed to do. By the grace of the God, thankfully, I was called back … and told I got the part and that my life was gonna change. It’s true. My life has changed totally.

Were you aware that there was an African-American villain in DC Universe with albinism?

I wasn’t at all aware. I quickly became aware, once I was asked about the role, and was blown away. I didn’t think because the character had albinism that I was gonna just be handed the role. I know I looked the part. I know I was a slimmer, sexier version of the comic book character Tobias Whale. But I didn’t think it was a given.

“I was told I got the part and that my life was gonna change. And it’s true. My life has changed totally.”

What’s the most rewarding part about being an African-American man with albinism?

The ability to see the world through racial ambiguity. I’m a black man with albinism. I’m completely African-American, I’m completely African, I’m completely black — whatever you wanna call it. I grew up in the ghettos of South Central, Los Angeles. I have a black mother, father, grandmother and grandfather. But from afar — or even close up — I do not appear black at all in terms of physical features. My skin tone is that of a very pale Caucasian man, who cannot tan for the most part … So I see the world from both sides of the fence. I live in the black experience, but at the same time I understand the invalid idea that color decides who a man is … Another thing is, any room I walk in, 99.9 percent of the time, no one else looks like me. I’m a completely unique individual, able to create my own attention and attraction.

Aside from Tobias Whale, who are your top three most intimidating villains in history?

The Joker is one of my favorite all time villains by far … I would say Scarface, but he wasn’t a villain when I really think about his story. I have a human understanding of Scarface … Nino Brown from New Jack City, for sure … And then it’s a tie between Jules Winnfield and Marsellus Wallace in Pulp Fiction. Who’s better than Sam Jackson in Pulp Fiction when it comes to a villain? He created the blueprint.

Who were your biggest musical influences growing up in South Central?

Of course, Ice Cube. He was the Shakespeare of my era. Through his N.W.A. catalog and his first three albums, his writings were like plays. Metallica … I had an opportunity when I was touring with Xzibit to perform with them in Europe … That was a big highlight of my career because growing up in South Central in the ’80s crack era, which my family was affected by, Metallica’s music was like a babysitter to me — Master of Puppets, Kill ‘Em All, Ride the Lightning, … And Justice for All were like my nannies. I sent a lot of time in the house alone, watching television, making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and eating cereal for dinner … And I say that proudly, because it made me who I am. Cube, N.W.A. and Metallica showed me much about myself and life, and gave me a voice as a writer. They gave me a dream … Also, Public Enemy, X-Clan, Boogie Down Productions, Gang Starr — that music and genre molded me into the artist I am today.

Colin Kaepernick should be respected as a leader and an activist, as well as a legendary player.

Which MCs would be in your dream cypher?

Dead or alive? Wow … I gotta start with Cube, for sure. Biggie, Jay-Z … in that order … Andre 3000, Black Thought, Kendrick Lamar and Nas. That’s it. Those are the only cats that would make me rise to the occasion that I wanna rise to.

Which artists do you currently listen to?

Kendrick is my favorite, for real. Of this era, of this generation, he’s the best to me. I’m very proud of him and all of TDE. I like Nipsey Hussle a lot. I’ve watched him come up … the Victory Lap album is like a West Coast classic to me. It’s one of those records where you learn about how the city of L.A. thinks by listening … There’s also a kid out of South Central that I’m working with right now named Bale… He was shot a year and a half ago 28 times and survived. Not a gangbanger. Not a thug. Actually went to college to play football, and while at home visiting he was shot. He’s an incredible talent and has an incredible story.

Who’s your favorite athlete of all time?

Muhammad Ali.

Speaking of Ali, what are your thoughts on Colin Kaepernick?

He’s leading by example … For us in the African-American community who are under so much oppression still, whether it be from politics or policing, I don’t care how much money or fame or influence you have, you are still affected by those things if you are a person of color. And Kaepernick is a shining example … I think we should all take a page from his book, and use our voice to affect change.

Do you think Kaep deserves another chance in the NFL?

Of course. He should be given another opportunity to play and should be respected as a leader and an activist, as well as a legendary player.

Have you ever been mistaken for Detroit Lions wide receiver Marvin Jones?

People have seen my name and thought I played in the NFL … I wanna meet him! I hope he watches the show. I hope he likes my music, too. Because I want a jersey. I think it’s only right I have one since we have the same name. Shout-out to Marvin Jones of the Detroit Lions. Shout-out to that brother, for sure.

Advice to your 15-year-old self?

Love God and be patient. All things work together for the good … and wear a condom [laughs]. I say that because I had a baby earlier. And don’t get me wrong, I love my daughter. She’s the light of my life, but she could’ve been the light of my life about five or 10 years later.

Advice to every kid with albinism reading this?

You are an angel from God. It is not a coincidence that you are unique. Your beauty comes once in 30,000 … and there is nothing that you can’t do, except sit in the sun. But in truth, the sun is the most powerful thing in the sky that no human being can.

A timeline of Stephon Clark’s death at the hands of Sacramento police to the protest at the Kings game Clark was killed in his grandparents’ backyard by officers who fired at him 20 times

Stephon Clark was in his grandparents’ backyard on March 18 when two Sacramento, California, police officers rolled up on him while doing a canvass of the neighborhood for a man who was breaking car windows.

The two officers gave Clark four seconds to comply with their commands before they fired 20 shots, killing him. A Sacramento sheriff said that Clark was armed with a crowbar.

Do you know what they found when they rolled Clark’s limp body over? A cellphone. There was no weapon, and Clark was on his stomach when police finally did attend to him. He was 22 and the father of two little boys.

On March 22, protesters blocked fans from entering Golden 1 Center for the Sacramento Kings’ game against the Atlanta Hawks, prompting the Kings to lock the doors and tell fans who were outside to go home. The Kings won, 105-90, in the delayed game in front of a small crowd.

This is a timeline of the news surrounding Clark, leading up to the protest that took place outside the Kings’ arena.

March 20

Before the video was released, this was the Sacramento police’s explanation of what transpired on March 18: “Prior to the shooting, the involved officers saw the suspect facing them, advance forward with his arms extended, and holding an object in his hands. At the time of the shooting, the officers believed the suspect was pointing a firearm at them. After an exhaustive search, scene investigators did not locate any firearms. The only item found near the suspect was a cell phone.”

Media members from around the country begin to dive into Clark’s story. Prominent Black Lives Matter voices start raising awareness about Clark’s final day.

March 21

Local news channels begin talking to Clark’s girlfriend and his grandmother, Sequita Thompson, who didn’t even realize he was dead until she looked into her backyard and saw his lifeless body.

“He was at the wrong place at the wrong time in his own backyard?” she asked.

At 6:53 p.m., the Sacramento Police Department released the audio and video of the shooting.

The officers in the video justified initiating the shooting in the body camera video by screaming Clark “had a gun” seven seconds into barging into the backyard. Four seconds later, the officers started shooting.

In the immediate aftermath, the pair took the time to ask how the other was doing. “Are you hit?” one asked. “No, I’m good,” the other responded as Clark lay motionless on his grandmother’s patio.

There was no other way to handle the situation other than ending Clark’s life? Only a month ago, we watched Nikolas Cruz, who did have a gun and killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, be tackled, apprehended alive and escorted out of the situation.

Police officers continued to shout at Clark’s motionless body that they would not administer aid to him until he “got rid of his weapon.” And they called for backup to approach his limp body and to apply handcuffs to him before they started CPR. The officers are on paid administrative leave, by the way.

March 22

Of the unarmed people killed by police in 2017, 35 percent of those people were black. As The Washington Post reports, Clark is the fifth black man killed by Sacramento Police Department officers since 2015. That’s out of six people.

Clark’s brother, cousin and hundreds more marched in a peaceful protest to the Kings’ Golden 1 Center. Protesters made a human chain around the entrance to the arena, and fans were forced to go home.

To be clear, protests are not supposed to be convenient. People complaining about not being able to attend a basketball game involving a team that has two times as many losses as wins are telling on themselves. The owner of the team that those folks were planning to see believes it’s his team’s duty to help heal the community and understands sports is in no way more important than someone who lost his life at the hands of a system that has repeatedly shown how little it cares about black and brown people.

March 23

This post will be updated as more information about Clark comes out, and as athletes and celebrities speak out on the matter.

Two for Tuesday: Hall of Famer Cheryl Miller and journalist Ida B. Wells Recognizing women of accomplishment during Women’s History Month

During National Women’s History Month, The Undefeated will recognize two women every Tuesday. This week’s Two for Tuesday features basketball Olympic gold medalist Cheryl Miller and writer and journalist Ida B. Wells.

Cheryl Miller

Miller was born and raised in Riverside, California, the third of five children. She and her younger brother, Hall of Famer Reggie Miller, became basketball stars. Now the youngest women’s basketball coach at Cal State Los Angeles, Miller has carved a name for herself in basketball history.

During high school, she was celebrated for scoring 3,405 points overall and averaging nearly 37 points per game, and for setting a California high school record with 105 points in one game. A four-time All-American, Miller attended USC, where she led her team to NCAA championships in 1983 and 1984.

After graduating, the 6-foot-2 Miller was drafted by several pro leagues, including the United States Basketball League, a men’s league. She was a key component of the 1984 U.S. Olympic women’s basketball team that won a gold medal. She got her first head coaching job in 1993 at her alma mater.

She has also been an NBA sideline reporter and was head coach and general manager of the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury. In 2014, Miller was named the women’s basketball coach at Langston University. She was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1995 and in 1999 was inducted into the inaugural class of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. In 2010, Miller was also inducted into the FIBA Hall of Fame for her success in international play.

Ida B. Wells (1862-1931)

Lynching was at an all-time high in the United States in the 1890s when journalist and activist Ida B. Wells launched an anti-lynching crusade that helped lead to a mass exodus from the South to the Midwest.

Living and working in Memphis, Tennessee, as a journalist, Wells’ friend was one of three black men murdered during a lynching in the city in 1892. Wells responded with an editorial in the Free Speech.

“There is therefore only one thing left that we can do; save our money and leave a town which will neither protect our lives and property, nor give us a fair trial in the courts, but takes us out and murders us in cold blood when accused by white persons,” she wrote.

After an array of public protests, black citizens began to leave Memphis. According to biography.com, “about 20 percent of the city’s black population (approximately 6,000 people) left. Following death threats and the destruction of the Free Speech‘s offices, Wells herself was among those who exited Memphis.”

Wells was traveling to New York when the Free Speech’s offices were destroyed. Receiving a message that she would be killed if she returned to Memphis, she remained in New York working as a journalist while bringing light to the evils of lynching and other injustices faced by blacks in the South.

Born into slavery in 1862 in Holly Springs, Mississippi, Wells moved to Memphis after her parents died of yellow fever. She later attended Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. After facing many of her own experiences with social injustice, she returned to Memphis and started writing about race and politics under the pen name of “Iola.” Wells later published the Memphis Free Speech and Headlight newspapers. She also worked as a schoolteacher in Memphis.

She joined forces with poet and author Frances Harper and national civil rights activist Mary Church Terrell to form the National Association of Colored Women in 1896.

Actor Corr Kendricks is making strides in the acting world from ‘The Chi’ to UMC’s ’5th Ward’ The 28-year-old overcame a troubled childhood to follow his passion in acting and music

When rapper/actor Corr Kendricks needed an outlet from a troubled childhood, he picked up the pen. He was 11 when he began writing.

Now the 28-year-old has a new passion. He’s found solace and solid progress in acting.

Kendricks is Black Rambo in the hit FOX television show Empire, working alongside Taraji P. Henson (Cookie), Terrence Howard (Lucious) and Jussie Smollett (Jamal). Then he landed a part in the new Showtime drama The Chi, brought by Lena Waithe and Common.

Kendricks is continuing to show off his acting chops in his latest role as Ace in 5th Ward, a new show now streaming on the Urban Movie Channel (UMC). The episodic series — named after the Fifth Ward, a historically black Houston community — is capturing issues that plague many communities in America: violence, poverty, scandal, politics, generational relationships and complex family matters. Kendricks stars with singer, songwriter and actor Mya, Carl Payne (The Cosby Show, Martin and The Game) and Nephew Tommy. Kendricks’ character, as he explains him, is much the gentleman of 5th Ward, “but he’s stuck in the street life and not anyone you’d like to cross,” he said. Created by Houston filmmaker Greg Carter, the show’s issues are an extension of a black family that has been living in the neighborhood since the 1950s.

As a rapper, Kendricks is grateful for his many opportunities, including opening for Meek Mill, participating in ciphers with multiplatinum artist Drake and performing at the legendary Apollo Theater in New York City.

Kendricks spoke with The Undefeated about 5th Ward, The Chi, overcoming early childhood wounds and future roles.


How was it for you to work with your wonderful co-stars in 5th Ward?

My co-stars are amazing. They give me a lot when we’re doing certain scenes. They give me room to give back. It could be a dull scene with probably two or three lines that I have, but how they deliver their lines and how they bring it every time onstage, it sparks something inside of me to give back to them. So it’s always good, good vibes. We’re just proud to be a part of something great that’s coming fresh and new from a new network. It’s like family.

As a Chicago native, is The Chi a pretty accurate portrayal?

I do think it’s pretty accurate to me. Most people up here don’t really dress like that in Chicago, but overall everything is pretty much on point, and it’s bringing definitely some light on what’s going on in the city. So just being a part of it is amazing. I never really dreamed that I would be on something great, and I’ve come in to make history. And something from my hometown. It’s amazing. And it’s on Showtime, one of the great networks.

What is your latest music project?

My latest project I just put out is entitled Hardcorr. It’s my name combined into the title, so it’s ‘Corr’ instead of the regular ‘hard-core.’ That project came out last year, December. I was working on it and trying to just get me together and put something out since I’ve been stuck in the acting world. I’m also working on two other projects. I just finished up a mixtape that I’ll put out soon, probably around March 2nd, then working on another project called Who I Am, and that will come out later this year.

Were you a musician or an actor first?

I started with music first. I was 11 when I first wrote my first rap, and it was horrible. I was talking about like green eggs and ham and some, some crazy stuff. I also started writing poetry as well. I fell in love with writing, but I was always in love with music since a little kid.

And how old were you when you got your first acting gig?

I was 25. My first acting gig was Empire. Black Rambo. I battled them all and I lost the battles. But I like those lines, so I just want to say Jussie Smollett, if you want to battle with me, we can battle again.

What do you enjoy most about the craft of acting?

The most I like about acting is that I can tell someone else’s story. I can shed the light on a problem that most people aren’t focused on, or whatever the case is. And for those people, I can help them in a certain way that they haven’t been helped.

What types of roles would you like going forward?

I’m going to put this out there. I want to be the next black superhero of the South. I would love to play a superhero. I would love to play a father role. I would play like a principal. I would want to play anything challenging.

What’s been the hardest part of making your way into the celebrity world?

Well, I have children, so being away from them is the hardest part. The sacrifice. It’s a lot of time away from my fiancée. We’ll be married [in June of 2019]. I have children from ages 9 to 7 months. Just sacrificing, being away from the better purpose, but it’s hard. Very hard.

Aside from your own music, who are you listening to right now?

I still listen to Tupac. I still listen to Snoop. Nipsey Hussle, Victory Lap. Chris Brown is dope. I still listen to Mike [Michael Jackson]. I’m getting into the older school like The Delfonics, a bunch of different stuff. I really love real music, not this stuff that’s going on now.

Where does your courage come from?

My courage comes from past life issues. Things that I’ve been through. It’s like, ugh! But now I’m older and I’m not a kid no more. I can’t be abused. I will not allow certain stuff to happen. I was pretty much the baby boy out of six, and I just got the worst of everything. Everything was always my fault. I was always in trouble, beaten. My mom was a single mom of six, so we lived in homeless shelters and we’ve seen murders in neighborhoods. I just wanted to get away, but God made a way. I could say my mom never gave up on the kids. She was definitely a fighter, and I get that from her. She never gave up on us, and most parents would have. Life is really hard. Moving from state to state, 12 different schools. Barely could really have friends because I wasn’t allowed outside. Always in punishment. It was a lot. Being a juvenile. Locked up as a teenager.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Best piece of advice I have received is staying true to myself, no matter the circumstances. And never forget your purpose.

What is the ‘State of the Black Athlete’? The cultural resonance, political awakening and activation of the black athlete, as told in pictures

Athletic success may get you through the door, but be mindful, once you get here: “Stick to sports.”

There has been an unspoken expectation and, more recently, an apparent insistence that athletes’ opinions and passions are to be kept quiet. But the cultural resonance, political awakening and activation of the black athlete has pushed back on this narrative.

We asked several artists of color to examine and interpret the current “state of the black athlete.” Here’s what they came up with.

Sam Adefé

I often find that no matter the sport, brothers in the game continuously have to prove themselves worthy of the pedestal they are heavily burdened with. I say brother because to me, every black athlete represents someone like myself — a black kid chasing his dreams — finding inspiration in the actions of the people already paving the way.

Represented here is Anthony Joshua’s raised clenched fist after he defeated Wladimir Klitschko. To the many black youths who happened to be watching that day, witnessing that gesture meant more than just a show of celebration. This gesture symbolizes a show of solidarity.

Adrian Brandon

My goal with this illustration is to address the commonalities between black professional athletes and the black victims of police violence — it highlights the incredible amount of responsibility black athletes have and the role sports fans play in the current wave of athlete activism.

The sprinter in the illustration is focused on the finish line, while his shadow represents the young black victims of police brutality, symbolizing the constant fear that all black men and women face in today’s society.

Both the sprinter and his shadow are running away — in the same direction, illustrating the chilling similarities between black professional athletes and the victims we see on the news.

The crowd supporting the runner changes from sports fans (right) to protesters/activists (left). This begs the question, who is the black athlete competing for? How has this wave of black athlete activism changed the mentalities of sports fans?

Brandon Breaux

I wanted to capture black athletes in a contemplative state. These competitors have or have had the ability to reach so many people — it’s a great responsibility, but can also be a great burden.

Athletes, in general, already have to deal with so much: unwanted attention, pressure, rumors, performance anxiety, and even more. Black athletes, have all that on top of feeling as though they aren’t 100 percent accepted in their own country.

Today’s current state of affairs feel special. I think it’s a time where the life of a black athlete/person is so much bigger than the self, and the athletes in my illustration represent the contemplation that comes with it.

Caitlin Cherry

John Urschel, a former offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens, retired in 2017 to pursue his studies as a doctoral candidate in mathematics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His retirement came suddenly, just two days after a study of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) found nearly all former NFL players who donated their brains to science had signs of CTE.

It seemed the two were connected.

Urschel knows the all-too-real statistics that injury risk is high and the average NFL player’s career spans between two and five years.

He should inspire the next generation of would-be ballplayers in any professional sport that their studies in college are not supplementary. There is a life after the NFL. I appreciate him as a Renaissance man.

Chase Conley

What Huey P. Newton has taught me is that I have the power to change my condition, and it’s vital that we stand up against the unjust and fight for what we believe in, even if the cost is high. Until these players start worrying about the issues concerning the state of black people in this country and not about their paychecks, they are still a part of the problem. Yes, you may lose your job, but is that job more important than the condition of your people? Young black teenagers being gunned down in the street every other week? We all should have the courage to sacrifice for the greater good.

What would these leagues be without black people anyway?

Emmanuel Mdlalose

I likened the movement of sprinter Allyson Felix to when a caterpillar turns into a butterfly. Representing Felix overcoming obstacles faced by a black woman, especially in the athletic world — just dominating. I am drawn to her composed personality while being able to be strong-willed at the same time. She really represents the metamorphosis of a butterfly — in all her beauty, swiftness, and, most importantly, freedom.

Kia Dyson

In a time where black bodies are on public display and seemingly viewed to hold no value, I have attempted to find a way to turn tragedies within the black community into works of art.

“Above All Things” represents the ability, and, more importantly, the necessity for women of color to go above and beyond in all we do just to receive fair recognition. The expectations are higher for us.

We don’t have the luxury of mediocrity when it comes to providing, performing or competing. So we use our excellence as a form of protest: a demonstration of strength, acceptance, womanhood and visibility.

Laci Jordan

The state of the black athlete is conflicted.

Athletes grow up simply loving the game. As they grow older, outside factors come into play that can inhibit that love: notoriety, fame, special treatment, money, etc. Players can also become public figures and role models. Black athletes are stuck between these two worlds.

As an athlete, you have the keys to success to take care of yourself and your family, but on the other end, you sacrifice your voice and ability to speak on anything political — you’re told to stick to the game. As a black athlete, you’re expected to enjoy your riches and fame in exchange for your voice, choices and ethics.

Pierre Bennu

This piece references the Afro-futurist interpretation of the slavery project in the Western Hemisphere as a centuries-long genetic experiment, as well as the Sankofa concept of looking backward and seeing the future.

In choosing materials to make up the image, I imagine the middle passage as a thrusting or throwing forward into the future of mass amounts of human capital. With the crown of shards, I seek to reference the toll that many professional sports take on the body and also the regal state of being at peak physical form.

Robert Generette III

The statement on the tape, “PLAY,” not only states a command but also commands attention. I wanted the art to speak to different sides of the argument: players who comply, players wanting to exercise their First Amendment rights, and fans for or against athletes’ choices.

In the illustration, a spotlight is placed on an ambiguous African-American athlete who is shirtless, which suggests he’s baring it all. For the athletes who comply with “shut up and play,” the red arrow symbolizes the potential for them to excel or “climb the ladder to success” in their sport. The athlete who complies thrives.

For the athletes wanting to exercise their First Amendment rights, the intense stare reflects the absurdity of being told to shut up and play. The athlete has the complex choice of raising one fist (in protest) or raising both fists (in victory). For the fans who are not affected by or disagree with the views of athletes, the sticker across the athlete’s mouth, in their opinion, should become an essential part of the uniform.

I want this illustration to beg the questions: Should you keep quiet and find contempt for living one’s dream? Or should you use your dream as a platform to speak for those whose voices go unheard at the expense of sacrificing one’s dream?

Ronald Wimberly

I asked myself about the political role of the black body within a racist, consumerist paradigm and how that plays out in sports. For this image I thought about how athletes may work through these very same questions through sports. From Muhammad Ali’s name change to the Black Power fists of the 1968 Olympic Games, to Colin Kaepernick’s act of taking a knee — we are given expressions, symbolic abstractions, symbols that challenge us to think. I think this is the most radical act: to be challenged to think, to ask questions. Explaining artwork is a trap.

Formally, the work is a dialogue with the works of Aaron Douglas and Tadanori Yokoo and the movements to which they belong.

Tiffany B. Chanel

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” said Colin Kaepernick. In the face of explicit and implicit racism, everyday people rise selflessly to address social injustice. Among these people are African-American athletes, such as the ones in my painting, who use their public platform and their First Amendment right to solidify their purpose as change agents. Their primary goal is to rewrite the narrative of oppressed people and afford them a pathway to upward mobility.

Some may say we have come really far, but have we really? What would you say?

From ‘Dawson’s Creek’ to ‘Buffy’ to ‘Frasier’ to ‘Seinfeld’ — what happened to those lone, ‘token’ black actors? Eight talents tell stories of offensive scripts, stunt people in blackface and the heartbreak — and hope — of portraying Thug No. 2 and the dope dealer’s girlfriend

This is about television in the 1990s but let’s start with a quick, tragic and important trip to 1975.

Happy Days is about to deliver its infamous and most cringe-worthy episode. In “Fonzie’s New Friend,” the leather jacket-clad Fonz meets up with Sticks Downey, a new-to-town wisecracking drummer. The Fonz decides that Sticks, played with seemingly effortless timing by John Bailey, would make a great addition to Richie Cunningham’s band. When Richie asks a young woman on a date to a luau — with Fonzie’s new buddy as the perfect hookup for her friend, the punchline is of course that Sticks is black.

“Why do I get the feeling I was just humiliated?” Sticks deadpans as the studio audience roars with laughter. From there: one-liners about Downey’s lack of basketball prowess, about eating fried chicken and watermelon and yes, a low-key slavery joke. “Sticks was a very offensive character,” said artist Alida Bailey from her Palmdale, California, home. The easygoing stepdaughter of John Bailey wasn’t alive when the episode aired, but she’s seen it many times. “It was so over-the-top,” she said. “But to his credit, my father was still hilarious. He could shine in any role even if it was a token one.” He appeared in 1977’s The Kentucky Fried Movie, but by the ’80s, John Bailey bolted to the adult film industry, where he went by name Jack Baker. In 1994, he died of bladder cancer due to complications from AIDS.

“My dad got his foot in the door … despite race being an issue,” Alida Bailey said with pride. “But once the roles started to dry up, he could see that there was no equality in Hollywood … What you’re left with are token roles.” Downey was the 1970s. And while ’80s television — a groundbreaking era that launched The Cosby Show, the criminally underrated Frank’s Place, The Oprah Winfrey Show, and 227, the 1990s were actually awash in tokenism.

Yes, the adored 1990s. Even with the shows that are seared into our collective DNA: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Roc, In Living Color, The Arsenio Hall Show, New York Undercover, and Martin — all of these were must-see TV. There was A Different World, Family Matters, Moesha, Sister, Sister, Living Single. Indeed, in the 1990s, the wealth of black representation on television could lull you into thinking — if you turned the channel from Rodney King taking more than 50 blows from Los Angeles Police Department batons — that black lives actually did matter. But almost all of these shows were in varying ways, an extension of segregated America. It’s there in the memories of the stars below: There were “black shows,” and there were “white shows.” If you were a black actor appearing on a white show, you were usually alone.

For some of the most visible black actors coming of age in the 1990s, it’s clear that along with the triumphs came isolation, blatant racial stereotyping and biased casting calls. As for “crossing over” to the mainstream, in the mostly segregated worlds of Seinfeld, Frasier, Melrose Place, Saved by the Bell: The New Class, Felicity, V.I.P., Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dawson’s Creek and more, blacks were usually relegated to bit parts or were there for a short time. The Undefeated sat down with eight of these talented women and men. These are their stories. This is history.


PHIL MORRIS, 58

Brinson + Banks for The Undefeated

Born: Iowa City, Iowa

Throwback: Melrose Place, Seinfeld

Currently working on: CBS’ 9JKL

When you live in the same house as a father that created such an incredible legacy — not just for himself and his family, but for an entire race of people — it’s expected that you should do the same. Greg Morris broke down racial barriers on Mission: Impossible. Him, Bill Cosby, Diahann Carroll [Julia], Bernie Hamilton [Starsky & Hutch], Lloyd Haynes [Room 222] … they opened the door for all of us as black actors on television. I wanted to continue to break down those barriers.

My first acting job was on Star Trek, way back when I was … around 8. I’m talking about the original Star Trek with Captain Kirk and Dr. Spock. It was stunt-casting episode, so I was in it, my sister Iona was in it, William Shatner’s daughters were in it, and some of the directors’ kids were in it. We were kids who weren’t actors, but we knew when to shut up when the director called “Action!” [Laughs].

“To his credit my father was still hilarious. He could shine in any role, even if it was a token one.”

My earliest adult experiences in the acting world … I stunted my own authenticity because either I was trying to not be my father or trying to live up to his success. But the ’90s kind of opened things up for me. That era allowed for more black images to be seen as intelligent, authoritative, educated, stylish, and beautiful beyond The Cosby Show, which normalized how the world looked at African-American families. I appeared on black shows like 227, The Fresh Prince, and Martin. But I was also able to do series like WIOU [a short-lived CBS news drama], Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and other more mainstream, non-ethnic roles. Unfortunately, that wasn’t always the experience for black actors.

I remember [around ’95] going out for a role on Melrose Place — one of the hottest shows on television at that time. I had a long history with Aaron Spelling [Charlie’s Angels, Dynasty, and Beverly Hills 90210]. I’ve gone to dinner with Mr. Spelling and I’ve gone to dinner with Mr. Darren Star [co-creator of Beverly Hills 90210, Melrose Place and Sex In The City] and I’ve told them, “You need to have more black people on that show than just Vanessa A. Williams.” And they would tell me, “Oh, Phil … it’s all casting … we would bring you in, we would make a role for you in a heartbeat.” I took it as lip service.

A few weeks later, Melrose Place had another role. I told my people to submit me for it. My agents came back and said, “Nah, they’re not going to see you. They want the role to be a white role.” The next time I saw Aaron Spelling, I again told him that I knew I wasn’t going to get the role because I was black. And he said, “Well, I’m only so big. There’s only so much that I can do.” I finally got a role on Melrose Place because I happened to be the right dude.

SEINFELD — “The Finale: Part 1&2” Episode 23 & 24 — Pictured: (l-r) Jerry Seinfeld as Jerry Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Elaine Benes, Jason Alexander as George Costanza, Michael Richards as Cosmo Kramer, Phil Morris as Jackie Chiles (Photo by )

Joseph Del Valle/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

The truth is, you ain’t never going to please everybody, anyway. When I went to audition for Jackie Chiles on Seinfeld, I never thought of it as a derogatory token role. They told me, straight up, “We want someone that would give us a rendition of Johnnie Cochran.” I remember seeing Michael Dorn [Worf, of the Star Trek franchise] and Ted Lange from The Love Boat and Michael Boatman. We all looked like the Motown Mafia at that audition with our dark suits [Laughs].

“My Melrose Place experience only strengthened me. I wasn’t going to let no one tell me my worth, or value.”

I’d known Johnnie Cochran most of my whole life. We went to the same barber … Terrell’s Barber Shop in Los Angeles. I’d see Johnnie there almost every Sunday, for years — so I knew this cat way before the O.J. Simpson trial. I had a sense of his rhythm and his thing … that “Uh, huh … You don’t say.” I ended up getting the Seinfeld job, but Johnnie had to sign off on his likeness, which he eventually did. Jackie Chiles was a relief valve for a lot of people who were so frustrated with the O.J. verdict. It gave them a chance to laugh at the proceedings that were sometimes just ridiculous. Personally, I didn’t agree with the O.J. verdict. That’s why Jackie Chiles was so over-the-top. I let them have it.

I saw Johnnie a couple of times after my Seinfeld episodes aired and it was just like an old western movie. I walked into the barbershop and he’s laid back in the chair getting a shave. Everyone was quiet and Johnnie looks at me, laughs and says, “Young man, you are hilarious.”

I don’t know why I don’t have my own show right now. It’s driving me crazy, because my ambition is very high … I’m developing my own show, centering around me as an ex-soap opera star. I’m just trying to control my journey.


BIANCA LAWSON, 38

Brinson+Banks for The Undefeated

Born: Los Angeles

Throwback: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dawson’s Creek

Currently working on: Queen Sugar

When I turned 14, I started Saved By The Bell: The New Class [in 1993]. I’d been staying in New York with my dad, and I ended up coming back to L.A. I was in a store and some guy walked up to us and said, “My wife is a manager. Do you act?” And literally that week I got the role for Saved By The Bell. I wasn’t thinking about if I was the “token black girl” on the show. I was just happy to be working.

Bianca Lawson played Megan Jones in Saved By The Bell: The New Class.

Chris Haston/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

I had a recurring role on Sister, Sister and it was so much fun. The UPN writers from that show told me, “Bianca, we’re going to make another series and we are going to write a part just for you.” It was a black sitcom with the legendary Sherman Hemsley called Goode Behavior. I was offered a role on Buffy the Vampire Slayer as one of the leads, but I took Good Behavior because the producers had kept their word.

“Can you black it up? Can you make it blacker … more street? That was never me. Honestly, I had more issues with the black directors and producers than the white ones.”

After Goode ended, the Buffy people offered me another part. I thought I was going to be on Buffy longer, but it was only for four episodes. I loved playing Kendra. She was fierce and she was direct. She wasn’t about being liked. She had this mission to accomplish and it wasn’t connected to some guy or some romance.

Bianca Lawson and Alyson Hannigan from season 2 of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer.”

I can’t remember how many episodes I was supposed to do on Dawson’s Creek, but there was this thing where my character Nikki, who was a filmmaker, always had to be better than [her white peers]. She even had a discussion with Dawson about this. It was really surreal. The thought of becoming the first black actress on shows like Dawson’s Creek and Buffy the Vampire Slayer never really occurred to me back then.

Recently, I was on an airplane and someone left a beautiful note on my seat to say what I meant to them as a black actress on television. I didn’t really think about any of that when I was younger because you’re just doing the work. It was only years later as I got older that I realized seeing a young black woman on Buffy and Dawson’s Creek was empowering to a lot of people.

It’s a feeling that I’m experiencing on an even higher level with Queen Sugar. I feel like I’m part of a new black television era.


VANESSA A. WILLIAMS, 54

Born: Brooklyn, New York

Throwback: Melrose Place

Currently working on: Vengeance, Days of Our Lives, I Left My Girlfriend for Regina Jones

When I was 6, I wanted to literally know how people got into the TV set [Laughs]. My family is a performing family. My mother was a tap dancer and my grandmother was an accomplished pianist and organist and had played with W.C. Handy, and my auntie sung opera. I started to do singing roles as part of the New York City Opera, and there was a girl there who was also a professional actress. She had an actual manager, which really impressed me. We ended up becoming friends and I got that same manager.

My first big gig was a Bubble Yum commercial with Ralph Macchio [of The Karate Kid] We did a f—ing bubble gum rap [Laughs]. “Yum, so fine, the flavor lasts a long, long time!” It was hilarious … a bunch of white kids and a black girl rapping about gum!

There are two projects that I count as my big break into Hollywood — The Cosby Show and of course New Jack City. As a New York actor, you are trained in theater, and if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. So I wasn’t intimidated when I got the Melrose Place phone call. This was a big deal because we knew the show was an Aaron Spelling project coming on the heels of Beverly Hills, 90210. I heard that my role as Rhonda was going to be for a Jewish girl, but I won the role. I just thought, Wow, my dreams are coming true.

“I started out as a standup comedian. I wanted to be Carol Burnett, Lucille Ball and Whoopi Goldberg.”

When the L.A. riots happened, there was a story line on Melrose Place dealing with the aftermath. In the script, Rhonda was separating herself from her own community — the black community — and saying things like, “Those people … ” I had a serious talk with Darren, who was very amenable about changing that part of the script.

The cast of the TV series, ‘Melrose Place,’ posing on steps, circa 1993.

Fotos International/Getty Images)

It wasn’t until Melrose Place fired me after doing 33 episodes of season one that I felt the sting of Hollywood. There was positive fan feedback about my character, but I guess the Spelling people did some demographic research and decided that they were going to go into a more backbiting, soap opera direction. I thought the only strike against me was that I was a black actress. It had all to do with the fact that they were going to have people sleeping with each other in the cast — and how would that play for Middle America to see a black girl bed-hopping?

But my Melrose Place experience only strengthened me. I wasn’t going to let no one tell me my worth or value. I kept rolling with roles on such shows as Chicago Hope, Soul Food and [most recently] the Bella Thorne-vehicle Famous In Love on ABC’s Freeform network. One thing about the ’90s is there was a plethora of work for black actors even with all the ups and downs. This was the golden age of black television. We literally built Fox and UPN. That is a known fact.


MARKUS REDMOND, 47

Brinson + Banks for The Undefeated

Born: Philadelphia

Throwback: Doogie Howser, M.D.

Currently working on: Wine & Whimsy, The 6th Degree

I always knew I wanted to be a television actor. I was enamored by John Travolta as Vinnie Barbarino on Welcome Back Kotter. I thought he was the coolest dude in the history of the world, and my parents laughed at me. They were like, “You know acting is an actual job? Travolta is not just some cool guy … he’s acting.” I was like, “Well, I want that job!” It wasn’t until my family moved from North Philadelphia to Ventura County, about an hour north of Los Angeles, that I got into a high school drama class.

I started taking lessons from acting coach Cliff Osmond, rest in peace. After I’d been in the class long enough, he told me, “I think it’s time for you to meet my wife.” She became my first agent in 1989, and I ended up booking a play called Ten November. One of the casting directors from this new show, Doogie Howser, M.D., Beth Hymson, came to the play. She brought me in for an audition to play Friend No. 2.

So I go to the audition and Friend No. 2 is asking Doogie what it’s like being a doctor. Now I grew up in Ventura with a bunch of surfers, so to me it just seemed natural to be like, “Whoa, dude … You get to see blood and guts?!!! Gnarly, dude!” And I’m a big, black guy, so that didn’t make a whole lot of sense doing a white surfer voice, but Beth and the others got a kick out of it. They told me they’d keep me on their radar. And then the very next audition was for Raymond on Doogie Howser, M.D.

The cast of Doogie Howser, M.D.

ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images

Early on, I noticed the Doogie script was very surface. My character was written as this tough black guy who’s about to rob a 7-Eleven. Doogie talks him down, he realizes the error of his ways, and Doogie gets to feel good about himself. On the third or fourth day of production, there was a line where Doogie’s mom screams at a cop, “If that animal hurts my son!” She was talking about my character. This became hugely controversial because we had a good number of African-Americans that were extras on set.

The extra that played my mom, she especially took offense to it. I remember production stopped, and when we came back, that “animal” line had been taken out of the script. So there was this slow process of humanizing Raymond on the series.

“I don’t have my own show right now. It’s driving me crazy because my ambition is very high.”

I met a lot of black people while I was on Doogie. They’d be like, “So, wait, you’re on TV?” And I’d say, “I’m on Doogie Howser.” They’d usually respond, “Oh, I don’t watch that show because there ain’t no black people on it.” And that’s the thing. If you segregate yourself, the media will always give those stereotypes to you. If you keep telling the media, “Ghetto, street, rap … that’s all who I am,” the media will respond, just like the universe.

Neil Patrick Harris and Markus Remond on an episode of Doogie Howser, M.D.

ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images

When I’d go out for auditions, there was usually a prerequisite of, “Can you black it up? Can you make it blacker … more street?” And that was never me. Honestly, I had more issues with the black directors and producers than the white ones. I’m not a fan of hip-hop. Look at my Spotify and its mostly country. My favorite actors are William Powell, Humphrey Bogart, Jimmy Stewart. That’s where I get my juice.

After Doogie, I was able to book a series on UPN called Family Rules as the black next-door neighbor. Everybody knew what the UPN acronym really meant: The Underpaid Negro Network. I was the reverse token … the only black person on a mostly white show on UPN. It was canceled after [six] episodes. It had gotten to the point where none of this acting stuff was relevant to me. I was tired of playing Thug No. 4. Like I said, I grew up with surfers, listened to swing music and loved Woody Allen movies. I didn’t fit in.

I think that’s why I embraced writing. I’ve sold some scripts to studios and I did a film that went to Sundance back in ’07 that Whoopi Goldberg and Sharon Stone starred in along with me called If I Had Known I Was A Genius. I never limit myself. Fortunately, today we have great shows portraying black people in a broad light like How To Get Away With Murder and Scandal. Thank God for Shonda Rhimes for saying, “Let me just make great television shows and just put black people in the lead and surround them with everybody.”


KENN MICHAEL, 40

Brinson+Banks for The Undefeated

Born: New York

Throwback: The Parent ‘Hood, Freaks and Geeks

Currently working on: Artificial intelligence software project

I loved being in front of the camera. I did Reading Rainbow twice, and one of the producers said to my parents, “He’s really good. This seems like something you guys might want to pursue.” I thank my mom, Lola, for my career, because she put in a lot of work.

The first national spot I booked was a commercial for Bubble Yum in 1990. I was around 12, and the role for that ad was originally not created for a black kid, but a white character named Milo, the Mathematical Genius. I guess white kids were only allowed to be intelligent, but the agent I had was incredible. She was like, “Oh, no. We’re going to send Kenn there because they don’t know what they want. And he can do it.” I nailed it.

I always played the smart kid in a lot of crossover roles. And then I hit this rut that was typical with being a black actor where the majority of the roles were the street kid, the drug dealer or the bad kid. All the auditions were the same, and I was bummed, so around 1992 I was an apprentice director on the film Boomerang, shadowing the Hudlin Brothers. I got the chance to watch Eddie Murphy work. I developed a bit of a rapport with him. Eddie noticed I was a little out of sorts.

Hours later, he asked me to see him on his bus. I was excited! I told him what I was experiencing in the television audition game and he gave me this pep talk, like, “Dude, I know. But you have to keep on trucking. Your excellence will shine no matter what you do.” I ended up getting an actual part in Boomerang.

But then you go from being on a big budget film that showed blacks in a nuanced, positive light, and back to the politics of TV. I remember a meeting I had with Darren Star, who was the head of Aaron Spelling’s development company. I walked into this huge office in Beverly Hills. They were interested in creating a show for me, so Darren walks in, puts his feet up on the table and he says, “You may know some of our series like Beverly Hills, 90210 and Melrose Place …” He had this very arrogant way about him. So I said, “Yeah, I’ve seen those shows, but I don’t really watch them because I don’t see anybody who looks like me.” [A] phrase you heard a lot back in those days [was] … “Oh, we don’t know how to write for black characters.”

Being on the show The Parent ’Hood was an interesting situation. I was on a black series with Robert Townsend, who was show’s creator and executive producer. There was diversity, and it was great at times, but then my character started to get painted in a corner. He was viewed as this superpositive black male character … smart and into music. I was written off the show. The character they replaced me with was this boy who was written as a troubled, streetwise kid. It wasn’t just the white shows that insisted I play the hoodlum. That was an eye-opener.

“I hit this rut that was typical with being a black actor where the majority of the roles were the street kid, the drug dealer or the bad kid.”

When I did Freaks and Geeks, nobody knew anything about it. Judd Apatow was not a huge name at that point, so for me it was just another audition. I was just happy to be on a show where the writing was really funny. We know that Apatow’s projects are mostly white. In hindsight, yeah, it would have been great … for them to have more characters of color.

I got tired of the politics of auditioning for roles. I’d always been directing my own short films before I got my first official directing gig. I was doing film festivals and some projects on the digital side of filmmaking before anybody was talking about it, because the picture quality wasn’t of quality back then. I was also doing a lot of voiceover work for video games and cartoons. I ended up directing BET’s Let’s Stay Together. That was my multicam, sitcom, directorial thing. It was a lot of fun. Doing voice work for video games has been a lot of fun because you get to play all these crazy characters. I do a really great German accent [Michael is an in-demand video game voice actor. He has appeared in the Saints Row series and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas].

I’ve started this next phase of my journey. I’ve been building a software project that is dealing with sound, healing, and sacred numbers and frequencies. My thing is bringing spirituality, technology, and science together. Artificial intelligence is upon us. We need to make sure that we are imbuing things into A.I. that we would want.


KIM COLES, 56

Born: Brooklyn, New York

Throwback: Living Single, Frasier

Currently working on: Stand-up comedy, speaking engagements (AARP, American Heart Association among others)

I started out as a stand-up comedian. I wanted to be Carol Burnett, Lucille Ball and Whoopi Goldberg. [In 1987], I auditioned for A Different World, for the role of Jaleesa … the role that Dawnn Lewis eventually got. Dawn and I had been friends since we were 11, so for her to get that was huge. I remember being at an event and meeting Keenan Ivory Wayans. Keenan tells me that he has a television show coming up and that he wanted me to audition. I found out that it was a multicultural sketch comedy show, which had never been done before.

We filmed the pilot for In Living Color in 1989, but somebody had already gotten a hold of the episode! There were bootlegged copies being sold on the streets. There were people who loved the show and others who thought we were too edgy, too black, and hated it. I was only on In Living Color for the first year … it was an incredible experience.

The cast of Living Single. Kim Coles is the to far right.

Deborah Feingold/Corbis via Getty Images

Landing the role of Synclaire on Living Single was massive. It was around 1992, and I’d just left In Living Color. The producers reached out to me and said, “We love you. We want to do a series about black women and their experiences and what they think about life and men.” Living Single was an iconic show with a lot of layers. It wasn’t a stereotypical black sitcom. But it wasn’t hard to notice that networks like Fox and UPN were using black shows just to establish their success. There were black series that were watched by millions on Fox, but apparently they weren’t a part of the network’s vision.

I booked The Geena Davis Show, but they kindly let me walk so I could do an episode of Frasier. Then I booked a second episode, and I have to tell you, the experience was amazing. Kelsey Grammer was beyond kind to me and he loved my Dr. Mary character. I knew that there were no [black people] on Frasier, but I saw that as a challenge.

“That just was the reality of the times … you usually were the only black person on a so-called ‘white’ show.”

The response to Dr. Mary was incredible, so we tried to get the Frasier people to do a spinoff. This was at the time Kelsey was about to do Girlfriends, so I knew he had to be open to black women being the lead [of a show]. The writer who wrote my two episodes on Frasier even won a diversity award because before that they didn’t have anyone like me on that show! But the spin-off never happened.

I do some stand-up and I have my own one-woman show. And I do a lot of speaking engagements for AARP and the American Heart Association. I tell my story and I try to inspire, motivate … and I get to be funny. I think there should be more black shows like black-ish. We have Shonda Rhimes, who is putting together these amazing series with these amazing black women at the helm. But I’m not waiting around for Hollywood to call me for jobs. Everything that I’m doing today keeps me fed until I’m able to get that free food. Because that’s the only reason to do a television show … it’s the free food [Laughs].


TANGI MILLER, 47

Brinson + Banks for The Undefeated

Born: Miami

Throwback: Michael Hayes, Felicity

Currently working on: Nwannem: Sisters

Acting seemed kind of far-fetched. It wasn’t practical. But there was a show called Michael Hayes, which starred David Caruso. It was a detective series, like Miami Vice, and I played a drug dealer’s girlfriend. I was more concerned about my hair than how my peers would perceive me as an actor [laughs].

Thank God I don’t have to worry about that now, because today they have a lot of black hair stylists, but back then that wasn’t the case. So I showed up on set with my hair clean and washed and no makeup. And they would look at me like, “What happened to you?” This one white girl came to me with a pressing comb and she tried to comb my hair in the opposite direction, and I’m like, “No, no, no … the comb goes the other way.”

Cast of the show Felicity.

Getty Images

I don’t think I ever felt like Elena was this lone, token black character when I got the role for Felicity. As a black actress, that just was the reality of the times … you usually were the only black person on a so-called “white” show. When I met J.J. Abrams and Matt Reeves, who created the show, I actually thought they were assistants because they were so short and cute [Laughs]. I was talking to them like they were my peers … but they were really cool about it.

“When I went to audition for Jackie Chiles on Seinfeld, I never thought of it as a derogatory, token role.”

What I was really concerned about was wanting Elena to come across as more than just Felicity’s black friend. It was important to me that you saw some of my character’s girlfriends from before she came to college. If you look back at some of the episodes of Felicity, you will see Elena’s backstory with her family and father. Whenever I made those suggestions, the producers actually followed through. I felt supported.

I didn’t realize how lucky we were until Felicity was over. It was an amazing, well-written show. J.J. is a genius. I wanted another meaty character that I could sink my teeth into … that I could be proud of, but I couldn’t find one. That’s one of the reasons why I started producing and making my own movies. Recently, I directed Diva Diaries. I’ve done Hurricane in the Rose Garden, My Girlfriend’s Back, Love … & Other 4 Letter Words. I’ve done like 10 or 12 films, mostly as a producer and actor. I love what I do.


SHAUN BAKER

Brinson + Banks for The Undefeated

Born: New York

Throwback: V.I.P.

Currently working on: Atone, The Zim

The first thing I did when I came out to Los Angeles was House Party, but the first television series I booked was a [1993] sitcom called Where I Live. It was a positive depiction of a young Caribbean family and young African-Americans from Harlem who were supportive of each other. It featured myself, Doug E. Doug and Flex Alexander. We were just starting our careers, and were so excited to be working as young actors. After the second season, when we didn’t get picked up, it was heartbreaking.

I was happy to be a part of Living Single. Kim Coles is incredibly gifted. Everybody from that show from [Queen] Latifah, T.C. Carson, and Kim Fields to Erika Alexander to John Henton were heavy hitters. The role I played, Russell, a West Indian music editor, was interesting, because my family is from Jamaica. I tapped into my own experiences. We were groundbreaking, positive, upwardly mobile, young African-Americans, men and women who were flawed individuals striving for friendship and love.

“The thought of becoming the first black actress on shows like Dawson’s Creek and Buffy the Vampire Slayer never really occurred to me back then.”

But after that success, all of sudden these popular black series like Roc, In Living Color, Martin, and Living Single were getting canceled. Then you would see all of these white shows like Party of Five and Melrose Place pop up. I don’t know if it was strategic, but it did make us raise an eyebrow and ask, “Well, what happened to all those black shows?”

After Living, I had a meeting with Pamela Anderson for an action comedy called V.I.P. and she was transparent … about a lot of things pertaining to a role she had in mind for me. She told me, “You know why you’re here? You have a following … you have an audience.” Living Single helped me get on V.I.P.

The cast of V.I.P.

V.I.P. [1998-2002] was a huge action comedy series. When you’re minority on such a big show, having a support system is very important. I was very mindful of how I was being portrayed as a black man on V.I.P. But there was a situation that I had to deal with. A lot of times in the stunt world if they don’t think an African-American stunt person is not capable, they will actually [blackface] a non-African American. This would usually be a white person.

We were doing an episode where we were supposed to be circus performers, and they told me they couldn’t find any black circus people, but I knew they just didn’t want to spend the money. So I told them to take me out of the scene if they were going to use a painted-on stunt person. I knew the history of blackface. I understood how serious that was. I went to Pam and the producers and I said, “Not only am I offended, but the NAACP will be in here marching.” They wrote me out of the scene.

But looking back, I still feel fortunate to be part of a special time on television. I’m thankful because just to get one acting role back then was like hitting the lottery. But I had several: Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, A Different World, Martin, Living Single, V.I.P. TV is powerful. A lot of times, black people are portrayed as savages. That’s why it’s important to see shows like Ava DuVernay’s Queen Sugar — that’s how we as artists make a difference.

Kevin Hart on why he became an athlete, why his Hollywood work ethic is so intense—and his true endgame One of the funniest men in the world is also dedicated to make sure he’s one of the fittest

Kevin Hart’s health is no laughing matter. So much of his comedy is rooted in self-deprecation about his own physicality: he’s a 5-foot-4-inch man who makes you laugh even before he says a word. Especially if he’s paired up with a hulk of a man like say, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson — the two of them together usually translate into cinematic gold. Sony’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, released on Dec. 20, 2017, has now “earned $377 million in North America, and has topped $904 million globally … [Jumanji] is now Sony’s second-biggest global grosser of all time, between Spider-Man 3 ($890m in 2007) and Skyfall ($1.1 billion),” according to Forbes.

But if you’ve been paying attention, Hart is probably a far better athlete than anyone would naturally want to give him credit for. Yes, athlete.

Two years ago, Hart broke ground as the first comedian to partner with a major footwear and apparel company on a cross-trainer. Armed with a multimillion-dollar deal with Nike, his Hustle Harts are meant to inspire; he wants to help people find their inner athlete — everyday folks who didn’t think they had it in them. Just like him, at one point.

Now, Hart is one of the fittest men in Hollywood, sharing his journey via his social media outlets, including an impressive New York City marathon finish in four hours, five minutes, six seconds back in November — and, ahem, he bested former New York Giants running back Tiki Barber. Bragging rights for years.

Hart figures he’ll do a few more marathons before it’s all said and done. It’ll help him keep up his breakneck schedule: a new digital series, Cold As Balls, more films, production deals and of course, a rigorous stand-up comedy touring schedule is on deck. Because the last thing he wants to ever do again is fall asleep on stage (more on that, later). We talk.


You’re coming off of Jumanji, one of the most successful films of last year, and you’re getting ready to get back on the road. Why is it so important for you to continue to stay out there?

I’m a comedian first. This is my craft, what I started as. And I built this big thing, and this big thing opened up a door to get me to another big thing. But if I forget about this first big thing, these doors could start to close. So, I’m very adamant about staying on course. Stand-up is not only what I love, but … it’s what the world needs. People love to laugh.

You’re also an athlete — not sure if people really understand that. You run marathons, you have a shoe endorsement deal. How do you use and channel that competitiveness into this world of Hollywood?

“I got a DUI at one point and I said, “Oh, my God! Oh s—! I could have died. I could have hurt somebody.” The reality of what it was then hit.”

Here’s the beauty of it: You get one life. And that one life, you got a choice to make. Do I want to live this life to the fullest and do I want to maximize my full potential while I’m on this earth? If I do, what does that entail, what does that mean? What am I going to do? That means I’m going to put absolutely all of my energy into my craft. I’m going to put it into becoming the best possible man that I can be. If I do that correctly, when it’s all said and done, and I look back at it, the story of who I am should be an amazing story.

The story of your life?

What can I accomplish along the way? That’s how I look at it. So, when you’re talking about partnerships, when you’re talking about my career — you’re talking about goals. You’re talking about the athletic side — all of it fits within the story of Kevin Hart. That’s all I want. I want my kids to be able to go back and look at that and go, “Man, dad was cool.” That’s it.

You’ve been grinding it out for a long time and at a certain point, it’s easy to lose that hunger, but you’ve never lost it. It’s only increased. How is that?

I don’t do anything halfway. I don’t want to sign on a for a moment. I don’t need a check. That’s not what I’m here for. I want to be a part of something special. I want to build something. I want to do something that hasn’t been done. That’s how I take on everything. The day you lose that hunger, is the day it closes, and somebody comes up that has it. It’s not guaranteed that I sit in the seat I’m in, or that I’m going to be here forever. The day that you get comfortable and you expect things to stay the way they are is the day they change. I stay hungry as if I have nothing.

Let me tell you what looks really uncomfortable: Cold as Balls. Where the hell and why the hell did that concept come up?

The endgame, when it’s all said and done for me, is going to be a talk show. When my knees hurt, and my arches are bad … I’m just going to have to sit still. And I think being a talk show host of some kind, being able to have the conversations with the people that I want to talk to … it’s something I know will be good. So, Cold As Balls is a way for me to tiptoe in that just to see how it would be … The questions I’m asking may make [my guests] uncomfortable — may not — but the personality ultimately drives the conversation. And that’s why you’ve been seeing a lot of funny interviews. They’re coming out really, really good. I’m happy.

You didn’t play in the celebrity game at NBA All-Star this year, but there was a moment where the thing people thought about Kevin Hart wasn’t athlete. Initially when you started playing in NBA Celebrity games people were probably like, “Oh. The funny guy who’s short is going to play in the basketball game.” And then of course, you dominated.

Damn right I did!

“I stay hungry as if I have nothing.”

But you actually train — who is Kevin Hart the athlete?

Kevin Hart the athlete is a guy that just fell in love with the idea of giving myself a long time to live. When I looked at it, I lost some family members. I lost friends to just simple health issues. From severe heart attacks to strokes. High blood pressure that’s gotten crazy to where it’s flipped a person’s life upside down, to where that person can’t even maneuver the way they want to maneuver. When you look at the effect that just not taking care of yourself can have on you as a person. These are things that I think you don’t believe until you get hit with it. There was a point in time when I was younger [and] you couldn’t tell me that drinking and driving was as bad as everybody said it was … but I got a DUI at one point, and I said, “Oh, my God! Oh s—! I could have died. I could have hurt somebody.” The reality hit … So, I decided to choose a healthy road. That person that you’re defining as an athlete is really a person that’s just trying to stay healthy. I put a large demand on my body. You know, 14, 15 hours a day consistently. If I’m not taking care of myself, there’s no way that I can do that at a high level. It’s impossible.

Was there a point where you started shifting? Was it like five years ago?

There was a point that I was on stage — this is a true story — I fell asleep on stage one time. Nobody noticed. It’s a real story. I was literally performing, and like, you know, I’m up every day, but I’m drinking, I’m eating fast food, everything. And there was a moment we’re on stage, and I stopped, and in the middle of a joke, I fell asleep. It was like a good 30 seconds. And I woke up and I was like, “Yeah, man.” And I got right back to the set. And I was like, “Oh s—!” I just. I didn’t pass out. I really just fell asleep.” I was like, “What the f—?” I remember being so in shock at that moment, and then I remember I went and I looked at my data, and I was like, I’ve been eating cheeseburgers and cheesesteaks and fries all day, and I get on stage, I’m giving like a half of a show. It’s like I’m sluggish, farting all on stage. Come on, Kevin. What are you doing, Kevin? Have you ever had that conversation, you had to really talk to yourself?

I’m having it right now!

Listen, I really was in the mirror and I was like, “Kevin, what the — come on, man. Look at you, Kevin.” And I really had a moment where I was like, “Nah. This isn’t, it can’t be like this.” Not if I’m supposed to give these people a show at a very high level every night. Not if I got to be on set and I’m supposed to be acting at a very high level every single day. Not if people are depending on me every single day. I got to make sure that I’m doing it to the best of my ability. And I don’t want people to think that when they read this that that means that should be your thing, too. I think that when I say that, it’s also a heavy mental thing. So, for anybody out there, this is you understanding that, “Hey, you know what? Let me make sure that I’m taking care of me.” There’s different levels to taking care of yourself. I’m a little extreme with it. That doesn’t mean everybody else should be extreme. There’s levels, but I think when you have that mentality, when you’re aware, you’re OK. Just don’t not be aware. That’s my piece of advice to any and everybody. Because when it smacks you, and then you go, “Oh, oh, what? Huh? I got to lose my foot?” People really don’t understand that’s how fast the reality is. It’s not a, “Oh, you get a warning.” It’s like ‘Heart attack! Oh, s—! I almost died!”

That’s very real.

I saw it firsthand. So that’s where the athlete, that’s where the healthy guy, that’s where the running the marathons comes from. And then there’s a piece of wanting to achieve greatness in there, too. Do you know the percentage of people in the world that have run a marathon? This is going to blow your mind.

Hit me with it.

It’s under 5 percent of the world.

Really?

So out of how many billion people, under 5 percent have actually ran a marathon. I want to be in that 5 percent … the marathon, I’m going to try to do five.

“Kevin Hart the athlete is a guy that just fell in love with the idea of giving myself a long time to live.”

Chasing personal greatness is part of the Kevin Hart story.

This is all a part of the story. The goal is while I’m on tour, I’m trying for a marathon, I’m going to be filming a movie at the same time. So, the goal is to consistently keep it up, and then I think I run the marathon in October. So, that would be checked off the list. I don’t want to fall asleep on stage.

What has to happen in 2018 for you to say, that you outdid yourself this year?

I’m already trying to lay out 2019. The tour goes into 2019. It has to be the biggest tour ever in comedy … what’s my total number of specials that I want to do? George Carlin did 10. I’m on No. 6. I’ve got work to do. When it’s all said and done, what’s my catalog going to look like? What’s my movie catalog going to look like? Am I going to do more dramas? More animation? I’m producing stuff now. My company is part of me, with studios, it doesn’t stop. It literally just continues to grow and grow. Just a little Energizer Bunny.

As she says goodbye to Olivia Pope, Kerry Washington opens up  The style icon is honored at the 20th Annual Costume Design Guild Awards

BEVERLY HILLS — The hooting and hollering from the photo bay picked up when Kerry Washington breezed onto the carpet at the Costume Design Guild Awards on Tuesday night. The star — in her last season of the game-changing Scandal — was the last to grace the carpet, and outside of the legendary Lily Tomlin, Star Wars’ Mark Hamill, and Eva Longoria, Washington was easily the most famous person in the event space at the Beverly Hills Hilton. The event is in its 20th year, and bestowed upon Washington the Spotlight Award, which was presented by Longoria.

This night is one of award season’s keystones, and by far one of the more chill events, as it honors the women and men who create the television and film looks we all fawn over. As the big show — the Academy Awards — draws closer, other such events will take place, and Washington is always a notable face. This year, her husband Nnamdi Asomugha — a former NFL star — is up for a prestigious best supporting actor Indie Spirit Award for his excellent turn in last year’s Crown Heights. So this night of award season celebrating certainly won’t be the last time we see Washington grace camera-filled carpets.

Washington took the stage in a body-hugging Dolce & Gabbana floor length sparkler, and was — perhaps — at her most candid. The notoriously private star rarely references her husband and children, preferring instead to talk about her work as an actor and activist. But this night, she chose relay some insight: about the season on Scandal in which she was pregnant with her first child—and the show’s attempts to hide it. And she talked about saying goodbye to Olivia Pope.

“It’s crazy for me to be saying goodbye to Olivia Pope because I’ve been Olivia Pope longer than I’ve been anybody’s wife or mother.”

“When I grow up, I want to be Kerry Washington,” Longoria said. “But there’s a big problem because she’s just too much. She’s lovely and warm and kind and thoughtful and genuine. She’s the one of the most genuine people you’ll find in this business. But she’s also at the same time one of the most kick-ass women that you will ever meet. All the while being a devoted wife and mother to two beautiful kids.”

Longoria talked about Washington’s seven-year reign as Olivia Pope— she called Washington a TV icon. Importantly, Longoria recalled about the headlines Washington grabbed as the first black woman to lead a network drama in over thirty years. “After all, why shouldn’t a black woman be the boss in politics or anywhere else?” Longoria said. “She owned it … she normalized it. Her success paved the way — not just for women of color — but for our society as a whole.”

The show’s costume designer Lyn Paolo cried as she called Washington “stunningly graceful…Your love of costume design and storytelling … all of that is self evident in your whole body of work,” she said. As Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s “You’re All I Need To Get By” played — a musical moment that felt directly plucked from Scandal — Washington made her way to the stage. She recalled a hilarious story about being a scholarship student at George Washington University and failing miserably at pressing a dress in the school’s costume shop.

“That is how much I knew about costumes…By the time I left college, I not only knew how to iron, but I was able to say to people that I don’t really know who a character is until I know what shoes she wears,” she said. “Because the shoes tell you how I walk. They tell me how I stand. They tell me who I am. I have relied on the wisdom and genius of costume designers every step along the way.” Washington also revealed how she took ownership of Olivia Pope. She wasn’t just the face of the series, she wanted to make sure she had a stake in the brand itself.

“When we heard that the network was going to create a clothing line inspired by Olivia Pope, Lyn and I said together, ‘not without us!’ Women wanted to dress like her not only because of what [series creator] Shonda [Rhimes] wrote … but it was because of those extra 15 minutes in a fitting,” she said. “We wanted to go past okay, into right. We wanted to go past okay into telling a story and informing the audience of a deeper truth because we know that a pair of shoes can do that!” Soon, Washington will hang up her white hat and Olivia Pope will go away. This is the show’s final season, and it’s been an emotional ride.

“It’s crazy for me to be saying goodbye to Olivia Pope because I’ve been Olivia Pope longer than I’ve been anybody’s wife or mother. Those things are new to me because of her,” Washington said. “When I told Shonda I was pregnant and Shonda told me that Olivia Pope was not going to be pregnant, I panicked. How in the world am I going to hide this bump? And I could do it because of Lyn. There were no maternity clothes out there. But she took those beautiful couture Armani pants, cut out the front and replaced it with with growing material that held my daughter. I waddled—but I waddled well dressed.”