Mar07

Saving Grace: Robin Roberts

Robin Roberts' return to "Good Morning America" early last month was marked by a flood of congratulatory messages from millions of fans across the nation and celebrity well-wishers, including Oprah Winfrey, Hillary Clinton, Kobe Bryant, Jimmy Kimmel and Bradley Cooper who were among those recording welcome videos for the veteran anchor.

"I keep pinching myself," said Robert her first day back on air. "This is actually happening."

The NBC’s “Today” show, and rival for the early mornings time slot, sent a gift basket and made a large donation to a charity that facilitates finding donor matches for patients who, like Robin, require bone-marrow transplants.

Straight from the White House, President Barak Obama, with First Lady Michelle Obama at his side, said “Good Morning, America, and welcome back, Robin.”

“Robin, we just want you to know that the whole Obama family, we’ve been thinking about you,” said the first lady, “and praying for you, and rooting for you every step of the way.”

Like many who followed Robert’s public battle with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), the president called her an inspiration and stated that he “couldn’t be happier’ to see her back on the air.

“I’m so grateful that people see me as a symbol of hope,” Roberts told Diane Sawyer in a special 20/20 episode that aired late last month.

Roberts’ latest medical ordeal began last June when she announced that she had the rare blood disorder. Her bone marrow produced too few functioning red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. Treatment would require Roberts taking a medical leave to undergo a bone marrow transplant.

Immediately, the outpouring of love and support rushed in from the public. The very day Roberts made her announcement, Be the Match Registry—a nonprofit organization run by the National Marrow Donor Program, saw a 1,800% increase in donors.

“I am the first one to hold my hand up and say I have had so much help because of the position I’m in,” said Roberts after her 2007 battle with breast cancer, “but I don’t want to just take it and run. I want to use it to be an amplifier and a magnifying glass for those who are not in this situation.”

Upon leaving the show, Robert allowed cameras a candid look at the difficult period during which she as she found a bone marrow match in her sister, dealt with the loss of her mother, and grappled with the emotional tug and war of undergoing treatment and fighting for recovery. The 20/20 special aired last month.

"When I started, there was just like something for hydration, and then they would add another bag. … they would put chemo, and … all of a sudden I couldn't even see the pole for all the bags that were hanging off of it," she said.

"Some of it was nutrition and there was this white bag called, 'lipids.' And it would come in the room, and I could just smell it. And it looked like... white-out. That's how it was. But it was giving me life, it was keeping me alive."

This isn’t the first time Roberts faced a harrowing health issue. Just over 5 years ago, the Mississippi native had been working on a tribute to former ABC colleague Joel Siegel, who died of colon cancer and had been an advocate of early screening and prevention, when she discovered a lump in her breast while performing a self examination.

After undergoing a biopsy, her fears were confirmed.

She was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer, an announcement she also made on the air before taking a medical leave for surgery.

It was her beloved mother who passed the day after Roberts began her 2012 leave from GMA, who’d encouraged her to share her battle breast cancer with all of America.

“My mom said, ‘Make your mess your message,’ ” Robin told Cancerconnect.com. “She helped show me that there are others who are going to benefit from [my story] and that the pain and discomfort I was going to go through would be minimal compared with the benefit I could bring to other people.”

“‘She said, ‘You know, Robin, you are abundantly blessed, and you have resources that other people do not have; you need to be their voice, and you need to be an advocate for them.’ ”

It is with that same candidacy that Robin approached her struggle against MDS, whether her grief after losing her mother at such a vital time or her decision to shave off her hair.

"It was so traumatic last time and I wanted to be in control," she told 20/20. "I am in control. I am deciding when my hair goes. I'm not waiting in that hospital bed for it to fall out. I made this decision and it was the right decision."

The, daughter of a Tuskegee Airman, Roberts began her career in 1983 as a sports anchor and reporter after graduating from Southeaster Louisiana University. Roberts, a star basketball player who averaged 15.2 points her game during her senior year, eventually made her way to ESPN in 1990 where she would go on to earn three Emmy Awards.

Five years later, the Mississippi native began as a contributor on “Good Morning America” and in 2005 was promoted to co-anchor. Along with co-anchor George Stephanopoulos who joined her in 2009, Roberts lead the GMA to the top of the rating charts.

Her persistence, however, did not make the days after the transplant any easier for her to navigate, with Robert’s making the public admission that she felt as if she were dying.

"I was in a coma-like state," she says of the days following the September procedure, a time when she couldn’t eat or drink. “I truly felt I was slipping away."

What got her through was the support of family and friends and the faith instilled in her by her parents, Lawrence and Lucy Marion Roberts.

“They instilled in me a deep faith. We went to church and it brings back such wonderful memories. Mama making pancakes. We’re getting ready for church and she’s playing the piano. As I moved as an adult from town to town, the first thing I did was join a church. And all four of their children are college educated and reached certain levels of success, but my Mama says what brings her the greatest joy is when someone says, “Hey, I saw your child in church today.”

Roberts morning routine begins with her saying the prayer of protection, “The light of God surrounds me. The love of God enfolds me. The power of God protects me. The presence of God watches over me. Wherever I am, God is.”

Today, the anchor reports that, "Every day I feel more like my old self. I didn't think I would…You feel bad for so long, you just want to feel normal. And now I do."

Though doctors are still watching her health, by all appearances, not only is she back to normal, but thriving.

Roberts’ saving grace was perhaps put best when she stated, “if you strip away my college degree and my awards, and who I am and all that, it comes down to being a simple child of God. That’s who I am.”

Feb06

Saving Grace: Lamman Rucker

I was scared to death at first,” says “Meet the Browns” star Lamman Rucker, of the role that jumpstarted his career. “I was like, ‘Wow, can I do that?’

“I was coming in being the new guy on the show with people who’ve been there for twenty thirty years, and I had to come in there and deliver and not drop the ball. Even my love interest was significantly more experienced than me.”
­

Rucker landed his earliest onscreen roles in the 90s, appearing in the TV movies “The Jacksons: An American Dream” and “The Temptations” but it was taking the role of T. Marshall Travers opposite Tamara Tunie on “As the World Turns” that turned out to be a career maker career. That role led to a stint on “All My Children.”
On both shows, Ruckers played the bad guy, which he admits was lots of fun to take on, but also daunting.
Add to that the rigorous schedule that comes with filming a soap opera, which requires shooting five one-hour episodes a week.

“I was definitely intimidated,” says the Pittsburgh-native. “But I said let  me not even think too much about the fact that there’s only maybe two other black guys on the show, that I’m the new guy, the young guy, and the bad guy.

“I had to just go in there and do my thing. To attack it, be decisive, make a decision on who I wanted this character to be, what kind of dynamics was he going to have and what kind of energy I was going to bring into the show.”

That confidence has taken him a long way.

After departing from “All My Children,” Ruckers joined the cast of the hit UPN show “Half & Half” playing Mona’s (Rachel True) boyfriend. Next came succession of Tyler Perry projects including the films, “Meet the Browns,” “Why Did I Get Married?” and “Why Did I Get Married Too?” in which he acted along side the likes of Janet Jackson. Jill Scott, Malik Yoba, Angela Bassett, and Sofia Vergara.

The fast pace of soap opera production would prove to prepare Rucker for the demands on being a part of Tyler Perry’s TV series “Meet the Browns,” which filmed as many as 52 episodes a single season.

“We all got along very well, Mr. Perry and everybody below him,” Rucker says of the cast and crew. “Eventually we became a really well-oiled machine and it was fun to come to work. Even though a lot of people might say that kind of humor was very low-brow, we also tried to be very intelligent about the content of stories and again about the images we were putting forward.”

When it comes to taking on roles, being conscious about the work he’s putting into the world, is a guiding principle for Rucker who says he always wants to be able to look his parents in the eyes whenever they view his work.

“You have to be mindful of the decisions that you make and the work that you accept,” says Rucker, “because you’ve got to take some responsibility for the work you’re putting out there. I want to be proud of the choices I make.

“Life should be about more than just trying to get rich and wealthy. As an actor too, you go on stage to give something away.”

It’s an attitude he’s learned from his parents.

“Both of my parents are artists,” he explains. “My mother is a dancer, my father is a musician, and all these [arts] go hand in hand so I was kind of born into it.”

Rucker gravitated to acting at a young age. His first acting role was as Martin Luther King Jr. when he was in the 4th grade. Remaining active in school plays through junior high, he then went on to attended the renowned Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington D.C., where he spent his formative years. Watching his parents gave him a powerful set of role models to fashion his artistic sensibilities after.

“It wasn’t just about going out there just expressing themselves for selfish reasons,” says the 6’ 2” actor. “There was always education and culture and spirituality and sensuality and there was always something very powerful and profound build into everything they were doing,” says Rucker.

“They were activists, they were always involved in and invested in the community, fighting for justice to some capacity and a lot of times even the work was often very political or revolutionary or about bring to light things that needs to be exposed. Those things were always there.”

Naturally, his parents’ influence extends beyond the screen and Rucker takes pride in being able to call himself an activists and educator.

In college, he played basketball and graduated with a degree in Information Technology and Business and then earned a masters in Education and Curriculum Development.

Others might not see much of a connection between the arts and his chosen majors, but Rucker begs to differ.
“Being in business, being in education, being in sports, being involved in math and technology, it’s always been very artistic and very creative.

“I’ve got a left side and right side to my brain anyway. I’m not just one-hundred percent a creative person and not one-hundred percent a logical, quantitative person. I love math and science, I always have,” says Rucker. “And I love people. I love children and when I realized I had a gift and capacity for [education] too, then it was easy to focus on that.”

Rucker is currently active in many non-profit and grassroots organizations, Green for All, for which he serves a board member. The organization focuses on equality in access to fresh food, air and water; sustainability and wellness for all; and [routing] the technology and financial appropriations to make that happen. He is also works with the Black AIDS Institute.

“It’s important to me because it’s important to everybody. That’s the work that I do,” says Rucker. “I’m not struggling with or afflicted by HIV and AIDS but my community is. I’ve lost friends. I’ve lost relatives. My race is. Our country is. Our world is. That’s why it’s important to me.

“It has gotten better and can get better if the priorities continue to be education, testing prevention, communication and just getting people involved and informed and actively involved in the dialogue and get everybody in the fight.”

Additionally, Rucker co-founded an organization called The Black Gents of Hollywood, with the aim of affecting change through “the artistic route as actors.”

Says Rucker, “We all have different areas of expertise and different areas of  interests outside of our identity as actors. So what we’re trying to do is show by even calling ourselves the black gents is that we’re mutli-layered, multi-faceted, renaissance men. We’re really not that exceptional.

“We are what black men are, what people are if they give themselves the opportunity to explore and expand what their capacity is so we just believe that to whom much is given, much is also required. We want to be the best we can to be powerful examples of what brotherhood, fatherhood, and manhood can be.”

One way in which The Black Gents worked toward this goal was to bring “Black Angels Over Tuskegee” to the stage. The award-winning play tells the inspiring story of the first black airmen in the U.S. Army Air Force.
In a way, Rucker is only trying to do for others what his parents did for him.

“My parents have been my saving grace. I’m privileged to come from a long line of really incredible people. I’m not perfect, neither are they, but they did the best they could to empower me, uplift me,” says Ruckers.

“I’m proud to be who I am I’m proud to be their child proud to be a black man, proud to be of African descent and everything that comes along with that. I’m glad that they raised me to be able to stand up straight, with my chin up and shoulders back and at the same time not with my nose in the air, my eyes forward but yet paying full attention to what’s going on around me, and loving and insightful enough to want to bring other people along for the ride, and to make sure it’s a good ride.”

Jan08

Saving Grace: Edwina Findley

Edwina Findley is one of the few actresses in Hollywood who made the decision to remain a virgin until marriage.

“I think people can sometimes blow up sex as this huge thing you just can’t live without. But that’s not true,” said Findley, whose recent nuptials were profiled in the New York Times.

Findley wed advertising executive and fellow church-going member, Kelvin Dickerson, in a strapless mermaid gown on Nov. 17 at the Christian Cultural Center in New York with their pastor, the Rev. Dr. A. R. Bernard, officiating.

“The blessing of remaining celibate is that you appreciate the person for who they are, for their spirit, for their personality, for their love, for their genuine concern without ever having to worry about ulterior motives or having anything cloud your decisions.”

“I was taught to wait. So, I have and it wasn’t that hard,” shares Findley who enjoyed a long relationship with her husband before tying the knot. “And that’s primarily because that was a lifestyle choice for me. With anything the more you do it and the longer you do it, it becomes a habit.”

She does concede though that it was probably easier for her than for her new husband, whom she met at church. That, she says, makes him and their courtship all the more amazing.

“He was committed and that is where his power really came from. I’m just grateful for the power of God in our lives and that we’re able to rely on God.”

That reliance has guided more than just her personal life, but a increasingly successful professional one for the actress whose credits include “The Wire”,  “Brothers & Sisters”, “One Life To Live” and the 2012 film, “Middle of Nowhere”.

There was a time when Findley, who is currently in New Orleans filming the fourth and final season of HBO’s Treme about residents trying to rebuild their lives three months after Hurricane Katrina, wasn’t sure she wanted to pursue acting as a profession.

It was at the tender age of two that Findley started singing. By the age of five the Washington D.C. native knew she loved acting. Her mother encouraged her passion by enrolling her in dancing and acting classes and when it came time for Findley to start high school, the Duke Ellington School of the Arts was a natural choice.

By the age of sixteen, Findley had already broken into the industry, appearing on BET’s long running youth talk show, “Teen Summit.” She also got a taste of touring, traveling the world with her school’s show choir. But when it came time decide whether to continue her training in college, she had her doubts.

“You hear so many stories about how people blow up and become very successful and then there’s stories about how people just try and try and never make it. There was some fear that came into my decision,” says Findley, who now travels and speaks to male and female audiences about living a chaste life.

“I really prayed when I was a senior in high school and I asked God to guide me and to lead me. And He did. He confirmed over and over that this path of arts and entertainment was something He had planned for my life. So I kept going and allowed faith to outweigh my fear.”

She decided to continue her training at NYU’s renowned Tisch School of the Arts. After graduating, the close friend and former roommate of Oscar winning actress Viola Davis went on to professional theatre and scored a role as Tosha, Omar’s gun-toting sidekick in HBO’s “The Wire,” which provided Idris Elba with his breakout role.

“Edwina is a life force,” Viola Davis told the New York Times, “Once she comes into your life, it alters.”

While filming “The Wire,” during the day, Findley was also doing live theater at night and got a real taste of balancing her act as an actress.

“I was doing The Wire while also doing Shakespeare. I was playing this Welsh princess at night and this gangster by day,” says Findley.

“In this business, it’s definitely very beneficial to have range and to be malleable as far as your performances so you can go in and out of a lot of different mediums at once.”

This year, Findley also played a supporting role opposite David Oyelowo and Omari Hardwick in Ava DuVernay’s independent film Middle of Nowhere, winner of the Sundance Film Festival’s Directing Award.

Offstage, Findley conducts inspirational workshops for young people and adults through her organization, Abundant Life Creative Services, whose mission it is to empower young people to follow their dream.

Though Findley has been on a steady rise in Hollywood, success in the entertainment industry can be a slow climb that has dashed the hopes of many aspiring actors.

“You definitely hear ‘no’ more times than you hear ‘yes’ because it’s very competitive,” she said. “In the midst of hearing no there has to be an inner resolve that says there’s going to be a yes. Yes is coming and I’m going to hold out until that yes gets here.

Her saving grace, says Findley, is the Lord.

“There’s no question about it. God has just really revealed so much to me over the course of my life as far as his presence in my life and even our relationship. I’ve received so many prophecies and he’s just sent so many people to pour into my life and I feel what has brought me thus far has definitely been God and my faith in God.

“Faith and vision are what has helped me to triumph and see multiple doors open. You really need to have a clear vision on what it is that you’re trying to accomplish and no matter what, staying on that course.”

Dec11

Saving Grace: Vanessa A. Williams

"The beautiful thing about getting to do this kind of creative work for a living is that as you work on the piece, you grow,” says actress Vanessa A. Williams, best known for her role in the hit Showtime series Soul Food. “Then as you give the piece away in your performances, your dream, hope and prayer is to touch other people so that they may grow.”

Coming off a successful run of Lynn Nottage’s stage play, “Intimate Apparel”, Williams opens up about the experience. While she enjoys film and television, Williams calls working in theatre a “sacred and communal” experience.

She recalls, “I was at the Ovation Awards and the head of the Los Angeles theater alliance was talking about a scientific study that done on the benefits of live theater of how it affects and sustains one’s intellect and our spirit. They have empirical data proving this.

“We have always told stories as a culture and as a human race. Animals don’t sit around and do this. They don’t entertain each other.”

The play, which closed earlier this month, told the fascinating story of a black seamstress named Ester—played by Williams—yearning  for love in 1905 New York.

For Williams, the play expounded upon so much more than that black experience in America.

“Because of our ancestors and women like Esther, we have this grand and great legacy of always being people who aspire,” says Williams.

“I’m living in the gravy of what our ancestors worked to make a way for generations to come. All of that sacrifice, pain and struggle was not for naught and I can live in a joy filled place based on what has gone before me. Because of their aspirations and sacrifice and survival, I am able to create this magical life where I get to tell stories for a living.”

William’s love of her chosen craft has been with her from an early age when she would watch Shirley Temple movies with her grandmother. As a little girl, she wanted to dance and shake her curls just like the legendary, pint-sized entertainer.

“I believe actors are people who really need a lot of attention and I’m not ashamed to say that,” says Williams. “I wanted to make people smile from as far back as I can remember.”

Hailing from Brooklyn, Williams got her start singing in church choirs and then opera with the New York City Children’s Choir. There, she learned of upcoming auditions for a performing arts school now known as LaGuardia High School for Music & Arts and Performing Arts but better known as the “Fame” school, made famous in the musical and 80s television series by that name.

She compares attending to an arts high school to being at a conservatory.

“You’re there and you’re creating characters and you’re 14. When you’re doing exploration of film you get to go back to being a six-year-old kid and ten-year-old,” says Williams. “It was a marvelous awakening to my creative process.”

At around the same time, Williams got a manager and began auditioning for commercials and holiday theatre in New York.

Early credits include Law and Order and Candy Man, with reoccurring roles on The Cosby Show. Her first big break came with the role of Rhonda Blair on the first season of Melrose Place while she garnered rave reviews for her performances on Murder One and Chicago Hope. She is perhaps best known as Maxine Chadway on Soul Food, the series and has appeared on Lincoln Heights, Imagine That, Everybody Hates Chris and Cold Case.

She acknowledges she’s had her challenges.

“Well, you know my name is Vanessa Williams, right?” she laughs, remaining in good humor about sharing her name with another noted actress.

“I’ve had a little bit of an identity crisis, having to really sort out like ‘Oh my goodness does that mean there’s no room for me?’ ” she explains. “I’ve had to deal with the challenge of people perhaps expecting her, getting confused, but it didn’t really stop this party over here.

“I love Vanessa’s work,” says Williams. “There’s enough room to go around.”

She readily admits that there is competition in the entertainment industry. The realization that she didn’t have to wait around for the perfect role prompted her to pen her own one-woman show.

“I get to create whatever it is I want to do,” William explains. “I wanted to show work and sides of myself that aren’t necessarily part of the work that I get to do.”

Titled, “Feet on the Ceiling,” William’s show is the journey of discovery for a young woman learning who she is through the men in her life.

“Coming of ages stories are my favorite but most of those movies are about boys,” says Williams. “The feedback from many of the young women who see the show is really overwhelming and really moving .

“When we tell our story we may be talking about our stuff but when you tell a really good story about yourself, the specifics of your life falls away and people see themselves in it.”

Encouraged by the response of various showcases, Williams is looking forward to bringing the show to a wider audience this spring.

Other recent projects for the busy mother of two include Gospel Music Chanel original movie, Raising Izzie— which she starred in beside fellow Soul Food alum, Rockman Dunbar, and gospel play “Sugar Mommas” with Terri J. Vaughn.

“My survival in Hollywood has to do with really knowing who I am as an artist and not relying on other people to validate me,” says Williams.

“It’s not so much about being validated but just having the opportunity to do what it is you love to do. I know when I keep expecting that and when I keep working towards my own goal everything comes into place.

“I’m looking forward to my next series, my next film and to keep all of my creative options going,” says Williams who speaks of plans to get back in the studio where she’ll be working with Grammy-nominated, producer B Slade.
“Because of how the music industry has changed and having my own fan base I’m really ready to give my offer.”

One thing Williams does rely on is her relationship with God.

“God is essential in my life. We’re not separate,” says Williams. “Jesus came as an example of what great and wonderful things we can do. I live to the best of my ability, growing in that grace and acknowledging the miracle that is the spiritual truth and knowing that God has me covered forward and back. It is miraculous. I expect miracles I believe in miracles and I receive what I believe.”

Nov28

Saving Grace: Niecy Nash

niecy nash

“I would say I was 5 years old the first time God decided to write on the canvas of my imagination what he saw for my destiny,” says Niecy Nash who rose into the spotlight in faux-reality series Reno 911 and nestled her way into hearts of America as host of Clean House. Most recently, the actress starred in the TV Land original series, The Soul Man along side Cedric the Entertainer.

“Ever since then I have just been moving toward the mark,” she continues. “So being in television or doing this sort of a show is not far off the mark. It falls in line with the original vision, which is to work in television and in film and to have a positive impact in this medium.”

With her inviting smile and sunny disposition, Nash exudes positivity. But this L.A. born and raised sweetheart has wicked sense of humor that gives her yet another edge as she blazes through Hollywood.

“I’m definitely enjoying the journey, and I have a little bit of everything on my resume to show for it,” says Nash, whose preparations leading up to her 2011 nuptials to electrical engineer Jay Tucker was chronicled through the TLC special Niecy Nash’s Wedding Bash.

“I’ve been a TV host, I’ve done an unscripted sitcom, I’ve done scripted sitcoms, I’ve been a dancing star, on entertainment tonight, I had a jewelry line on HSN,” she recounts. “I’ve been able to taste a little bit of everything.”

Her diverse range of credits include Not Easily Broken, Code Name: The Cleaner, Guess Who, The Bernie Mac Show as well as lending her voice to animated series American Dad! and feature film Horton Hears and Who! and competing as a contestant on Dancing with the Stars.

One experience she holds close to her heart is the reality series she shot with her new husband, three children and opinionated mother. The series, Leave It to Niecy, was short lived, but Nash likes what she and her family “left on the table.”

“It was on TLC and it was funny. It was very rich and it was very real,” says Nash of the series which aired early this year. “I don’t know that TLC was the best fit for us because a lot of their shows are very sensational and very extreme.

“So between the bearded lady and man who eats fire, it’s hard to find a home for something that’s so grounded, but at the end of the day I’m so proud of that project. People tweet me everyday and are like ‘When is Leave It to Niecy coming back?’ And I’m like, ‘Oh, it’s not.’ But I’m very, very proud of it.”

The cancellation of her reality series didn’t slow her down. The actress and comedienne is always taking on new projects, new roles, and new challenges. For example, her most recent role opposite Cedric the Entertainer in the TV Land series The Soul Man, which premiered this summer.

Lauded as one of the few televisions shows spotlighting a black family, the series is about an R&B superstar who receives a calling to ministry and movies his family, including wife Lolli (Nash) from Vegas to St. Louis to take over his father’s church.

Interestingly, the role mirrors Nash’s real life experiences.

“That's how you know God has a sense of humor,” says Nash, whose first husband was an entertainer. That is, until he had a life changing revelation.

“He travels around, he's even out of the country performing,” says Nash of her ex. “And one day he comes home and says, ‘I got called.’ I thought, ‘Well, who called? The gas company? My mama? Your mama? Who called you?’

“He said, ‘No, I got called by the Lord.’ I said, ‘What? Now?’ ”

Labeling it an “interesting coincidence” that she would, years later, go on to play a role that she essentially lived, the two time Daytime Emmy nominee and 2007 Gracie Allen Award recipient for Outstanding Program Host initially passed on the role three times due to scheduling conflicts. After the conflicting project failed to come through, she decided, “I’d better get on over here.”

She chuckles, recalling, “It just goes to show you that when God has something for you, the devil and hell can’t take it from you. God held the door open for me and I’m grateful for that. I’m happy that I came to my senses because while they probably saw women who were really great, I know they didn’t see women who used to be a first lady.”

And those experiences did indeed give her a head start in knowing how to approach the role. Especially, when it comes to unexpectedly finding yourself thrust into a position of leadership with the church.

“Being a member at a church and being a first lady at a church are two different things. So making that transition it was very interesting because you have to take so many other people into consideration. In the normal day to day, you only consider yourself. ‘Am I going to get to church in time for praise and worship? No, because I’m watching something on TV right now.’

“You make decisions that only affect you. You decide you not going to Bible study this week because you’re tired, but you don’t have that luxury. [When you’re a first lady,] you have so many extra people you have to take into consideration. When you make decisions, that will directly affect the bigger picture.”

That’s not to say her character or any of the others on the show are perfect people.

“We don’t paint a picture of perfect people. We paint a picture of people who are trying,” says the Cal State Dominguez Hills graduate. “I’ve heard people say that you guys should make the church or make the people in the church seem better, but the truth of the matter is that the church is a hospital.

“People are broken. They are flawed. They are imperfect, so you want to make it look like something to the world. The best thing to do is to make it look exactly like it is.”

As it stands, the future of the show is uncertain as the powers-that-be have not yet ordered a second season. Fans have been sending in letters and emails to the network show their support for The Soul Man and tell the executives they want more of Lolli and Rev. Ballentine.

In addition to her recent work on the small screen, the Nash has donned the hat of relationship expert through her weekly Yahoo! web series, “Let’s Talk About Love.” Having debuted just over a year ago, each short episode addresses different topics relating to love and dating. “Why do Women Date Bad Boys?” “Why Do Men Cheat?” and “Can You Be a Good Girl in Bad times?” are just a few of the weekly questions covered.

A self-proclaimed “hopeless romantic” who married early only to find herself back on the dating scene at age thirty-five, Nash draws from wisdom earned through life experience.

“One of the biggest mistake that women make is not believe men when they tell you who they are the first time,” says Nash. “We believe that there is something we can do to change what they originally said they wanted to do, wanted to be, wanted to have and we cannot.”

In conjunction with the series, Nash eagerly anticipates the spring release of her first book, It’s Hard to Fight Naked.  Like the web series, Nash will use the book to dish out relationship advice.

“I try to invite people to think differently about matters of the heart,” says Nash. “Being in love is the thing we were created for, yet it’s the one place we find hardest to manage.”

Though she works hard for her success, the humble actress doesn’t take all the credit to herself.

“God has been kind,” says Nash. “I have been faithful and diligent over that that He has given me and the Bible is true when it says that He will open a window of heaven and pour out blessings you don’t have room enough to receive. I feel like at the end of the day He’s been kind. He’s been very kind.”

In fact, it is her relationship with the Lord which Nash calls her saving grace.

“Helping people navigate the relationship space, there’s so much more to do there, I have a feature that I’m working on bringing to the big screen, I have a book and at the end of the day and I still have responsibilities to my family and my new husband.

“Finding that balance, I can’t find it if I don’t have the Lord at the center.”

Even with all that’s on her plate, Niecy stands firm in her belief that the best is yet to come.

“You have to submit to a higher power,” says Nash, “you have to pray, and be healed and hear back what direction you’re supposed to go. So when people say, ‘Well, what’s next?’ I say, ‘I don’t know. Let me ask the man and when He gets back to me I’ll get back to you. ‘ ”

Nov28

Saving Grace: Michael Ealy

michael ealy

Michael Ealy

Michael Ealy’s latest film, Unconditional, marks a milestone for the 39-year-old actor. The first time his grandfather, a Baptist minister, has ever gone to see one of Ealy’s films in theaters.

“I would talk to him frequently about the role while I was shooting in Nashville,” says Ealy, who was raised Southern Baptist, “so he was excited to see this film.”

The inspirational film is a shift for the actor whose square jaw and piercing blue eyes make him a natural for romantic leads, such as with last spring’s romantic hit, Think Like a Man. 

“This is the kind of movie that matters,” says Ealy. “It goes beyond entertainment and will hopefully be tangible to a vast audience.”

Based on a true story, the film centers around a woman on a downward, suicidal spiral after her husband is killed in a senseless act of violence. A chance encounter with an old friend, “Papa Joe” Bradford—played by Ealy, begins her journey back toward God’s unconditional love.

The real life Bradford established Elijah’s Heart in Nashville, a non-profit organization dedicated to meeting the needs of underprivileged, at-risk children, despite financial challenges.

Ealy hopes the film will inspire people who become more involved in helping children. 

“One of the things I find so special about what Joe does is that it’s not about how much money he makes,” says the Baltimore native. “It’s the time he spends day in and day out with the kids. It’s great if you give money. It’s great if you donate, but what’s really impactful and helpful is the time you spend. That’s how you can make a real difference.”

Ealy donates what time he can, visiting high schools to inspire and encourage the teenagers who look up to him. But the University of Maryland graduate tells the students to look elsewhere for a role model.

“I’m the first to say ‘Don’t look up to me. Look up to your teachers because they are there every single day,” says Ealy. “You’re contact to me is through a screen or when I come and visit but they’re here every day. Your parents are here every day. That’s who your role models should be.”

Perhaps it is close relationship with his own family that gives him that outlook.

“Who you hang with is a reflection of who you are,” says Ealy, who calls his parents, sister and close friends—who are more like brothers—his saving grace.

The church he grew up in was his second family. 

“You have friends there that you see every Sunday and the women at church would always feed me,” says Ealy. “My family moved away shortly after I graduated high school and the church threw a big going away party for us. I had never seen that before

With a laugh Ealy describes his childhood church as an “it takes a village” type of congregation “because if I got in trouble it got back to mom and dad.”

He thought so highly of his church that when his church split after he left for college, it came as an unbelievable shock.

“I’ll never forget that feeling,” says the 2012 Teen Choice and 2011 NAACP Image Awards nominee. “My parents have been together for 44 years but when my church split that was the first time I felt what divorce was like. I couldn’t believe it. Like, this group is going this way. This group is going with the pastor that way. How could this happen?”

Though it was rough, his faith was already engrained in him and remains with him to this day. 

In fact, the star of the USA Network series Common Law says that Unconditional came to him by the grace of God. 

“The script sent to a particular agency at my agency and he said maybe Michael would like this,” Ealy explains. “He gave it to my manager who read it and said, ‘I think you need to read this.’ He knows me. He knows my taste.”

He told him that Joe Bradford was a strong role and Ealy agreed.

 “For me it had a lot to do with the nobility of Joe,” Ealy says. “If I can rush to go play a bank robber in a movie like Takers, then I need to rush to go play a man of nobility and quality, like Joe.”

Though the film didn’t do as well as hoped in the box office, it did garner rave reviews from audiences who—on Rotten Tomatoes—gave Unconditional a whooping 92% positive response. Garnering a 71% positive response from critics, the film seems to have touched viewers with its inspiring message.

“I’ve always looked for films and roles with impact,” says Ealy who rose into the spotlight through films such as Barbarshop and Oprah Winfrey’s Their Eyes Were Watching God and the television crime-drama Sleeper Cell. 

Interestingly, acting was not the first career choice for Ealy who’d set his sights on becoming an architect until he saw that the curriculum included a great deal of math and science. 

“I was struggling with Trig and physics and there was plenty of that,” he explains. “What I enjoyed about architecture was the creative aspect, which was drafting. I was good at drawing. But when we started doing beam analysis and trust analysis, I had to re-evaluate my plan.” 

Though he graduated with a degree in English, for a time he says he was lost.

“My grades were terrible and I was definitely not living right,” says the actor who appeared in a number of off-Broadway productions before transitioning to the screen. “It was the summer of ’93. I was 19 and two of my best friends were making a movie. I auditioned for it and found my passion.” 

He hasn’t totally given up on architecture, at least in some small form.

“I have a house, which has been somewhat of a project, a work in progress,” Ealy confessed. “It’s been a project of mine for many, many years, and it still is. When I’m not working I’m at Lowes or Home Depot even if I’m just trying to figure out where things go.

“I’m like hey, Jesus was a carpenter. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.”

Fortunately for Ealy, acting doesn’t require too much math. 

In his ten years since breaking into Hollywood, films to his credit include Underworld: Awakening, Takers, For Colored Girls, Miracle At St. Anna, and Seven Pounds. He’s also stared such heavy TV dramas as The Good Wife and Flash Forward.

Though he’s also taken on his fair share of comedy, such as his role in Californication, he calls drama his “wheel well.” 

“The deeper, the more real we go the better,” says Ealy. “In Sleeper Cell, we went to places of sheer depth and I love the fact that Showtime was willing to go there. The more real you can make it, the audience sees that and not only appreciate it but respect it.”

The opportunity to showcase range in his body of work is also important to Ealy who stole hearts as the love interest in Beyoncé’s music video for the 2009 hit “Halo.”

His next project, a remake of the 1986 box office hit, About Last Night, which stared Demi Moore and Rob Lowe, will take him in yet another direction.

“Whereby I am righteous and noble in Unconditional, in this movie I am a heathen,” Ealy laughs.  “I’m playing Rob Lowe’s part—a guy who is just trying to figure out this life, can’t quite get it together and doesn’t know what he has until it’s gone, which is a mistake many men make.”

The movie—tentatively slated for release next year—will also star Regina Hall and Kevin Hart.

“I don’t want to do the same thing every time,” says Ealy. “And the range—to go from Colored Girls to Takers to Miracle at St. Anna’s to Unconditional—the diversity is something I’m proud of.” 

 

First Ladies High Tea
November will mark the 20th Anniversary of our Annual First Ladies High Tea, honoring the contributions of female leaders and women of faith to the Los Angeles community. For more information, visit www.firstladieshightea.com
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