by Harlan McCarthy —
Actress, activist, author and star of the upcoming television drama “L.A.’s Finest,” Gabrielle Union-Wade was welcomed to a loud round of applause by a sold-out crowd at the Michael D. Rose Theatre on Wednesday night.
Commonly known as Gabriel Union, she spoke at the University of Memphis as a special guest for the ‘Black Migration’ themed Black History Month celebration sponsored by the University of Memphis Student Activities Council.
Before her Q&A-styled lecture, Union’s many accomplishments were listed to an enthusiastic crowd by SAC representative Darika Scott. That included her lead role on the critically acclaimed BET drama “Being Mary Jane,” her roles in numerous cult classic films and tv series and her break-out role in the coming of age 2000 teen classic “Bring It On,” where she played a cheerleading captain who rivals actress Kristen Dunst.
In her Q&A lecture, Union answered student-focused questions from Scott. The questions generated discussion on her life’s triumphs through adversity.
Union started by discussing the excerpts from her book, “We’re Going to Need More Wine.” In the book she quotes former actress and star of the “Star Wars” series Carrie Fischer by writing, “Stay afraid but do it anyway.”
Union shared how she has dealt with the fear of judgment and failure throughout her acting career. She said former co-star of “Love and Basketball” Sanaa Lathan told her, “If it doesn’t scare you, its not worth it.”
Fear of failure, she said, can disable one’s hopes and desire. She challenged the crowd to combat ideas of fear and to branch out to find out what creates personal happiness and passion in one’s life.
Tying into award-winning gospel singer Fred Hammond’s song, “Jesus Be A Fence Around me,” Union said, “Take It back, take back your life, wrestle it back if you have (to).”
A native of Omaha, Neb., Union graduated from the University of California-Los Angles after transferring. At UCLA she served as supervisor of her schools’ bookstore.
“You know, when you go sell your books back and there like ‘oh, I’m sorry. I know you thought you were getting fifty dollars for that one-hundred fifty-dollar textbook but it’s actually two dollars?’ I would be the one you complain to.”
Union discussed her struggles of juggling collegiate studies, work, and managing financial responsibilities. And, she voiced her personal challenges in dealing with creditors.
Relating creditors to the mafia, she noted similarities to fictional mob-figure Tony Soprano. She emphasized balancing and creating allowances for one’s own budget with joy and grace.
Union also stressed not allowing people or social media to dictate your actions.
“You’re going to screw your credit up (for) what? For a stunt or for people who don’t give a sh-t about you. You have to think bigger than the immediate.”
A victim of rape at gunpoint, Union has written and talked about the scenario in her book and numerous platforms.
Union discussed her advocation with rape crisis centers and her personal healing process warmheartedly with the crowd. Noting the recent news of actor Jussie Smollet, Union talked about understanding the importance of recognizing crime victims and not being distracted by the small percentage of false claims.
“I remember being in group therapy in UCLA and a number of people were quiet. They were like your rape is real. No one is going to question you. What happened to me isn’t rape. Because not all rape happens at the end of a gun, a knife or a stranger. There were people in that room questioning, if their father raping them for the vast majority of their life was legitimate.”
She voiced challenging bigot perspectives of society and reconditioning the attitudes towards victimization and predators, even referring to how we must question those people who continue to cheer for R. Kelly.
She ended her discussion on the topic of rape by challenging the audience on being leaders.
“We have to set people free. We have to do the individual work to become better global citizens… I had to check myself over the last thirty years and I’m a survivor; so there’s always room to change… Wear it like a badge of honor.”
One question led union into a discussion of how Union has used her influential status to advocate diversity inclusion. In 2001, she made a landmark appearance on the sitcom “Friends.” Playing a character who dated both Joey and Ross marked the first minority love interest on the show.
Individuals must fight for the inclusion of all people by ways of social media or by being advocates for causes, said, voicing how blacks must fight for all individuals in the African Diaspora.
And, she said, people must fight for those represented by all the letters in LGBQT.
“We have to gather up all our people if this (is) the work that we’re doing. Everyone counts and there are some very uncomfortable conversations that need to take place… There’s always more we can do.”
Union mentioned one of her favorite books, “Warmth of Other Suns” by Isabel Wilkerson and talked about its effect on her perspective on family and art.
“My mother would say I want to raise girls with a world perspective, not a town perspective,” she recalled.
Concluding the focus on diversity, Union invited people to hold individuals and institutions responsible for the extent of diversity.
And while some like to talk about the issue in the context of it being a challenge, Union had a stronger take on it, saying, “It’s a f…ing problem …” and that me moved past challenge centuries ago.
Union finished by fielding a few questions from the crowd. The crowd’s wide-ranging questions touched on fashion, planned parenthood, environmental safety, gentrification and raising her newly born daughter, Kaavia, with husband, NBA Allstar Dwayne Wade.