Legendary Black actress Jenifer Lewis, known as the “Mother of Black Hollywood,” recently spoke to young aspiring performers at a high school in Northwest Washington, D.C.
On Nov. 17, Lewis, 60, visited Duke Ellington School of the Arts during a tour for her new book, The Mother of Black Hollywood: A Memoir. The book was released on Nov. 14. While Lewis was signing books and taking photos with a crowd of nearly 400 people, the actress took a moment to speak to about 15 students at Duke Ellington about her life and the lessons she has learned in show business.
“What can I tell you? I roll like a roll. I’m a happy girl. I came from poverty. I was hungry. I became captain of the cheerleading squad, president of my class. I sang my first solo in church, the reaction of the congregation told me I was an entertainer, because I didn’t just sing, I sang! At five-years old, I took the stairs to success. I’m here to tell you the elevator to success is broken. [Take] one step at a time,” Lewis said. “Feel it. Life is going to hurt. Nobody promised you a rose garden. There are thorns. Long painful sticky thorns. And you’re going to touch one, one day. That’s life. Don’t think it’s going to be an easy ride. You got to work for it. You got to dream… Stay on that course to your dream. That’s what I did.”
Lewis has spent almost 40 years entertaining people on stage and in front of the camera. She has been seen in productions such as “Dreamgirls,” “Think Like A Man,” “Baggage Claim,” “Black-ish” and others. The Kinloch, Mo. native told the students that she persevered through poverty, did shows on Broadway and went through several other obstacles to book her first gig in Hollywood.
“It’s cause I worked hard. I didn’t let nobody get in my way, and don’t think people didn’t try,” she said. “It’s a lot of meanness out in the world, a lot of evil. But you ain’t got to get none on you. You keep it moving. You stay positive. Don’t be gossiping and judging other people. You be nice to people. But you be careful who you give your heart to. You guys are living in another world. We didn’t come up in the digital age. Scam artists, con artists, but don’t be scared. You feel the fear, and do it anyway,” Lewis said.
Lewis said she knows about fear, adversity, and overcoming trials such as sex addiction and mental illness. She said it is because of the tribulations she faced, and the desire for people to learn from her experiences, that she wrote the book.
“I owe my story to you. Bi-polar disorder, sex addiction. Man came to my apartment and put a knife to my throat in New York. That was the greatest performance of my life. I talked myself out of it. You’ll read about it. No matter what I went through, I’m here. Don’t you dare let me go through what I go through and you not learn something from it. I came here for you all. I wrote that book for you, so that you would know, there is no fire that you can’t walk through,” she said.
“You get up. You find the way to your happiness. And don’t think you’re going to be happy once you get somewhere. That ain’t the way it works, you got to be happy on your way to happy,” the actress said.