Jenifer Lewis: The Mother of Black Hollywood
Article written by Cedric Nettles
It’s simply in her voice…Humor, beauty, wisdom, and untold power.
Exposure Magazine sat down with this living legend and discussed her memoir The Mother of Black Hollywood which discusses her triumphs over bi-polar disorder and sex addiction. She also had a special message for former President Barrack Obama and everyone out there trying to find a purpose to their pain.
Exposure Magazine: Hello Jenifer, could you give us an overview of your early beginnings to where you are now?
Jenifer Lewis: Well I was born and raised in a small town on the outskirts of St.Louis Missouri called Kinloch. I’m the baby of seven children. I came from a very poverty stricken area, I eventually discovered that I was an alpha female as I became president of my class, and captain of the cheerleader leading squad. I graduated from Webster University and majored in Theater Arts. I ended up on Broadway in less than 11 days after graduating college. I was in my first Broadway show with Gregory Hines. So that was my launching pad.
Exposure Magazine: You are so open about your issues with mental illness in your memoir could you tell us about what was going on?
Jenifer Lewis: During my 20s I had a sex addiction, I was acting out with depression and mania for many years.When I got to L.A. and the AIDS epidemic was at its height,I pretty much had a nervous breakdown.
Exposure Magazine: I find it fascinating you were afraid that if you received treatment it would take away your edge. Could you discuss what brought you to the point that you knew you had to get help?
Jenifer Lewis: A good girlfriend looked at me and saw that it was something wrong and suggested I go to therapy. Of course I protested that and was like come on girl I’m Jenifer Lewis ain’t nothing wrong with me. Well something was wrong, I was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and realized I had a sex addiction. I was self medicating with alcohol, cigarettes, and sabotaging my career until I realized in fact the abuse from my childhood and all the damage I continued doing to myself was the real problem. So I spent 17 years, twice a week in therapy, because that friend that took my hand that day said “There is no greater journey than the journey within”. That sounded exciting to me. so I took that journey. After 68 movies, 396 episodic television shows, 4 Broadway shows, and concerts all over the world, my greatest accomplishment amongst all of that is the sole fact I took care of my inner being so that I can in fact enjoy the success I am having right now with The Mother of Black Hollywood and Blackish.
So there it is darling in a nutshell, it has been quite a journey and bi-polar disorder ain’t no joke, it took years to work through that pain and all of the chaos and drama I created in my life unnecessarily. But obviously needed the help because it has brought me to where I am now which is a 61-year-old woman with a big smile on her face.
Jenifer is very passionate about human rights and anything in this world that would bring justice and equality. She weighs in on the current President Donald Trump and praises former President Obama’s leadership and impact on America.
Jenifer Lewis: We have to stand up and address these issues…We have an administration that would take the air we breath from your grandchildren.
You have to know who you are in this. There is only one thing there is no opposite to. ‘I am’ . There is no opposite to that. When you walk into a room lead with love, then when you get there what can touch you? What could bother you? If you lead with love, who will stand against you, nobody can. So lead with love. I am writing a song right now. It starts ‘You can’t erase what Obama did and said because he led with love.’ How the f—k you going to erase that? How the f—k you going to erase love with hate? I don’t think so. That is not the universal law fool…You don’t get to win…And hate.There is no winning with that. We all know what is going to will out in the end.. You got people in the White House …Shit honey…These people that are in charge right now? Satan is jealous of them. Satan is jealous of Donald Trump.
Exposure Magazine: What is the key to making yourself happy?
Jenifer Lewis: We have to do our best to be happy on our way to happy. You can’t get in your car and drive TO this mountain and say…Ooo…I am going to climb the mountain today to feel good. Start feeling good as soon as you think about it. Think about things that make you happy…What makes you happy? That’s what you concentrate on. A day’s gift to you. I mean dear, I am sitting in California right now, it’s gorgeous. I’m going to get up, Blackish is done filming, the wrap party was last night, I’M GOING TO THE BEACH TODAY, I AM GOING TO FEED MY SOUL. I am going to be appreciative of this wonderful job, this wonderful show that is leading the resistance right now. It’s bringing education and entertainment together, and all the modern day issues of our time. It’s speaking to police brutality, the N word, disfunction in family relations, race relations. I’m honored to be on a show like Blackish and I am certainly grateful that I went and took care of myself so I can enjoy the fruit of my labor. Why have all this success and not be healthy to enjoy it?Jenifer Lewis: Be afraid if you must, but feel that fear, and do it anyway. #ExposureMagazine #JeniferLewis Click To Tweet
Exposure Magazine: You seem so fearless in everything you do. Do you have a message for anyone living in fear?
Jenifer Lewis: Be afraid if you must, but feel that fear, and do it anyway…C’mon now…Yeah I’m scared , but I am going through this bitch anyway. I’m going through anyway.
As we concluded the interview Jenifer urges all of us to take care ourselves because no one can pour from an empty vessel.
Jenifer Lewis: Don’t be talking the talk, you walk the walk.Don’t think you going to get somewhere and be happy, that shit ain’t going to happen. Did you do the work? Did you pay attention? Did you look in the mirror and take responsibility for your choices? What are you doing with your life? It’s about doing the work, and giving back, and taking care of yourself. And that is what I did in this book, I laid my burdens down.Now I have a big smile on my face, that’s success. Stop hurting yourself over and over and over again because somebody hurt you. Be nice and kind. Kind is such a beautiful word. Be kind to yourself and it just spills over. Take care of you…Take care of you. Don’t go out there trying to help folks that don’t want to be helped that’s a waste of time. If they asked, then you step in. You have to ask. It didn’t say sit down let me talk to you,I ain’t going to hear a f—Ing thing you had to say, nobody cares. If the person doesn’t ask you they are not even listening. So why you talking and going on and on and on when they are not listening. You have to ask and then it is given, otherwise child please and go on somewhere…SIT YOUR ASS DOWN AND TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. Quit trying to save the world. You save the world when you save yourself.
Exposure Magazine: On behalf of Exposure Magazine I want to thank you for sitting down with us and sharing your journey. Best wishes for your book and career Jenifer.
Jenifer Lewis: Thank you it was my pleasure.
OTHER QUOTES FROM INTERVIEW
“You get tired of being sick and tired…That’s when people change.”
“We have to pay attention to our physical, mental, and emotional selves.”
“Put down the phones, and go and journal…So you can get your feelings out of yourself so that you can make a difference in this world.”-Jenifer Lewis
“I’m for all causes that bring joy to the word, and peace to the next generation.”Jenifer Lewis
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