Hill Harper is back with the second part to Letters to a Young Brother: Define Your Destiny with Letters to a Young Sister: Define Your Destiny. We seem to continue to go in circles about the variety of problems that are facing young African-American women and women of color. Being that Hill Harper is of the male gender he looked to his close circle of friends and role models to tell their stories of the struggle, perseverance and success through the voices of Ruby Dee, Gabrielle Union, Nikki Giovanni and other diverse stories that Harper hopes will inspire young women to understand that they are F.I.N.E. [Fantastic Interesting Necessary Exceptional]
Q: Was the process behind getting the background statistics or Letter to a Young Sister similar to the process when you were doing the research for Letter to a Young Brother?
Hill Harper: Yeah, but it was different though because I was never a sister so I literally had to speak to them to find out what was going on and what was on their minds and I was surprised by the difference. What I mean by that is women are much more complex. With young brothers it’s black and white. They’re either motivated or unmotivated; things are either going well or they aren’t going well. With young women you can have them doing well in one area of their life but horrible in another area, so the level of complexity was much greater and higher. They could have a self-esteem issue but still be doing well in school but at the same time they could have a problem with the relationship with their mom. There are different things that showed me that young women are different, that’s why I recruited a lot of surrogate sisters to be contributors to the book.
Q: Right, I noticed that Gabrielle Union did the forward, how did that come about?
Hill Harper: Gabrielle is one of my best friends and we’ve known each other for years and I wanted her to write the forward because she has a very powerful story to tell about her own life. A lot of women don’t know that she has experienced extremely violent sexual crime against her when she was younger and when they see somebody like her who’s a beautiful accomplished actress they don’t realize she’s going though many hardships herself to get there so, when they run into the roadblock of hardships they’re like, “How come this is just happening to me?” I want them to realize that they still can flower into this amazing woman but still go through hardships.
Q: Through your research what were maybe the top three things that young women are dealing with?
Hill Harper: I believe the number issue facing our young people, especially our young women and our young men is self-esteem. We’re in a time when many of these young women are being told that they’re not valuable and they’re not interesting or can’t be valued unless they dress a certain way of unless they can drop it like it’s hot. It’s a complete misrepresentation of how magnificent these young women are and that’s why in the subtitle of my book it’s called Define Your Destiny and the F.I.N.E. is in caps and the reason for that is because I want these young women to understand how Fantastic, Interesting Necessary and Exceptional they are and that’s the new definition of fine in my opinion.
Q: How has your interaction with women in your immediate circle (Grandmother, Mother etc.) helped you in your development?
Hill Harper: I really reference point my grandmothers who are amazing women who were about community building, giving back and were amazing well rounded intelligent women, and that’s what to me our young women represent and can represent but I think our entertainment business has shown them some misguided images. The idea of some type of diva-hood isn’t what my grandmothers represented. The idea of what you show on the outside makes you great? No. It’s what you show from within and the greatness emanates from inside and it has nothing to do with I’m a diva I adorn myself with things. That’s why I’m so proud of all these women that have contributed to the book like Michelle Obama, Nikki Giovanni, Alfrey Woodard, Angela Bassett, Eve, Ciara, Ruby Dee. I mean these are amazing women from young to old who represent the entire diversity, strength and intelligence that our young women represent.
Q: What is your opinion on series like Charm School and Miss New York, where Black women and women of color portray stereotypical roles that only reinforce those historical images that we are trying to move away from?
Hill Harper: I mean I believe, and this is just to answer your question in general, it has done more to misguide and destroy the self-esteem of our young people specifically than any other industry in the past ten to twelve years, so most projects fall into that category. We’re living in a time where twenty years ago… images can evolve into destructive images for our young people so that’s why someone’s candidacy like Barack Obama is so important and the representation of the Obama family to see Michelle Obama, intelligent, brilliant, dynamic, women and to see his two daughters Sasha and Maliah and to watch them grow up in the White House is going to do amazing things. My business has without regard to the effect of the images it has put out our young men think the length of the manhood is determined by the size of the rims on their car, and our young women are being called a B… or an H…
Q: Indeed in a sense it’s like the Dave Chappelle factor, audiences continued to laugh at him but what were they laughing at? My point is, is the entertainment industry that bad that actors such as Monique and others have to take these roles to pay the bills?
Hill Harper: You’re on to the right question; I think that the way to put it is that the entertainment industry is a unique industry in that it’s one of the only industries that can determine it’s own demand. Therefore I always use the analogy, if you feed people oatmeal for a long enough time and then you give them lobster, they’ll throw up. We’re at a point now where we’ve allowed incrementally the entertainment industry to dumb our public down so much and to make us feel so little of ourselves that the only images we recognize now are the images of the lowest common denominator and sometimes we’re offered images of a superior common denominator and we don’t know what to do with them.
Now there’s some big exceptions like the project I did called Lackawanna Blues to a person or everyone I’ve talked to that’s seen the movie they love it. To a young person they were never told to watch that film but when they do watch it they love it but it doesn’t get the same kind of publicity or play that Flav’s show gets. So you’re right! When you have a show like I Run New York, these companies and these executives, they’re not naive, VH1 which is one of the number one offenders is owned by Viacom. BET owned Viacom, CBS owned by Viacom and that’s my network so even though I don’t play those roles, the role I play on my show is the most intelligent character on the show and the other characters come to my characters for answers. I’m still collecting a check from a company that is involved in making profits off the backs of… that’s why I had to look at myself in the mirror and say okay. Even though it’s not me participating I’m still collecting checks so you could turn around and ask that same question about me saying, “Yo Hill even though you don’t play those roles you’re still working for a company that puts out those roles so are you supporting them?” and I have to say in a way, yes. So I have to use whatever platform I have to fight opposite image.
Q: So similar to Senator Obama you understand the game, you’re just playing it?
Hill Harper: This is a battle for the minds and self-esteem of our young people and I’m using every piece that I have to co-op and get into the minds and let them know how amazing they are. Let these young men know that they’re the perfect model of the newest human species on earth without big rims, without guns, without platinum Rolexes and to let these young women know that they’re already perfect.
Q: What were some of those commonalities that you found that got the Nikki Giovanni’s, Gabrielle Union’s and Ruby Dee’s to keep their self-esteem and reach a higher level of success?
Hill Harper: You know that’s a great question, and the answer is pursuing their own personal happiness. Not trying to pursue what they’ve been told they should want in life, but literally identifying what they want in their life and pursuing and then letting all the other things fall into place. The beautiful thing about it is that all the women I’ve talked to without fault, in pursuing their own destiny, all those other things they wanted came with it because I was pursuing my own. People get caught up in that energy, if someone walks around saying I want to find a man and they get frustrated when they don’t have a man the beautiful thing they don’t realize is that if they just live their lives and be then men will be attracted to that. By default they will find a men not by pursuing but by being great in it of yourself.
To learn more about Hill Harper please visit www.manifestyourdestiny.net