Actor/author/singer, 27, New York
1. Your new movie, Alice, is about a woman who escapes servitude in 1800s Georgia, only to discover that it’s 1973. Although production has been pushed back, what appealed to you about the role?
Though we’re tackling things such as slavery and oppression and racism in America, we also see a leading character who is not victimized—who becomes empowered in spite of slavery. … I really loved to see the strength Alice had.
2. How did you get into the mindset of a woman who is enslaved?
Obviously, I have no idea what that feels like, but I do know what it’s like to feel small, to not be heard, to feel lonely, or have a sense of hopelessness. I do know those feelings and those emotions.
3. Why did you feel the calling to get involved with the Black Lives Matter movement?
In the same way that I was inspired by Brandy or Aaliyah or Queen Latifah or Angela Bassett, somebody could be looking at me like that. So, I took that on very early as a responsibility … to care about what’s going on in the world around me.
4. The fight for social justice has been going on for a long time. How do you think it’s different right now?
In a lot of ways, it’s become trendy. That’s not good, but at the same time it is good, because if we have to make it popular to care about each other’s lives and we have to make it trendy to not want Black people to be killed for no reason … let’s make it trendy.
5. What do you hope to achieve through your activism?
Through my work, and the things I do outside of my work, whether it be working with The Embrace Girls Foundation or Saving Our Daughters’ Cinderellas project, it’s all about empowering young women and young men, my generation, and helping us move forward past the things that we no longer want to see in this world.
6. You’ve dealt with anxiety and depression for many years. What has helped you through it?
Sometimes it can get hard when you’re in your head all the time. I stopped judging myself for the anxiety and depression, and I started to own it. I do yoga at least once a week, practice meditation, journaling, as well as acceptance.
7. How has meditation helped you stay centered?
It slows me down when I am consistent with the practice. It puts me in a place where I’m more of the observer. That’s helped me a lot.
8. How do you stay in shape?
I work out at least two to three times a week, even if it’s just me on the floor of my room [working against] my own body weight. It doesn’t always mean going to the gym.
9. In your 2017 book, I Don’t Belong to You, you wrote that you’ve felt pressure about your self-image. How do you feel today?
I was really trying to dig deep into myself to get to the point where I didn’t care what other people were thinking all the time. That made me freer to be myself. Where I am right now, I feel very comfortable. I feel like I’m owning who I am unapologetically, and that feels good.
10. Who has influenced the way you care for your health?
My mentor, [actor] Asha Kamali. Working with her as a kid really inspired me because I would always see her taking good care of herself. My mom was also encouraging, whenever I got new habits, like when I wanted to start eating better. I ate on a strict schedule and didn’t eat late at night. I took out juice and pop as well as pork and beef.
BONUS QUESTION: What has been your biggest outlet during COVID-19?
My music has been awesome for me during the lockdown. It’s been a way for me to express all the things I wasn’t able to do. My single, “Snack” encompasses all the emotions—this feeling of thinking about how ready I was gonna be once I could finally go outside—that I had during the early stages of lockdown. Fantasy got me through that time as well as other isolated periods of my life. I would escape and explore my daydreams, and [like the single says], I was always looking like a snack in them.
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