Actor and entrepreneur Gabrielle Union is nothing if not busy: This summer, she announced the relaunch of her Flawless beauty line, designed for textured hair and now majority Black-owned. Earlier this month, she confirmed the sequel to her mega-hit teen movie Bring It On. And just this week, she hosted an all-Black table read of the all-white Friends. All while being mom to her nearly 2-year-old daughter, Kaavia James, with husband Dwyane Wade, and stepmom to Wade’s three children from previous relationships, including 13-year-old Zaya, who is transgender.
No matter how busy — or perhaps because she is so busy — Union works hard to take care of her mental health.
In fact, this week, she squeezed in not one but two sessions with her therapist. “It’s been one of those weeks, and I have zero shame about that,” she said during a Citizen Verizon panel on mental health moderated by journalist Soledad O’Brien and streamed on Yahoo Life.
‘I strongly recommend therapy’
Union, 47, first saw a therapist more than 25 years ago, after she was raped at gunpoint near the end of her shift at a Payless shoe store in California. She says the mental health support she sought out and received was “lifesaving.” To this day, she is a diehard advocate. “I strongly recommend therapy,” Union said. “And if the first [therapist] isn’t a great fit — and that happens, we’re all just people — try another and try another until you find someone that you feel gets you in and speaks your language and is helpful.”
Union is accurately aware that therapy can sometimes be a hard sell within the Black community.
“I think for most marginalized communities, but specifically the Black community, you have to overcome so much to get to therapy,” she said. “You have to overcome the stigma. There’s a lot of negative feelings about ‘headshrinkers’ or having to go talk to someone about your problems. Like it’s a sign of weakness or that you’re somehow deficient. So you have to overcome that part that is just societal within our communities.”
And then there’s the obstacle of cost. “We lack the collective resources as marginalized communities to pay for therapy,” Union noted. But even so, she urges others to find the help they need. “There are so many different initiatives these days, since the pandemic started, for low- and no-cost therapy. And I strongly, strongly recommend it,” she said.
‘The brutalization of Black and brown bodies’
Union is mindful of the immense stresses on her community amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which is taking a disproportionate toll on the Black community and during what she calls the country’s ongoing “racial reckoning.”
“I don’t think people understand what it is like to see the daily barrage of the brutalization of Black and brown bodies, bodies that look like yours ... what that does to all of us, but specifically to Black and brown children, trying to make sense of the anti-Blackness, trying to make sense of racism,” she said. “I don’t think anyone’s ever really given us any kind of data or research about the lasting impact of racism, the trauma, the harm caused.”
Safety in numbers
As the world continues to reel, Union finds immense comfort in the big extended family currently hunkered down in her California home. In addition to their own children, Union and Wade moved her mother into their house, along with her mother’s three adopted children (ages 10, 12 and 13). They also brought Wade’s mother from Chicago, and asked Wade’s younger sister and niece to join too. “We really realized how important our village is during this crisis,” she said. “So we have a houseful.”
And it’s a hectic house. With so many people living, working and remote learning under one roof, there’s “constant noise” and “constant distraction.” “All of us are coping and having different kinds of challenges that all manifest in different ways,” she said. “The stress, the anxiety for everyone has been pretty consistent and pretty intense.”
So Union looks for ways to help. There are family walks in the sun, family meals, mandatory time away from screens and mandatory daily showers. For her own peace of mind, Union starts each day with a guided meditation. (Her current favorites: Actor Logan Browning’s weekly meditation on Instagram and “Affirmation Pods” with Josie Ong.) She listens while she’s brushing her teeth or getting ready. “Some of us do it when we’re on the toilet, because our family doesn’t allow us any privacy anywhere else or time,” she said, laughing.
“So wherever you can find that time or that space, you grab it as you can.”
Gabrielle Union was a panelist for a mental health discussion on “Citizen Verizon Assembly: Education Is Not Up for Debate,” a streaming event sponsored by Verizon, Yahoo’s parent company.
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