Orange Is the New Black star and ESSENCE's Black Women in Hollywood honoree Laverne Cox has made history as the first African-American transgender actress with a starring role on a TV show.
Here, the Mobile, Alabama native talks to ESSENCE about the moments her faith has been tested, her greatest teachers in life, and the books that have left her "shifting molecules."
Can you recall a time where your faith was tested, and what lessons you learned from it?
I grew up in the church. When I started going through puberty I realized that I liked boys and that there were all these things in church telling me that who I was, was a sin. I started questioning that and where I went was really self-hatred and wanting to change myself. It was tough. But I never stopped believing in God or that there was a power greater than myself. I think over the years I've had moments of not believing that I'd be taken care of by my higher power. But I always am.
Share an affirmation or scripture that always gets you through the tough times
I'm not an alcoholic, but I do have friends in recovery and there's a prayer from The Big Book in AA called The Acceptance Prayer and it says, 'Acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing or situation—some fact of my life—unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.' I add 'There are no mistakes in God's universe.'
Can you share a recent time when you remembered to be grateful?
I think when you're getting a lot of attention and having people photograph you and write about you—insecurity is inevitable. At least it has been for me. I'm excited about the success [of the show] and the attention, but I'm trying to block out the negative stuff. People will follow me on Instagram just to make negative comments and I see them and get all insecure and anxious. That's when I have to slow down and reflect. I've started writing gratitude lists, so every morning I write down five things that I'm grateful for and five things that I'm manifesting. When I start letting the negative stuff come in I don't hear the gratitude so the list is a daily practice to remind me that I'm here for a reason.
Who has been one of the greatest teachers in your life, and why?
My mom is a remarkable woman. She's a retired teacher and a while back there was a scandal at the community college where she taught. Apparently the teachers and administrators were involved in some Pell Grant scandal. Everybody was being indicted. Except my mother, because she was not involved. That's who she is. So, like her, I try not to get into people's mess. My mom gave me ballet classes. Acting classes. None of this would be possible without her.
In relationships, is faith a deal breaker?
No, it's not. But he has to be kind. For years I was into dating men who weren't kind and didn't treat me well. I'm not there today. You have to be sweet and kind, and empathetic. But he doesn't need to be a of a certain religion.
Finish the sentence: I am happiest when…
I'm on a film or TV set.
What books have totally changed your life?
Black Looks: Race and Representation by bell hooks, Women Who Love Too Much by Robin Norwood changed my life, and Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. There are lots more, but those are the three that left me shifting molecules.
Laverne Cox returns as Sophia Burset in season two of Orange Is the New Black, June 6 on Netflix.