Total songstress Keisha Epps is one of millions of Black wives and mothers who have seen firsthand the effects that socially corrupt imbalances like racism and racial profiling can have on families. We spoke with Keisha just as she was preparing to participate in the recently launched #SomedayIsToday campaign against injustce and she opened up about two jarring family experiences.
Although Keisha says she understands the sentiments of those who feel Black celebrities are less affected by things like racism and racial profiling because of their social status, she also knows all too well the feeling of watching the people closest to her experience both. "I understand people’s anger and passion who are like 'you don’t walk in these shoes,'" she tells ESSENCE. "And that’s the truth, but it doesn’t mean that we don’t have compassion."
In addition to her successful career in entertainement, Keisha is also the wife of actor Omar Epps and a mother of an 8-year-old son and a 12-year-old daughter. While speaking with us about her family's personal experiences with racism in the wake of the police brutality epidemic in the Black community, she recalled a incident involving her daughter that she says left her feeling hurt and filled with rage.
"I’ve seen my daughter experience racism at a very young age and that thing hurt me to my heart. The rage that I felt, not aggressively, but as a mother, was very real. My daughter was 3 years old and you know, she was born with eczema. When we would go to the park, I would see [the racism] on numerous occasions but, I like to check myself because I’d like to think that that’s not actually what’s going on. So, we would go to this really nice park where we’d take the kids to play and because of the neighborhood that we lived in, the park was predominantly filled with white people. So I would watch my daughter go ask some of the other little kids to play and they didn’t want to play with her. So, I kept saying, hmmm, I’m gonna watch a little longer. So, this one day we went [to the park] again and she asked again and they told her they didn’t want to play. Then, immediately after, another little white kid asked the white kid who turned my daughter down if she wanted to play and she said yes."
Keisha went on to describe the heartbreaking moment she had with her daughter after she realized her skin color was the reason she was being turned down by the other kids.
"And, that day my daughter said to me, 'Mom, maybe this wouldn’t happen to me and maybe I wouldn’t have ezcema if my skin wasn’t this color.' And, I said ok, you know what…I can’t. I grew up in New Jersey, which they call “the melting pot” because you got everybody there so, none of that ever mattered to me. My first best friend was Asian. So I said you know what, I don't care what type of money or whatever that my daughter has in her life, it’s not gonna mean much of anything if her self-confidence, self-awareness and self-esteem is not on point. She can be highly successful in academics and all of that but, it will not matter if she doesn’t feel strongly about who she is."
Following the incident, Keisha and Omar made the decision to enroll their daughter in a school where she would feel comfortable and proud of who she was. "I did some research and I heard about Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith’s school. So, I sought after that, found some information and we enrolled her in that school. I felt like my daughter needed to be able to identify herself when she looked at the next little girl. She’s a dark-skinned little girl with very thick hair, she’s not mixed, she doesn’t have the fine hair. I think it’s one of the best things we can do as parents to allow [our kids] to identify and to see herself in others because once you give them that, there’s nothing they can’t do. It was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. We saw the difference in her after that."
Keisha also spoke breifly about a separate incident where her husband Omar was pulled over by a police officer and immediately called her so he wouldn't be alone during the encounter. "Omar had an incident last year, where he was pulled over and immediately, he called me," she said. "And I don't feel like [him calling me] was something that would have happend had all of this not been going on. He would've just came home and told me later. But, he was pulled over on the street where our home is so, he called and said, "babe, just be with me on the phone." It was just something instinctually that he did without hesitation because he knew something wasn't right. When they pulled him over, you know, he was like, 'Ok, I'm gonna comply but, I"m also gonna call my wife.'
Hear more from Keisha and a host of other Black celebrities speaking out against racial injustice through the #SomeDayIsToday campaign HERE.