Award-winning artist and Broadway sensation Cynthia Erivo shares why uplifting all Black women is her true life's work.
I write this as a middle sister urging you, whether you’re younger or older, to take pause and give a thought to the responsibility we have to one another. I’ve started to notice that women, particularly Black women, aren’t looking out for one another.
I’m speaking from personal experience: A few months ago, my red-carpet “look” at the Oscars was compared with the designer’s runway look. The photo comparison was harmless enough, but now consider its caption, “hot or not.” Analyze two completely different human beings and decide which one could be trashed. Now being Black at 5 feet 1 inch, with a muscular/athletic build and blond Afro in tow, I’m usually the “not.” Those deciding? Primarily women on social media and, in my case, other women of color.
I wondered: How can the sight of a woman smiling and wearing an outfit that makes her feel beautiful make another woman so upset? Are we really still in a space where we find it hard to simply be kind to others? But then I thought, ‘No one told us that we don’t have to be against one another.’ For too long we have been led to believe that there isn’t enough room for all of us. Often fear has held us back because no one said that it’s okay to support one another.
If we start putting our heads together, that notion can be dispelled. As women, we should pick up one another, especially in our lowest moments and darkest times. I’m a firm believer in trying to help women, especially those who look like me, who are like me and who strive to do the same thing that I’m doing. The only way we can know what is possible is if we lead by example.
I’m starting to change by becoming a better friend. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that some friendships don’t always last, but that doesn’t mean that they weren’t necessary in your life. I’ve lost some, gained some. I’ve even had some I wasn’t even aware I had: People I didn’t know had been looking out for me, and those friendships have blossomed. But such relationships work both ways, and this new chapter in my life—now having a bigger platform than I could have ever dreamed—has shown me how to be more supportive. For example, one of my close friends and I realized we tend to burn the candle at both ends and we know it’s not sustainable. We cannot get the best out of ourselves if we are consistently doing that. So we’re on a mission to look out for each other to take care of ourselves.
I see the potential in people in each of our blackberry, coffee, chocolate, caramel, toffee, latte and milk (yes, we come in this color too) shades, and I wish we all could see our beauty. The incredible opportunities I have been blessed to have, all the places I have been, all the people I have met, all the different ways I’ve experienced things have led to the person who is here today. We all have a lot to offer as individuals: We’re intelligent, we’re talented and we’re beautiful. At a certain point, we have to turn to our fellow women and tell them that.
If we start working together, we can outline the rules for what we expect in our relationships. That means that when we see others falter, when we witness moments of uncertainty and self-doubt, we must help them overcome the limitations placed on us. We must be unafraid to reach out and take folks by the hand and say, “I’ve come to help you pick up your crown.”
We can only learn from the support we give and the guidance we get. Imagine how far we could go if we all banded together and worked hard for the love of one another. I believe we would be less afraid and start to embrace our best selves.
Cynthia Erivo won a 2016 Tony Award for her lead role in The Color Purple: The Musical. The singer and actress, who’s also a Daytime Emmy and Grammy winner, performs “Jump” from the documentary Step (in theaters August 4). She lives in New York City and London.
This feature originally appeared in the July 2017 Issue of ESSENCE Magazine.
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