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EXCLUSIVE: Gabby Douglas and Mom Natalie Hawkins on Historic Win, Hair, and Inspiring Black Girls

"If you have this dream, just go out there and don’t be scared," the Olympic star tells ESSENCE.com. 

The past two weeks have been a whirlwind for gymnast Gabrielle Douglas. She’s won two Olympic gold medals, received congratulatory calls and tweets from President Obama, Beyoncé and Oprah, among others.

She has also had her face plastered on the Kellogg’s Corn Flakes cereal box. There’s little else the Virginia Beach native could ask for. By her side is her mom Natalie Hawkins, a single parent who raised Gabby and her three siblings with little money, but lots of resilience and faith in their dreams.

From the P&G U.S. Family Home in London, the winning duo spoke with ESSENCE.com about what’s next for Gabby, their reaction to the recent — and, might we add, ridiculous — hair controversy and Gabby’s message for little Black girls all over the world.

ESSENCE.com: Gabby, you’re only 16 and you’re officially the best female gymnast in the world! So what’s next — what other life goals would you like to achieve?
GABBY DOUGLAS: I just want to continue with gymnastics because I’m still young and fresh. I think can get some more titles under my belt. I want to get one of the American Cup trophies and get some more international experience. That would be fun.

ESSENCE.com: You seem so calm when you’re competing. And you take all this attention in stride. Are you naturally calm or are you just in your zone?
DOUGLAS: I’m definitely in my zone — in my own bubble. I’ve learned how to stay humble. I don’t want to get in over my head because when you do that it takes you off your game.

ESSENCE.com: All of our ESSENCE.com readers are in awe of you and your talent. Who in the public eye do you think is amazing?
DOUGLAS: I’m not gonna lie, I love Usain Bolt and Serena Williams. What I love about Serena is that she just gets on the floor and she dominates. She handles her business very well, I respect that.

ESSENCE.com: What famous folks would you love to meet?
DOUGLAS: I would love to meet Venus and Serena. I’d also love to go on the red carpet and be like, “Hey, everyone!”

ESSENCE.com: Like “Hey, Beyoncé!”
DOUGLAS: [Laughs] Right. I’d be like, “Oh, hey Beyoncé! Hey Jay-Z!”

ESSENCE.com: Who (besides the President, of course!) has reached out to congratulate you?
DOUGLAS: A lot of people have tweeted and reached out to me. Oprah has definitely caught my eye. My mom and I used to watch her shows. We just love her.

ESSENCE.com: So where will you keep your medals?
DOUGLAS: I’m definitely gonna put them in a shadow box and hang them on the wall. I accomplished something big and that’s a memory I will never forget. I think hanging them on the wall is definitely a proper place. I can always look up there and say, “Man, that was definitely an Olympic moment.”

ESSENCE.com: Share with us what it was like being a little Black girl and watching Dominique Dawes, and what you hope that little black girls all over the world today will learn from you.
DOUGLAS: I just want them to know that everything is possible and just to go out there and fight. If you have this dream, just go out there and don’t be scared. Always be courageous and strong, and don’t fear. Anything is possible if you put your mind to it.


ESSENCE.com: Natalie, in light of this absolutely ridiculous hair controversy, how do you deal with haters targeting your daughter? 
NATALIE HAWKINS: I’m extremely protective of my children, so my first instinct was to take to my blog. But now I’m in the public view — people are publishing articles about me and my finances and my personal life — I want to handle this in an elegant fashion. I don’t want to bring any negativity towards Gabrielle, but I am going to be protective of her. I thought her hair looked great, I thought she looked beautiful on that floor. I thought she was a wonderful representation for our country and for African-American women.

From the very beginning I thought the focus should have been on her wonderfully amazing talent, and not on how put together her hair was. I didn’t think it was out of place — it was just slicked back. My daughter has internal strength that she exuded that on the floor. She made her dreams come true. That’s where the focus should have been.

ESSENCE.com: We know that you encouraged Gabby to keep pushing on even when she was ready to quit. What did you do to encourage yourself  through some tough financial times and to keep making those hard decisions as Gabby pursued her dream?
HAWKINS: I told myself that my daughter had an opportunity to make her dream come true. And in the midst of that she may very well make history, so it’s a dream worth fighting for. It’s a dream worth putting everything that I have into. That was my encouragement. My other three children uplifted me so much. They were a constant source of support for me when I would feel like I’m not a good enough mom, I don’t have this amazing husband by my side, I don’t have money at my disposal. They would say, “But mom, look, you’ve made it all work in spite of not having all that.” That definitely made me feel good and I wanted to keep fighting.

It’s not every day that you get to help your child achieve such a lofty dream. I’ve had a lot of criticism from family friends along the way. Right now, I get the last laugh. And they’re all coming to me like, “Oh my God, I’m so sorry. Can you help me do this with my daughter?” The fact that I was able to be that inspiration for friends and family and other people is an extremely amazing honor for me.