“What is to give light must endure burning” is one of Chanté Adams’s favorite sayings. Reflecting on this quote from Austrian philosopher Viktor Frankl, the actress says, “It means that the struggle is worth it. I always have to remind myself that the light is there and it’s going to come. It’s not going to come on my time, but it’s going to come when it should.” 

In 2017, just one year out of drama school, Adams, 26, was cast as the lead in Netflix’s Roxanne Roxanne, portraying hip-hop pioneer Roxanne Shanté. From that moment forward, her career has blazed. Historically, Black women have worked for decades in Hollywood before they’re afforded the title “leading lady.” And love stories that center Black women are still a rarity. “We still have some ways to go, but I feel like we’re on the right path,” Adams says. “We’re not allowing ourselves to be put off to the side anymore. I’m not saying the generation before us did so, but I feel like we’re at a place now where we can start demanding what we want, and what we want to see.” 

Adams received the Special Jury Prize for Breakthrough Performance for Roxanne Roxanne, at Sundance Film Festival, the year the movie premiered. Since then, she has starred in films like The Photograph and Bad Hair. For Adams, it’s always been about running toward the unexpected. “I’m always looking for a project that is different from what I’ve just finished, or something that I’ve never done before,” the Detroit native explains. “My goal is to tell the stories of Black women. I don’t want to be labeled. There’s nothing monolithic about us. I want to continue to explore the broad range of colors that we express.” 

On December 10, Adams will star opposite Michael B. Jordan in the Denzel Washington–directed drama A Journal for Jordan. Based on the memoir by publishing executive Dana Canedy, the film chronicles the journal that Canedy’s late fiancé, Sergeant Charles Monroe King, left for the couple’s infant son, Jordan, during his ultimately fatal deployment in Iraq. Adams will portray Canedy in the feature. 

“Dana is like a big sister to me now,” the Carnegie Mellon University alum says. “A Journal for Jordan is a love story. It was important for me and Dana to dive into it. We’re covering almost 20 years of her life in two hours. It’s a very emotional role. I really hope the world loves the movie, but I’ll be satisfied if she’s the only person who loves it—because it’s her story, and it’s her life.” 

Working with Washington and Jordan on the movie also had its perks. “Who doesn’t want to learn from the master himself?” Adams says of Washington. “Also,” she enthuses,  “Michael B. Jordan is an amazing and generous scene partner.”  

Washington “speaks in a language of wisdom,” Adams adds. “As an actor himself, something that he told Michael and me almost every day was, ‘The universe stems from the specific.’ Any artist can be vague, any artist can give an overview, but it’s a great artist that will get specific. That’s something that I’m definitely taking with me. I hear Denzel’s voice in my head every day, asking, ‘How do you get specific? How do you go deeper?’ I will always appreciate that.” 

In addition to A Journal for Jordan, Adams will be costarring in the forthcoming TV series adaptation of A League of Their Own for Amazon Prime Video. She’s also headed to Broadway for Tony Award–nominee Dominique Morisseau’s Skeleton Crew, directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson and starring Phylicia Rashad. “This is a dream come true for me,” Adams says. “It’s written by a woman who went to my high school, who’s from my city.” 

Though she has continued to soar, Adams’s perspective about her work has changed during the pandemic and with the continuing social and political unrest across the globe. “I was chasing fulfillment,” she says. “But everything that has been happening caused me to sit down and figure out what I really wanted. I developed a new appreciation for everything around me. I spent a lot of time with myself. I spent a lot of time with God. I realized that my activism comes through my art. I have the things that I want to do, for sure—but I’ve been really blessed thus far with the roles that I’ve been able to play.” 

As for what the big screen may hold for Adams down the line, she says, “I would love to do an action movie one day. Also, I have a lot of nieces and nephews who want to watch my movies—so in the near future, the plan is to do something kid-friendly. However, I’ve learned not to plan too much, because the way my career is going, I didn’t even dream this big.” 

This article appears in the November/December issue of ESSENCE magazine on newsstands December 14.

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Photography | Joyanne Panton 

Stylist | Shameelah Hicks

Hair | Sean Fears

Manicurist | Alex Jachno

Nail Design | Aja Walton, Maho Tanaka

Chante Wearing (In Order Of Appearance):

Nicole Shante velvet one-shoulder cutout dress, $1,490, nicole shante.com. Nickho Rey Lani earrings, $270, nickhorey.com. Yun Yun Sun Dolo ring, $155, yun-yun-sun.com. Berna Peci inner silver rim band, $55, bernapeci.com. Ariana Boussard Reifel Noh cuff, $2,225, arianaboussardreifel.com.

Versace faux-fur Greca- printed coat, price upon request, versace .com. Jennifer Fisher Samira hoops, $650, jenniferfisherjewelry .com. Berna Peci brown-swirl cuff ring $55, benapeci.com. Pamela Love dome ring, $130, pamelalove .com. Lady Grey link collar, $288, ladygrey jewelry.com. 

Ciara Chyanne Nora oversize button-up shirt, $210, ciara chyanne.com. Yun Yun Sun Terra earrings, $240, yun-yun-sun.com. Berna Peci white-swirl cuff ring, $55, berna peci.com. Berna Peci silver icy-swirl ring, $50, bernapeci.com. Berna Peci The BP Clear Collection ring set, $65, bernapeci .com. Berna Peci jumbo white clear ring, $35, bernapeci.com. Jennifer Fisher Triple XXS Dean ring, $225, jenniferfisherjewelry .com. Berna Peci The BP Clear Collection swirl cuff, $50, bernapeci.com. 

Nicole Shante custom suit. Nickho Rey capri necklace, $285, nickhorey.com.