Lena Waithe and Kym Whitley have partnered for a new series on Audible. The show, Kym, loosely based on Kym Whitley’s life, follows the story of Kym Wilson, an actress and comedian raising her 8-year-old son Trevante. Monique, Trevante’s biological mother, left him at Kym’s door when he was just three years old.
In addition to telling a story of unexpected motherhood, the podcast follows Kym’s struggles to balance her love life, complete with an on-again, off-again relationship with an unavailable man she wishes she didn’t love; her career; navigating an unwelcoming parenting world and recognizing the reality that her rights to Trevante could be snatched at any moment.
Premiering October 20, the project has been three years in the making. It was Waithe’s commitment to the story, Whitley says, that brought it to fruition.
“This was a story that Lena would not give up on,” she tells ESSENCE. “Hillman Grad [Lena’s production company] has a lot on their plate. Lena, as a visionary, always pushes for unique stories that won’t get told. If there wasn’t a Lena, would this story get told
“Adoption stories, they’re not often lifted up,” Whitley adds. “But this is something that I wanted to make sure was known. This was something she would not let go of until it was made.”
During the development process, the two decided Audible would be a good fit for such a dynamic show.
“We thought the story was that powerful and palpable that it could entertain people while they’re in their car, while they’re folding their clothes,” Waithe explains. “People like to listen to be entertained. This really lends itself to that. We wanted to rise to that challenge and we found it to be a really beautiful experience.”
Included in the beauty of this story is the message it sends about the vast definitions of family.
“Families come in all different types of people,” Whitley shares. “Family does not necessarily mean blood. Family is the relationship you form with others, the village, the support, the people that uplift you every day. The people you cry with, argue with. That’s your family.”
Many of the people who ultimately lend their talent to the story of Kym — Jenifer Lewis and Sherri Shepherd, for example — were a part of the village that helped Whitley as she took on the role of mother.
“Kym has been in the game a long time and has so many friends and people that support her a la, Jenifer Lewis, Sherri Shepherd, David Arnold, Cynthia Erivo, Jess Hilarious, myself. I think it was really exciting to see all these people come together and show up for Kym,” Waithe says. “You know, Jenifer and Sherri were there when all of this was happening. I was around as well. To have seen this whole journey, it’s kind of cool for us to come in and relive and recreate some of these moments that have become Kym’s life.”
Like her character, Whitley had a desire to be a mother but didn’t want it at that time in her life.
“I was still in the streets,” she says with all seriousness. “Slinging jokes and talking to men. I had the desire to become a mother but I didn’t have a husband or a steady man where I was like, ‘I’m going to get pregnant.’ So I was not ready for motherhood at all. But God laughs at our plans.”
Instead of fighting what was happening, Whitley surrendered. “You’re waiting to have a child and God is like, ‘Ha, ha. Here’s one. This is how it happens.’ Whether you get pregnant, adopt, sometimes it just happens. Sometimes you just gotta roll with life. You’ve got to snatch it up and say, ‘I’m going to close my eyes and I’m just going to say yes.’ Because when you think of all the things that might happen, that’s when you turn away and say no. When an opportunity presents itself, you just close your eyes and say yes.”
Uncertainty is the nature of life. But Whitley wants women specifically to know that you don’t have to sacrifice one dream to fulfill another role.
“I want women to understand that you can still pursue your career. You can still become a mother,” she says. “You don’t have to give up either one. You can do them simultaneously. Kym Wilson is not a star. She’s still saying, ‘Can you help me? Am I doing this right?’ I want women to walk away knowing that it’s okay. There’s no book. There’s no manual to life and we can laugh at our mistakes.”