Greenleaf Mid-Season Premiere Recap, Season 2 Episode 9: The Bear…

Hello World,

Clutch your Bibles to your bosoms, the Greenleafs courtesy of OWN are back! (This Greenleaf recap is brought to you by the letter “B.”)

Bad Boys…

The episode begins right where the Mid-Season Finale ended with Grace and her Uncle Mac on the glass-littered floor of his apartment. She’s coughing and he’s writhing as blood spews from his jugular. She summons enough strength to get the upper hand and croaks out, “Tell me where my daughter is!” Mac pleads with his niece to call for help, but she refuses to comply unless he answers her. By the time she finally understands that he is saying, “I don’t know,” Mac dies right there on the floor, but not before his final two words are: “I’m sorry.”

Only then does Grace call 911 and explains to the police that Mac slammed her in the wall and tried to choke her. She tell them that she thought he had her daughter, and they tell her the bottle that was used to fatally wound Mac bears her fingerprints.  Mac, the bad boy we all love to hate, leaves in a body bag while Grace goes to the hospital.

It’s the morning after for Aaron and Kevin who are no longer just boys kickin’ it. Aaron is fast asleep in bed while Kevin sits up in bed next to him, contemplating what they’ve done. He hears his son Nathan crying on the baby monitor and leaves Aaron to tend to his son in the nursery.

Meanwhile, at the hospital, like an episode of “COPS,” pictures of Grace and all the wounds covering her body are taken. Grace asks a detective, “Am I under arrest?” He replies, “No, pastor, you are free to go.” Bishop and Lady Mae worry in the waiting area hoping to see Grace soon. While they wait, Lady Mae begins to reminisce about her deceased brother, but Bishop nips that in the bud. “Our daughter nearly died tonight so pardon me if I ask to be excused from hearing some fond memory of the man who tried to kill her.” When Grace finally appears, Lady Mae says, “I’m so relieved that you are alive. I know it was self defense.” In a rare moment of affection for her daughter, Lady Mae tells Grace that she loves her and Grace tearfully responds with, “I love you, Mama.”

Back at the Greenleaf estate, Grace finds her own daughter asleep on a sofa. Once she awakens her, she is stunned to discover that Mac had nothing to do with Sofia’s whereabouts. She had been with Zora at a recording studio all along. While Sofia is glad to see her mother alive, she doesn’t hesitate to call her out on her bad behavior, pointing out that Grace went to Mac’s home after she promised that she was done with her vigilante justice.

Finally free from the grip of Bad Boy/Pastor Basie Skanks, Jacob and Kerissa hatch a plan to get back in the good graces of Bishop since they now own the property where Triumph 2 was going to be built.

Buck the System…

Charity has bucked the system by being the happiest divorcée ever it seems. She totally skipped over the mourning period of the death of her marriage and is kee keeing it up with Jabari in his Nashville recording studio. Wearing a black and white striped, tight dress, she is elated that a girls group is singing one of her songs in front of them. When Kevin calls, she tells him that she is happy they can be friends. Kevin seems to agree with her, at least verbally, but a tear drops from his eye and slides down his face at the same time. I’m not sure if he misses Charity or feels guilty about his night with Aaron or a bit of both.

Grace goes back to her office at the church in an effort hold her head high and not appear to be hiding away due to guilt. Darius, whose call she did not answer the night before, is waiting on her in her office. They discuss her ordeal as they proceed to the sanctuary of the church. Grace has to convince the police that she did not go to Mac’s house with malicious intent. Good luck with that. Darius, who is not a religious man, bucks the system and asks the pastor has she prayed about it. “It might be a good time to toss one up,” he says. They embrace in front of the altar.

Bearing good news, Jacob meets with the Bishop in his office and tell him what happened with Basie and the fact that he now owns the property across the way from Calvary. Bishop calls Basie a “diminutive demon!” LOL. Jacob suggests with Basie and Triumph out of the picture, he and his father can be co-pastors of Calvary and use the land however the two of them see fit. Bishop bucks the system and shuts his son down yet again. “I don’t need a co-pastor anymore than I need a cane to walk with.” Y’all know the Bishop has Parkinson’s disease, right?

While Aaron and Kevin may have shared a bed, Kevin has bucked the system, avoiding Aaron by leaving the Greenleaf estate too early to have contact with him and avoiding his calls as well. Aaron leaves a message on his voicemail, hoping to hear back from Kevin at some point.

Cousins Sofia and Zora discuss the incident in which Isaiah confronted Zora about expressing an opinion about his music and how he came off like he wanted to throw some blows with his girlfriend as a result. “You shouldn’t see him again,” Sofia tells Zora. At first Zora bucks, but then says, “I’ll dump him but you have to help me find a new bae.”

Although Kevin put the brakes on Aaron, the Greenleaf counsel still has business to conduct. He tells Grace how to buck the system before an interview she has with the police. He instructs her to tell the police that she only picked up the bottle because she was afraid she was going to die and after that, she remembers nothing.

But for the Grace of God…

Despite following Aaron’s direction, Grace is worried that she could go down for killing her uncle. She makes her father promise that he will do all he can to hold on to Sofia as she is worried that Sofia’s father, Ray, will try to get her to come with him since she may be off to jail. Bishop tells her that she is not going to jail. Grace responds, “I wish I had your faith.”

At Calvary, Kevin busts into a Fortitude for Families meeting and yells, “I screwed up!” He continues, telling the people gathered in the room that “it’s all a lie. All of you are lying to yourself.” He was trying to remain in God’s good graces by attending these meetings but obviously feels betrayed that the meetings did not help him at all.

Grace seeks the grace of God as well as she finally kneels in front of the sanctuary’s altar and says, “I’m so sorry. I tried to do the right thing. You know my heart. Don’t take my daughter away.”

Back at the Greenleaf estate, Charity comes back in a hurry after Kevin tells her what happened with Grace. When she goes into Nathan’s nursery to check on her son, she finds a note from Kevin that is so painful she begins to cry. What did that note say?!!! I guess we will find out tomorrow!

While Lady Mae is glad that her daughter is the one who survived the death match with Mac, she admits to her husband that she is still grieving for Mac. She also and finally admits that his abusive behavior may have been something he learned from their father. “Maybe Mac became the way he was by watching Daddy do what he did to me.” So yes, Lady Mae was molested like her daughter Faith was molested. But for the Grace of God, her life could have ended the same way her daughter’s ended.  For some reason, Lady Mae was able to continue living while daughter Faith chose to take her own life.

While Grace is her bedroom, Aaron comes to tell her some good news. “The prosecutor’s office is not going to pursue charges against you,” Aaron says before hugging her. Grace doesn’t quite believe him but then he says, “Sometimes the bear gets you and sometimes you get the bear.”

With that, Grace runs outside to take the good news in, sho nuff evidence of God’s grace, on the lake which is where Faith drowned. While she is there, somehow, mysteriously, she hears the voice of Mac. “You know how many times I prayed not to go to jail? Hundreds.”

Hmmmm….Is Mac really dead? Maybe not although I’m not sure how. In my interview with GregAlan Williams, who portrays Mac McCready, last week, he told me, “As to whether he [Mac] will live or die, I will say this to you: every goodbye ain’t gone.”

I can’t wait till tomorrow night!!! Check out a video preview below…

Thank you sooo much for reading my Greenleaf Mid-Season Premiere Recap, Season 2 Episode 9 and my other recaps so far.

If you would like to keep up with OWN’s “Greenleaf,” and my recaps, please click on this link to subscribe to my blog 🙂!

Any thoughts?

‘Love Jones’ Actress Bernadette Speakes Shares About the Movie’s 20th Anniversary, Being a Christian in Hollywood & More…

Hello World,

If  you came of age in the ’90s, you know it was the golden age of black cinema…Let me hit you with just a few — “House Party” (1990) “Boyz in the Hood” (1991), “New Jack City” (1991), “Juice” (1992), “Menace to Society” (1993),”Jason’s Lyric” (1993) “Friday” (1995), “Above the Rim” (1995), “Waiting to Exhale” (1995), “Love Jones” (1997) and “The Best Man” in 1999…One of those films “Love Jones” is being celebrated for reaching its 2oth anniversary as of this March with much fanfare, and I’m here for it, particularly as one of my Delta Sigma Theta sorority sisters, who also pledged the sorority at the University of Georgia, co-starred in the film! The movie captured a time period in my life just after college when I fancied myself a budding poet (the great poet Nikki Giovanni, also a Delta, even critiqued one of my poems!) and traveled to poetry readings around town with friends. So when I discovered that Bernadette Clarke now Bernadette Speakes, on top of acting in one of my favorite movies of all time and being a Delta, is also a Christian, I knew I had to interview here on After the Altar Call about her journey, particularly as it is the 20th anniversary of the release of “Love Jones.”

Below is my interview with her (which I edited for for the sake of brevity):

1.You were born in New York, raised in Chicago and received a bachelor’s degree in Theater from the University of Georgia in Athens. How did you get from Athens to being cast as Sheila Downes in what has become a classic film “Love Jones?”

After I graduated, I moved back to Chicago, and I began pursuing my career. I ended up meeting Ted (writer and director of ‘Love Jones’) during a master’s thesis film we were doing for someone. He was doing sound. I was one of the actors on the film. And that’s how we first met. And it was very interesting because everybody that was on that shoot, especially one gentleman in particular, kept bragging and kind of boasting about all of these projects and things he had coming up. And Ted really didn’t say anything, he was just kind of joking around and just kind of laid back. We got along really, really well. Next thing I know, like, I think it was less than a year later, I get called on an audition for a film. I walk into the audition room, and it’s Ted. And he’s like, ‘Hey, what’s up?’ And I said, ‘Oh my gosh, is this yours?’ He goes, ‘Yeah.’ And I said, ‘Did you have this in the works when we were working together?’ He said, ‘Yeah, it was kind of coming together, but I didn’t want to say anything.’ And that’s how I got cast.

On what set Bernadette apart from other actresses auditioning for the role…

I think Ted could answer that question better than I can, but I will say this about my last audition. I don’t know if you remember in the movie, I do this African dance. So when he wrote that, it was kind of like everybody had been drinking. My character who hadn’t been written yet does this thing, and it’s really simple. And when I auditioned, my agent said you need to come in there with an African dance. And I was like, ‘What?’ And that was my 4th call back. And I said, ‘Is that it? Is that all I have to do?’ And she was like, ‘Yes, they want to see a two-minute African dance.’ I said, ‘Okay.’

God puts things in divine order. I was already dancing with a West African troupe, and I went to one of my friends. We choreographed a routine. I walked into that audition very raw I would say because a very close friend of mine, I didn’t know if he was going to live or die that day because he had AIDS. So I wasn’t even going to go to this audition when I would found out that that he may not make it. I had said I’m not going. And my agent was really mad because I said I was going to visit my friend instead. Well, he found out that I wasn’t going to go to the audition. So he called me, and he swore up and down, he promised me that he would hold on and he said I needed to go do this. He told me he wouldn’t see if I didn’t go do it. So I called my agent and said I was going to go, but I went in there raw. And I guess I put all of that energy into the routine. I went in there with no shoes on, no make up on, these African pants and a leotard. I did my thing, and I was ready to bounce.

And Ted was like, ‘Wait, wait, wait.’ I said, ‘Oh, I’m sorry. What’s up?’ He said, ‘I actually wrote something for you that I want you to read on camera.’ I was like, ‘Really? I have no makeup on.’ He said, ‘Naw, it’s all good. I just want to hear how you do it.’ I said, ‘Do you have a note that you want to give me before I read it?’ because it was a cold read. And he said, ‘Yeah. You know those girls who go to Whitney Young? You’re one of those girls.’ And that’s a note that only you being from Chicago (where the film was shot) would understand. Whitney Young (former First Lady Michelle Obama is a graduate) is a predominantly black high school, and it’s like a prep high school. It’s kind of bougie. And my sister went to Whitney Young so I totally knew what he meant when he gave me that note. So that is exactly what I did, and he said, ‘That’s it.’ And when I was finished, I said, ‘Gotta go. Peace out.’

And I think just being authentic and real in that moment is what got me the role. Not to say no one else was, but that is who Sheila is. She is very authentic and real, calls it like she sees it, very loyal to her friends, not fake. So I think the way that whole day kind of evolved brought all of that into place.  I ended up being a co-star in the film which was huge for my first film!

 

2.Twenty years ago, “Love Jones” debuted on March 14. Did you have any idea that it would be a hit movie that continues to resonate with audiences even today?

No, I didn’t.  I don’t know if any of us did. We knew we were doing something unique because nothing had been done in regards to the Chicago scene, the poetry scene or anything like that up until that point. And also, nothing had been done in a real positive, eclectic way of looking at African-American life in this type of setting so we all kind of knew that, but we didn’t know that it would burst. The irony is that it didn’t do well financially. It didn’t cost a lot to make, but it wasn’t in the theaters for a really long time. But it became this pop culture film, and once it went to video and television and online streaming and all of that stuff, it started to reach the masses in different geographical settings. My daughter, she is a millennial, and all of her friends know about the movie. People in my parents’ age group, they know about the movie so it became this really iconic film. And we had no idea that is what we were doing.

And for me, it wasn’t just about the movie. It was about the soundtrack too. Even today, you can listen to the soundtrack, and it’s still good.

And I really credit all of that to Ted. Ted is an amazing visionary artist. He’s a photographer. He’s a connoisseur of music, jazz, classical, R&B, blues. Like he loves it all. And he put all of that in the film.

3.I read that last month the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hosted the event “In the Mood for ‘Love Jones’ – The Academy Celebrates the Film’s 20th Anniversary,” which included a screening of the film at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills. What was it like to reunite with the entire cast, and was this your first time reuniting with everyone since the movie debuted?

No, in February, we all saw each other at the ABFF (American Black Film Festival) Awards which was awesome! It was amazing to see all of us older. When we first did the film, none of us were married.  Well, actually, Isaiah was married, and I was the only one who had a child. And we were all like in our early 20s. So when we see each other 20 years later, we’re all married. We all have kids. We’re older, wise, a lot more debonair. (laughter) And then it was really great to see each other again (at the academy event). And everyone is doing well in their lives. I had seen Bill Bellamy and Nia in passing at different events, but we all didn’t keep in touch. Well, I personally didn’t. I think some of them are closer in relationships than I am with them, but it was really beautiful for all of us to be together again.

4.In addition to “Love Jones,” you were featured along side Oscar Award-Winning Actor Sidney Poitier in “To Sir with Love II.” You’ve appeared in several TV shows such as ParenthoodMonk and Boston Legal. And you have acted in several theater productions in addition to being CEO of Dreams Take a Minute Productions in Los Angeles. Have you had a strategy in advancing in your acting career or do you have a principle that has guided you as you’ve made moves in your career?

I think the main thing that I do, I think most people would say, you should focus on one thing, Represent yourself well in that one thing and then move on to the next thing. And I’m more of an eclectic person. I can’t just focus on one thing. And also, I’m a stay-at-home mom taking care of my kids. So it was like what can I do to stay creative but not jeopardize or sacrifice this time in my children’s lives. And that fueled my decision making.

I feel like the industry isn’t going anywhere. It’s always going to evolve and grow, but it’s not going anywhere. So for me, I didn’t want to miss the legacy of my family and missing moments of when my kids grow up and taking steps toward their mark in the world for the sake of my dreams. I would rather still stay productive in my career, watch them grow, get them to a point where they can jump off the cliff so to speak into their dreams and then usher in mine. I don’t regret making that decision. I know I’m not where I could have been. I have not accomplished half of what my colleagues have, and I’m so happy for and proud of them. But for me, my family is my pride and joy. I look at my kids and how they are today, and I’m so glad  I put them first. And my marriage is solid. My husband and I have been together 18 years. I think marriage is hard regardless of whether you’re in the Hollywood scene or not, two people trying to live together with flaws and all. But I think definitely my husband and I have cultivated something that is amazing. We’re each other’s biggest fan.

And now we’re at a point in our lives where are our kids are going, ‘Go do you thing.’ They want to see us soar, especially me. My kids definitely realize what I’ve given up in a sense and now they’re like , ‘Go soar Mom’ and that feels so good.

5.In addition to your acting career, I also admire that you are a Christian. How and when did you find your way to Christianity? Tell me about that journey. What is it like to be a Christian in Hollywood?

It was a journey within itself. My mom’s family are Baptists, and my dad’s are Catholics so I was always around some type of faith-based environment. But it didn’t really appeal to me honestly because I saw a lot of hypocrisy so I wasn’t interested. But then when I got to college, I felt lost. And I felt like I wanted to be a better version of me, but I didn’t really know what that meant. But I chose to become a Muslim. When I went back to Chicago, there is a very large population of Muslims where I lived which was Hyde Park, so I studied with an imam under Sunni Muslims. But I still felt like my soul was crying out for something.

There’s a reputable theatre in Chicago called the Steppenwolf Theatre, and I ended up being cast in two shows that same year with that theatre company, and God put Christians in both shows. It was the first time that I saw Christians not only own their imperfections but were authentic. Like they weren’t ‘judgy’ or judgmental or religious like a Pharisee or legalistic. And they were extremely talented women in the arts whom I highly respected. And all of that kind of piqued my interest and made me think, ‘Well maybe I have this whole Christianity thing wrong.’

So these women studied the Bible with me, and I asked 50 million questions because I had a lot of bitterness in my heart. They helped me sort through a lot of it. So I fell in love with Jesus. He was this masterful storyteller, the very thing that I am, he is the epitome of. I fell in love with the Bible. It became a no brainer for me to follow Him.

On how her faith helped Bernadette to transition to Hollywood…

So I was converted in Chicago, and when I moved to California, the church that I was a part of in Chicago, had a sister church in California, and they just actually moved me here. I moved here with nothing. It was literally my child, my clothes and my car. And the ministry in California gave me a household with roommates and a community that I’ve been with for almost 22 years. My church is called Turning Point LA. We changed our name. It used to be AMS, which stands for Arts Media Sports in the Los Angeles Church of Christ.

Being a Christian in Hollywood, I feel like it’s the fire that fuels me. And not because I’m trying to go out here with fire and brimstone. I’ve always been rebellious in my nature. Like I was the first to get tattoos in my family, the first to get piercings in my family, I had a baby out of wedlock. But now I get to be rebellious in a whole different way. When you look at Hollywood, you can say there are innovators absolutely, but I want to be defiant in a different way. So it definitely fuels me where I feel like I don’t have to compromise or give up anything just because I’m a Christian. What’s mine is still going to be mine and what isn’t isn’t. And I’m not going to apologize for who I am because I’m an actor and a storyteller. It doesn’t hinder me at all.

6.I know that you had a bout with illness. How did your faith sustain you during what I’m sure was a difficult time in your life?

It was 2014, and I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. It was cancer of my bone marrow. It was stage 4, and it was aggressive. I had a tumor in my back that cracked my vertebrae. I had been sick for six months before I found out that I even had cancer. It was a progressive cancer to say the least. And it caused excruciating pain that wasn’t helped by morphine or Percocet. And I was hallucinating with the dosages they gave me to so I didn’t want the dosages because I didn’t have a clear mind when I was using them. I had the choice to do medical marijuana which I prayed a lot about, and I chose not to do that either. It was a time when I felt like the physical pain, the emotional anguish and the spiritual suffering that Jesus went through when He went to the cross, this is an opportunity for me to experience that intimacy, even on a small scale, with Christ.

On choosing to focus on joy and gratitude during illness…

I think when you go through suffering, it can either be a burden or it can be a joy. And joy doesn’t mean happiness. Joy means I think your perspective and your gratitude. For me, I chose a joyful, grateful perspective going into it and that is what sustained me. I was sick for just over a year. When you have Non-Hodgkins lymphoma, there is only one combination that is curable. The combination that I had which is stage 4 aggressive was a curable combination for the type of chemo prescribed for me. I’m in remission now. I’m technically not cured until the 3 to 5 year mark.

7.Obviously, outside of acting, you have other interests. You are now a Rodan + Fields sales consultant. Why?

The women who created these skincare products are amazing women. They are very smart. They are doctors. They are graduates of Stanford. They teach at Stanford. They are moms. They are wives. They came up with a product called Proactiv. I used Proactiv, and I liked the results. My daughter used it and liked the results. Their customer service was awesome. I always felt taken care of. So I had respect for these women long before I became a consultant. But what pushed me over the edge is I was looking for something. I’m 50. Black does not crack, but we do sag. So I’m like I’m not going to do the whole Botox thing so I did some research on Rodan+Fields. It’s a part time opportunity, and the stream of income allows me to have freedom. The products are not cheap, but the average woman can purchase them.

Is there anything else you want to add?

I’m not done yet. I may have not been on the scene for a while, but trust me when I tell you, I’m not done yet.

Bernadette Speakes recently completed two films, and is about to step into another in mid-February. She has been adventurous on stage in 2014, stepping into her first COMEDY…Elephant Theatre’s West Coast Premiere of “North Plan,” directed by David Fofi. During the 2013 Fringe Festival, she portrayed Tituba, in “The Crucible.” She received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theatre from the University of Georgia; and presently continues to hone her craft at various acting studios around the Los Angeles area.

Bernadette was a part of the Producing Queens of The Trunk Show… which brings its own uniqueness in the world of storytelling. She is also the creator and producer of “Get Up Stand Up…Clean Comedy 4 A Change,” a comedy showcase that bridges the gap of laughter and charity together. Bernadette has also appeared in several acclaimed shows, such as The Elephant Theater’s “In Arabia We’d Be Kings,” and The Fountain Theater’s West Coast Production of Direct from Death Row…”The Scottsboro Boys.” She’s performed at the Steppenwolf Theater, Goodman, Washington D.C.’s Kennedy Center, and the Matrix’s LA Premier of An Evening with Shakespeare featuring Charles S. Dutton.

Awards include an Emmy Nomination for “A Stage of Our Own,” with James Earl Jones, The LA Drama Critic’s Circle, and the LA Weekly. Other Film & TV Credits include…”The Soloist,” “Heroes,” “Parenthood,”” To Sir with Love II” with Mr. Sidney Poitier, and the 1997 Sundance Festival Winner, “Love Jones,” which was honored this year, the 20th anniversary of its release, at the 2017 ABFF AWARDS for its contribution as a cinematic classic in African-American films!

Bernadette is also a Rodan + Fields sales consultant. For more information, please click HERE.

Any thoughts?

Former Child Caretaker Dr. Sheila D. Williams Uses Background to Help Others With Mental Illness…

Hello World,

Although mental health issues within the black community is not as much of a taboo subject as it once was, I think we can all agree that there is still more work to be done. As a storyteller, I’m always drawn into issues through a great story, and Dr. Sheila D. Williams, author of “My Mother’s Keeper,” has a great story addressing mental health.

She was the one who gave birth to her, became her first friend and encouraged her to try school that scary kindergarten year, which led her to a lifelong love of education. Yet where author Dr. Sheila D. Williams learned most from her mother was during her mother’s battle with clinical depression and later diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. Her autobiography, entitled “My Mother’s Keeper,” chronicles Sheila’s sometimes dysfunctional but endearing friendship with her mother, which endured a parental role reversal when her mother’s mental health issues forced Sheila to be responsible for herself at age ten. Sheila later details her memories of still seeing the embodiment of the Proverbs 31 woman within her mom, as she later became her mother’s primary caregiver. “My Mother’s Keeper ” is a moving tribute to the power of a mother-daughter bond that defied the odds, both externally and internally, and thrived in love until the end.

See my interview with Dr. Sheila D. Williams, who is a mental health therapist, author, motivational speaker and certified national trainer/educational consultant, below.

1.You were the primary caretaker for your mother from the age of 10 until she passed away years ago. Did you recognize the symptoms of her clinical depression? Is clinical depression in any way hereditary?

Yes, from the age of 10 years old, there was a role reversal that occurred between my mother and me. I found myself being more responsible for preparing my own meals, doing my own laundry, styling my hair, etc., often without the assistance of my mother. I was always a bit more mature for my age, however at 10 years old, it was a very pivotal point in our relationship in which I realized that it wasn’t because my mother didn’t want to assist me; it was because she mentally and physically could not. I found myself checking on her and making sure she was okay; this became my top priority.

At the age of 10, I did not know it was clinical depression, nor did she or my father. We simply knew that my mother was not well, and that she most often was fragile mentally and emotionally. Because her mental illness was inaccurately diagnosed, she associated the way she felt with a medical condition of some sort, and was treated with muscle relaxers, pain relievers, etc. It wasn’t until I was in my early 20s that she was diagnosed accurately.

Research indicates that there is a hereditary component to mental illness. However, environmental factors — life stressors, inability to cope, lack of strong support system, etc. — these external factors seem to be more influential on the likelihood a person will experience mental illness at some point in their lives.

2.Why did you write your book “My Mother’s Keeper” and what type of feedback have you received? 

I wrote “My Mother’s Keeper” as a memoir for my mother and her legacy. Because she felt as if she were different, that she didn’t fit in, she was often embarrassed and ashamed. She didn’t feel that she was good enough. She thought that no one would care to hear her story. I always worked to dispel her insecurities, but it continued throughout her life. Before she passed away, she and I discussed me telling her story. The story of her life is an integral component of my life and my journey. I wrote “My Mother’s Keeper” not only as a memoir, but as an autobiography and introduction to my life’s story. I chose to be transparent about my life and mental illness, to not only bring hope and healing to anyone who is dealing with mental illness or any other life situations or circumstances, but also to those who are experiencing any other life situations or circumstances.

In your book, you stated that you were told by a guidance counselor in high school that college was “not for you.” How did you move past that negative critique and continue your education?  

Throughout my entire life, I’ve always been a good student. I worked to excel in education and received numerous awards and recognition for my exceptional academic standing and participation in extracurricular activities and community service. With this track record, I always knew I wanted to attend college. Although I wasn’t sure how I’d pay for college, it was something I had planned to do since I was in middle school. When I was in 10th grade, the conversation about plans after high school was discussed with every student. After several meetings with my guidance counselor, I informed him that I had aspirations and intentions of attending college. He encouraged me to sign up to take the ASVAB military entrance exam and told me that he felt that college was ‘not for me.’ He never indicated why he felt this way, but clearly it could not have been because of my academic standing or my drive and determination.

Initially, I was devastated by this, but that devastation quickly turned and it became fuel for me to make my goal of attending college a reality. Not only did I want to make attending college a reality, I wanted to finish college, then complete an advanced degree and not have student loans once I finished. I was able to accomplish all of these goals. I now am very thankful that I had that experience as it increased my motivation and my ability to persevere. I exceeded my own expectations.

3. As of this month, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal formed the Commission on Children’s Mental Health to study Georgia’s approach to providing mental health care. How do you feel about this news, and what do you hope the commission will address?

I am very excited to hear of the Governor’s Commission on Children’s Mental Health. In my experience, I often find that the mental health of children is often forgotten. It is important to understand that although children are resilient, they are the product of their environment, their circumstances, and their experiences. If they are in a home where there is domestic violence, verbal abuse, or even financial difficulties, this can have a negative impact on the child’s self-esteem, their ability to effectively communicate, their self-perception and the list goes on. If you compound these stated issues with having a parent or loved one who suffers from mental illness, it is an even much more critical case. If a parent suffers from mental illness, unless they are effectively managing their mental illness and receiving treatment, it could negatively affect their ability to care for their child. Much as was the case with my mother.

When a child is being raised by a parent who has a mental illness that is untreated, undiagnosed, and/or one who is stigmatized and embarrassed to get help, it often leaves the child in a state of confusion and insecurity, and with feelings of despair. This ultimately could lead to depression and other forms of mental illness in the child. It is my hope that the Governor’s Commission will address the whole child, taking into consideration that although the child himself may not have a mental illness, they may be dealing with adult responsibilities at home, which may include a parent or caregiver that suffers from mental illness — all of which may negatively affect that child’s emotional and psychological well-being.

4. As a Christian, how does your Christian faith affect your career in the mental health field?

As a Christian, my belief is that we are all here for a purpose. I believe that my purpose here is to change lives and create positivity in a world that is often very negative. As a proponent and an advocate for mental health, I feel very blessed to have been born to my mother (and my father). The experiences we have throughout life can at times be very challenging; however, I believe that with each challenge there is also opportunity. As a very young child, I didn’t understand what was going on with my mother.

By the age of 10, I realized my mother was different and that her difference made her even more beautiful. Later in life she was also diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, which compounded her disability from being one that couldn’t be seen (depression) to one that physically was quite visible with her fingers, arms and legs all contracted. Even so, she was still beautiful. I came to realize the beauty in even my challenges and imperfections. I believe that this is what life is all about.

My Christian faith lets me know that although we enjoy personal growth and accomplishments, our true joy and life’s blessings are obtained when we find ways to give to others; that is what brings me the most satisfaction. My experiences, both personal and professional, with mental illness have been a gift. The knowledge I’ve obtained has been a blessing. It is my purpose to further educate, motivate and empower others to silence the shame that is associated with mental illness and to embrace our differences, no matter what those differences may be.

5. How prevalent is mental illness in the black community, and what can the black church do to support mental health awareness and treatment? 

Within the black community, the subject of mental illness is still very taboo, unfortunately. There are many people within the black community who have undiagnosed mental illness or have been diagnosed with a mental illness, but chose not to take medication or get therapy. These individuals, unfortunately, are suffering in silence. By failing to see a mental health professional, to follow up with treatment or refusing to take prescribed psychotropic medications, their mental illness not only affects them, but it affects their families, loved ones and the entire community.

As a Christian woman, I have a strong faith, and believe in God and the power of prayer. However, at times in the black church we fail to acknowledge and expound upon the importance of physical and mental health. Although prayer and motivation are important, and I personally know the benefits of each, it is also important for the black church to encourage and promote mental health awareness. We often seek the help and advice of medical physicians, but we fail to seek that same help and assistance from mental health professionals when our emotional and psychological well-being is in jeopardy. I feel it a responsibility of all of us to promote and encourage 360 degrees of wellness, and this includes our mental health.

6. What are your favorite topics to speak on as a motivational speaker and why?

My favorite speaking topic is The Transformational Mindset. I truly enjoy speaking on this topic because I am a firm believer and it is my motto that ‘Our Thoughts Become Our Reality.’ Regardless of what age, gender, culture or religious beliefs my audience is, this applies to everyone. We often get accustomed to thinking a certain way, which leads us to believe certain things. These belief systems (which sometimes can be flawed or misconceptions) tend to cause us to speak and behave a certain way. By speaking and acting upon misconceptions or negative beliefs, we hinder productivity and the likelihood of personal and professional growth.

The Transformational Mindset is a way of life. I began my journey of transformation at 10 years old. Rather than seeing my mother’s differences, her mental illness, etc., as a weakness, I saw it as a strength. I embraced those differences and used them to change my insecurities into strengths. I was able to see my mother’s mental illness as a blessing and an opportunity to learn more about who I am, embrace that person wholeheartedly and be a blessing to others.

7. What has been your biggest victory as a mental health therapist?

During high school, I wanted to be an astronaut and was very good in math and decided to major in it once I got to college. However, with the symptoms my mother exhibited, they didn’t seem to match the diagnoses that the physicians were giving her. I started to read up on her symptoms on my own, as I was always a bit of a researcher, even at an early age. The study of psychology not only sparked my interest, but also educated me on many of the emotions I had myself. It was through these readings and research that I decided to change my major to psychology rather than math. It was less than one year after I graduated with my BA in psychology that my mother finally was correctly diagnosed with clinical depression.

After completing my BA in psychology, I went on to pursue and complete my MA in mental health counseling. In addition, I earned a Ph.D. in education and leadership. I’ve worked for many years as a mental health therapist and counselor. Having the educational knowledge, the professional experience and personal experience of caring for my mother who suffered from mental illness has all been a blessing. It was destined that this would be my career path.

My biggest victory is not only being able to survive the many challenges I’ve faced in my life, but to be able to thrive while doing it. Everything that happens happens for a reason. I believe that my experiences were not only lessons for me, but what I’ve learned from those experiences has afforded me the opportunity to use those lessons in a positive way to assist others on their journeys as well. This has been the biggest victory of all.

If you would like more information about Dr. Sheila D. Williams, please go to her website drsheiladwilliams.com.

Any thoughts?