Professional Actress and Activist, Precious Coleman, on African American Women, Education, and Being Fearless

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What is fearlessness? A powerful word in diction, but not something we can simply break down efficiently in ten simple steps. In fact, this pilot podcast was such a detail-oriented conversation; we dove into multiple bittersweet topics. I believe this event left us both feeling, in our own definition, fearless. I hope in reading, you will gain a sense of enlightenment and learn new things as I did when speaking with the highly-intelligent and inspirational, Precious Coleman.

Precious Coleman rushed into the studio instantly filling the room with radiant energy and warm embrace. Having just wrapped on a late film shoot the night before on NBC’s television show, New Amsterdam, it was undeniable that she was passionate about spreading her voice and story as she continues her rise as an empowering African American woman. 

Precious can be described in many incredible adjectives, as her name suggests, but the one that comes to mind over them all is unapologetically fearless. She describes being fearless as a way “to be non-hesitant.” 

Of course, in our chat, we embrace the longer format explanation, which resonated with me as it may with you. As suggested by Precious, “Even if the situation is uncomfortable in terms of maybe going for a big promotion or going back to school, there is always a sense, I think, when you're up for something big. There is always a sense of anxiety, and to be fearless means I can still feel that anxiety, but I'm going to do this anyway.” Instantly, I was inspired by her iteration on the common word. Too often, we peg fearlessness as a state of being a non-mundane superhuman. Yet, we already have these things instilled in us and are super ourselves. 

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She continues to thrive for her career, her friends, her family, youth, and her community to change the lives of those around her in any capacity that she can. While already taking on the well-deserving title of a professional actress since the age of eight, she also manages to push forward other moving pieces in her writing and directing life such as her current in-production short film, Power of the Mind. It is a two-part piece revolving around an African American woman in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, with bipolar disorder. This film tackles the too-little discussed problem and controversy of mental health in the African American community as well as normalcy of mental health. In addition to her life in the entertainment industry, her daytime job is making waves as a teaching assistant for the New York City Department of Education. 

After moving into fast-friend conversation during the photo shoot, falling into the interview became natural. I wish we consistently had a record button for the short time I was able to spend with her, as everything she portrayed was articulate and thought-provoking—and not to forget her grace and beauty in the images you can see of her now as a woman of power and humility. Born and raised in New York by a single mom, Precious touches onto the struggles that built her character and reveals the layers of her current success. Her mantra is all about “making the phone ring yourself.”

She continues to delve into her New Year’s Resolution—one I believe we all should jump on as well—which is making everything a teachable moment. She states she wants “to be more of a mentor to children or young people who need a role model. There's a lot of children out there, and a lot of young people, that really don't have the guidance, and we know that. So, then what are we doing to kind of help them shape their reality?”

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She expresses her gratitude for people that mentored her in retrospect and notes how we should be mindful to remember those that did the same for us and think how we can pass that concept forward. She excitedly shouts out as she mentions the Children's Defense Fund and the Children's Aid, which are non-profit programs and agencies that assisted her mom at times that weren’t easy while she grew up. I myself can attest to the importance of good teachers and resources. As a student, I was often pushed to the wayside due to the lack of good educational resources because of  my own set of circumstances. Teachers who we do connect with are individuals whom we need to cherish and hold sincerely in our hearts. They have a profound impact on the forward movement of our lives. 

Teachers are undervalued in both monetary and emotional aspects.They are the people who built a massive piece of our country and continue to do so daily. So perhaps we aren't all meant to strive in a classroom, but I personally believe that classrooms do not have walls. Anyone can teach anytime, anywhere, and at every point in their life. Yet, to my surprise, this isn’t always the case. Thanks to Precious, I learned more in depth that many deserving, genuine, and talented citizens have been denied the right to give forward their gift of knowledge. 

Precious, in turn, shares that her mom is a member of The Progressive Action Caucus which is an organization established here in New York. Basically, they're a group of teachers—Black and Latino teachers—that were seeking to rectify issues within the BOE [Board of Education] against unfair licensing practices. She continues to explain that she watched this process, even at a very young age, which was a defining moment and experience of her character. 

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This issue is more pressed than it appears on the surface, affecting the wages of minority teachers, established and un-established, even to the point of job removal all due to discrimination.  At the age of seven, Precious was so impacted by this process that she even ran up in front of a demonstration crowd and vocally called out to the late Sandra Feldman who was a Civil Rights activist and former President of the American Federation of Teachers. In the loudest voice possible for a child, she asked if she was going to help her mother and friends get their jobs back. In reminiscence, Precious states in a finite point, “Your voice is your power.”

Gracefully, she ties this point around the brand, Lemon Theory, itself. She states, “With Lemon Theory, a lot of people will finally get a chance to understand that although we all come from different backgrounds, we're really the same.” She continues, “I want people to understand no matter what obstacles you have in your life, take the time to acknowledge it [your struggle].” 

We drift into the topic of well-being and mental health easily—showcasing, once again, how mental health and our status of physicality plays into a lot of everyday issues. In laughter, we coat the all too relatable statement, “When you're chasing a dream you are really chasing something that no one else sees but you.” 

In light of this sentence, Precious describes a time when she was indeed burned-out, creatively, in the entertainment industry and in personal triumph. Interestingly, and something to take note on, she strongly suggests that the reason for things not aligning is because it's not our time to do so. We are put in a position for a specific reason, and persevering is our daily task. In immense agreement with my thoughts, she touches on how who we interact and hang out with dictates our everyday life and who we will become. In retrospect to our conversation, I feel as though this is another reflector piece of being fearless—doing something nobody else can visualize. We can find comfort in what we see, but we can hide in it as well. Because of this, I brought up a full-circle comment I hope you take home from this—that  those who struggle with mental health are strong individuals because they’re fighting with something others can’t see. This hit home, as Precious had a family member who did unfortunately hide. Indirectly, Precious has been affected by mental health via her late uncle who, unbeknownst to her and her family, struggled with bipolar disorder. 

Precious recalls, “We're cleaning out this [uncles] house, and we're finding things about my uncle that didn't coincide with the life that he lived.” From the found paperwork, Precious and her family discovered her uncle was being seen as an outpatient at Harlem Hospital, a secondary life they were never exposed too. Ultimately, it was a heartbreaking event that closure is still being sought for amongst the family as they navigate the burning desire to know that they could've helped or caused a sense of ease in his life. It reiterates the importance of mental illness and being vocal for aid by those around you, but it also sheds light on another topic—some cultures are raised oppressed to conceal their mental state, and not just in terms of race, but in terms of gender or sexuality. 

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She touches on the mental health stigma that ties into her cultural background as well. In her history, her mother's side of the family is from Liberia, West Africa, and her father's side from the Caribbean. Both sides (including her African American community) are playing a part in the stigma. She states, “It's okay to not feel okay. You know? But we [African American’s] have this thing where we can either pray it away, or you can work through it, but don't let anybody know that you're going through this.”

While privacy and inner-truth are imperative, asking for help can be a method of finding peace and resources in any community. Precious imperatively adds, “We say, ‘just work through it,’ but are we working through it intelligently?” A burn-out concept all too familiar but not acted upon. I can attest, in my own life as a creative  young adult and student, the burn out happens a lot, and my mental state can be apart of that. “Don’t shy away from therapy,” Precious comments as she implies how counseling, and other resources, is another huge stigma in her African American community. 

We spend the remainder of our conversation depicting the definition of “a creative” and how bringing something invisible into something tangible does not just apply to the life of an artist. Whether you're a lawyer, a teacher, or a doctor, we all have to implement a skill of creativity in our jobs and passions. As Precious notes, “We are all creatives in some different way.”

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In our creativity, as human beings in general, we face a sense of discrimination. It may be for the color of our skin, our gender, sexuality, appearance, etc. Precious and I both have similarly shared occurrences in our fields of being put down or criticized, non-constructively, due to being women. She continues to pass forward a crucial piece of advice to handling these situations. Her suggestion is confrontation in a non-combative way and informing someone to understand that both parties may have different approaches to something. It has to do with following our positions, and we shouldn't back down as women and be taken advantage of, especially if we are in a place to do otherwise, such as being the director of a film set. This doesn't limit the option of going to superiors, being vocal, and making a claim—it’s productive. How we react to these situations defines our character, not the harsh words or opinions of others. Precious says, “I encourage everyone—male, female, African American, Caucasian, Latino, Asian—to stand up for themselves if they're being mistreated.” These actions build us and define who we are. Those who are being ridiculed will rise so much higher and stronger than before.  

To wrap up our overall theme of being fearless, we go back to the core of what fearlessness is for Precious. Her race, as a strong African American woman, is the counterpoint of who she is and the trials she has endured. I ask her opinion on the future of African American women and all women in the United States. She exclaims that both women and African American women have a lot of work to do. She continues that African American women have an even longer road, which is undeniable. “We still have a lot of glass ceilings to shatter before we make it through.”

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It was a bitter-sweet realization, but I remain even more educated and inspired on the matter than I was when I woke up this morning. I hope our modern resources can provide that ease for you as well. I encourage you to ask more questions, do research, and create your own opinions. Regardless of all the deep topics, the hard-to-discuss conversations came with such ease, displaying that we can all practice having these types of discussions in the classrooms and at our dinner tables. Precious brings a sense of personality, color, fire, and freedom to the room in her persona and poise that I hope she continues to bring to every space and heart she touches. 

Lemon Theory “Their Stories” Podcast is set to launch on iTunes in March 2019, be on the lookout!

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You can follow Precious Coleman, an inspiring woman on the rise, and her work on Twitter @IamPColeman and on Instagram @IamPreciousColeman. Check out Lemon Theory on Instagram @LemonTheory.

P. Coleman, personal communication, January 12, 2019.

Written, Interviewed, and Photographed by Sarah McKinnon.

Edited by Brittni Roberts