Thursday, May 29, 2008
BGG Chats with Actor/Author Hill Harper
When I first heard that actor/author Hill Harper was coming out with, "Letters to a Young Sister: Define Your Destiny," an uplifting, encouraging and inspirational book for young African-American women, I knew that I had to interview him for BGG! In case you guys didn't already know, Hill is an excellent actor who has played in dozens of movies and TV shows, most recently, CBS's CSI: New York.
He became a published author in 2006 with the release of his first book, "Letters to a Young Brother: Manifest Your Destiny," which received rave reviews. His new book which has a foreward written by one of our favorite BGs, Gabrielle Union, is the perfect gift for your sister, niece, cousin, mentee, or maybe even for yourself. It would really make a a great gift for that special graduate in your life!
Check out our Q&A:
BGG: Did you ever think that you’d write a book for young women such as, “Letters to a Young Sister?”
Hill Harper: Certainly I thought about the fact that women come to my talks and book signings, but that wasn’t what I was thinking necessarily. I actually was thinking that the next thing was going to be a (book) for everybody – men and women. But it became very clear to me the issues our young women are facing and some of the questions that I got from them, made me think that I should really do this book and I’m very happy that I did.
BGG: How did you go about asking the women like Michelle Obama, Eve, Ciara, Angela Bassett and others to be a part of your book? Were you pretty confident that they would be happy to be a part of your journey?
Hill Harper: Well I wasn’t necessarily super confident, but I have relationships with all of those women and I know them all to a certain degree. I figured they know who I am and what I’m about. Also, the first book helps. So when they see your level of quality and dedication behind it, they’re like, “Oh yeah, I can be a part of this.” I was blown away by the response. To have people like Ruby Dee, Michelle Obama, Gabrielle, Ciara, Alfre Woodard…and to have guys like Tavis (Smiley) and Blair Underwood…it’s just wonderful.
BGG: What did you learn about young women from writing this book?
Hill Harper: Wow, you know what? I learned a lot about differences between men and women. Maybe I had a sense of it before, but I never realized it particularly in young men and young women. It was very interesting and it became very clear to me that young women are much more complex than young men.
What I mean by that is that a lot of the young men that I met (during his first book tour) they were kind of black and white. Meaning, either they were doing well in most areas of their lives or not doing well AT ALL in most areas of their lives. With young women I have found that some of them were doing well in one area of their lives, but really bad in others. Their self-esteem could be good, but they could be doing horribly in school. Or she could be doing great in school, but have real issues with friendships or issues with boys. So there’s a level of complexity that young women have that young men don’t have. With guys you can get them revved up and they’re ready to go, but with women it’s like, “Well…let me think…” That’s why this book is longer, has more contributors and is basically more in-depth.
BGG: I know you speak a lot about the strength of the Black women in your life while you were growing up, do you think that we as a community lack positive role models?
Hill Harper: YES!! We lack them in a big way! That’s the reason why I wrote the book. We need mentors and we need role models. We definitely need people to step up.
BGG: What do you hope young women gain from reading this book?
Hill Harper: First and foremost, the most important thing is to deal with self-esteem and self-worth issues. If you don’t deal with these issues first, all of the secondary ones such as education, financial literacy, teen pregnancy prevention and others will fall on deaf ears. So I want young women to think of themselves as F.I.N.E as I put it in the book as being, “Fantastic,” “Interesting,” “Necessary” and “Exceptional.” If they think of themselves as that and let that resonate into their subconscious, they’ll be able to look in the mirror and say, “Yes, I am fine!” and when they look in there, they’ll believe it. That’s the first step in the reprogramming; then we can talk about all of the other things in the book, from dating, to boys, to depression and other areas.
BGG: What do you think is the main reason why many young ethnic women suffer from low self-esteem?
Hill Harper: It’s mainly because they’re bombarded everyday by this culture of knocking down their self-worth. It’s no wonder that their subconscious gets affected when you turn on the music and all you hear is the “b” word or the “h” word. Or when you see a music video or video game and the only women who are considered “attractive” dress and act a certain way and you say, "that’s not me" and think, “Am I not attractive?”
Then you have guys who come at you a certain way because they’ve been misinformed of what a real positive relationship with a woman is because he ends up viewing young women as only one thing – a sexual conquest. That’s why I wrote this book to help counteract a lot of that. It’s a platonic love on paper from a male. There’s no sexual agenda…you’re beautiful because you’re beautiful, you’re wonderful because you’re wonderful. It’s a hug on paper.
BGG: Do you ever aspire to open a youth center of some sort since you have such a deep and powerful connection with young people?
Hill Harper: Actually, I have a foundation called Manifest Your Destiny. Our mission is online mentoring, but we also use scholarships. I’m also a part of the Big Brother, Big Sister program and I actually do work as a spokesperson for that. We have a wait list of kids who have signed up to be mentored, but we can’t fill because there haven’t been enough people who have signed up to become mentors. There should be a wait list of people who want to be a Big Brother or a Big Sister – not the other way around. It’s a shame. So many of our young people are being raised by single mothers. Where are the men? What are we doing? How are we going to step up? So it’s incumbent upon me that what’s the purpose of having any level of celebrity or having any type of money if you’re not going to use it to do some type of good or to effect some type of change?
BGG: What did you find to be the most challenging topic to speak about to young women in the book?
Hill Harper: Dating and sex and all of those things. I say that because I had a really strong point of view about us (men) and how we treat our women. I think those chapters were some of the most valuable. I just really wanted to get it right. There are other things that I didn’t have as much insight into that are facing young sisters, that’s where the surrogate sisters come in. I had them come in and write about body issues, health…
BGG: I know that in the book you joke about all of the texting, blogging, IMing lingo that young people do, out of curiosity, do you frequently read blogs or find yourself sending abbreviated text messages?
Hill Harper: I don’t do it as much. Sometimes I’ll go on, but if someone sends one to me, I’ll read it. Like when a certain website said that I was dating Gabrielle (Union), someone sent it to me, which was totally FALSE! The good thing about blogs is that it allows others to check each other, which I think is good. But at the same time, if it’s just going to be all about gossip or hating on people, then it’s not good. I actually have a chapter in the book that talks about gossip and it’s real. Some of the stuff out there is completely made up!
BGG: What’s next for you? We know that we can find you on CSI: New York, but are there any new projects you’re working on?
Hill Harper: I’ll be on my book tour. Check out www.manifestyourdestiny.org for dates/cities. Come out and see me! I’m going to be on hiatus from CSI: New York until August. I’ll be going on an HBCU tour in September through the fall talking to students about financial literacy. Then I have a movie coming out with Ciara called, Mama, I Want to Sing, where I play her manager and she’s an aspiring singer. That comes out in October or November. The goal is to have a book for young African-American to come out as a best-seller! You can pre-order your book at Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com.
The book will officially be released on June 3rd. If you're in the NYC area, he will be conducting a book signing on Tuesday, June 3rd at 7:00 PM:
Hue Man Books
2319 Frederick Douglass Blvd
New York, NY 10027