Gabrielle Union: Depending on what’s happening that day, sometimes I need a walk to find clarity. There’s challenges that we face that you just can’t quite figure out the right approach or the right answer, or you know d*** well what the answer is, but you got to make peace with it. And, for me, fitness, walking, just moving every day in some kind of meaningful way brings me peace.
Sam Sanchez: It’s Time to Walk, where some of the world’s most interesting and inspiring people share stories, photos, and songs that have influenced their lives.
Gabrielle Union is an actor, author, and activist best known for her roles on TV and in films like “Bring it On” and “Bad Boys II”. On this walk, Gabrielle talks about a time she learned it was better to be herself than to imitate someone else and how asking for help can be a sign of strength.
Gabrielle Union: We are at Malibu Creek State Park, and this is the first place I started hiking when I moved to Los Angeles when I was 20. And I chose this place back in the day because it had the cheapest parking, and if you know anything about Los Angeles, parking is not cheap. So it offered me the most affordable picturesque hike in Los Angeles.
So now we’re going to hike up this hill I have heard so much about but have never dared to attempt. So here we go. We’re going to all enjoy a little something new together.
[SOUND OF WALKING]
On my fertility journey, I tried to leave no stone unturned. And so I immediately went into IVF because that is what I was advised by doctors. They’re like, “Ooh, your age. Let’s just go straight to IVF, and I’m sure it’ll be no problem.”
When I started my fertility journey, I was in my early 40s. I didn’t think that there would be any… any hiccups. I’ve always been able to achieve my way into anything if I just worked hard enough. And it’s probably another reason why this whole journey just brought me to my knees. I couldn’t will it to happen. I couldn’t achieve my way for it to happen. I couldn’t price my way out of infertility. There was nothing I could do.
I don’t even know how many IVF cycles I’ve had, but I’ve had nine miscarriages, and it was just one excruciating heartbreak after another to where it got to the point where I didn’t want to tell anybody. I wanted my grief and my… my pain to be solitary.
And then I finally met Dr. Kelly Baek in Los Angeles. And within seconds of examining me, she was like, “Oh, you have adenomyosis,” which is endometriosis of the muscle. So it’s actually inside the muscle in your uterus, and you need those muscles to help nurture and support a baby.
She said, “With the adenomyosis that you have, what happens is, as the embryo is trying to attach itself and get comfortable so it can grow, the adenomyosis covers it and snuffs it out like a blob.” And when she could see the depths of the adenomyosis that was presenting in my body, she knew that it didn’t just arrive overnight, that it had been a longer-term issue. And so she started asking me questions. And I told her that, in my early 20s, I had started getting periods that were lasting 8, 9, 10 days, like a third of the month, and just incredible pain every month, insane PMS and just passing, like, huge clots.
And she was like, “I want you to know none of that is normal. We have to treat the real issue to get to a better solution for your fertility issue.” So Dr. Baek suggested a surrogate, using a gestational carrier. And I was like, “Absolutely not! No.” And I just took it as a sign of failure, and it felt like, “I am defective. I am unworthy. You know, babies reject me.”
Like, it just shakes you to your core. It felt like a public humiliation, that, like, my body was just wack and just incompetent, and the world was going to know it, and I had to bring in a pinch hitter, you know, to get this baby that, that I wanted. And I just… I couldn’t do it at that point.
And so I was like, “Let’s press on.” And my husband said, “You’ve done enough. You know, as much as we want this baby, I want you more.” Man, kind of gutted me, and I finally limped my way to the surrogate finish line. And finally, I said, you know, “Let’s bring in the pinch hitter. Let’s bring in a surrogate. At the end of the day, I want a healthy baby, and I’m okay to let this part of the journey go.”
But now, you know, a few years removed, we have our daughter, Kaavia James, and she is the most amazing human being on the planet.
Asking for help doesn’t make you weak, and being vulnerable and being open makes you a lot stronger. Now, surrogate help, that’s a big help. That’s a big ask. But I’m so painfully independent that I generally don’t ask for any kind of help. And as I’ve gotten to my big old age, I realize that the journey’s a lot sweeter when you are vulnerable enough to ask for help and you realize that your vulnerability is your superpower.
You have to ask for help when you need it. And it doesn’t make you weak. It doesn’t make you less than. It doesn’t make you defective. It makes you human, and we’re all human just trying to figure it out. So don’t go down in a ball of flames because your ego and your pride won’t allow you to say, “Can you help me?” You’re not handing off your power. You’re actually just getting stronger.
[SOUND OF WALKING]
For many, many years during my relationship with Dwyane… I call him D for these purposes, but Dwyane Wade, NBA superstar from the Miami Heat… For the longest, his schedule dictated everything.
And on a practice day… This is not even a game day. On a practice day, he starts h**** early before the rest of the house. And then he’d come home. And there’d be a nap, and then we all… Everything has to shut down again. And then there’s all the thousands of specialists, you know, that came in to do work on his body. It was a constant rotation, and we all had to work around that.
And I was working on “Being Mary Jane” in Atlanta, and I would have to work all week, minimum 12-hour days, usually somewhere between 14 and 16-hour days. We’d work on Friday. We’d call them Fraturdays because you work Friday into Saturday morning. So I’d get off at 6:00 a.m. and would fly to Miami. And I’d be in Miami until Sunday evening and fly back just to keep the train on the tracks. So the kids could count on my presence, and they could, you know, set their clocks by it, just making sure that there was normalcy and everything was on point in D’s absence. The household was still functioning.
And he promised that when he retired, it would be my turn. And, you know, it feels pretty solid, it’ll be my turn, which I took as I will be afforded the same consideration and quiet that D got during his working time. So a couple years ago when my husband retired, he’s like, “Babe, it’s your turn.”
And I was like, “Yes! Oh, my gosh. This is going to be great. I’m going to be so supported. I’m going to be so understood. I’m going to be so nurtured by my family just like we did for him his whole 16-year career.”
One day, I was in the middle of an insane day, Zoom after Zoom after Zoom. I’m a little parched, right? Because I had to talk a lot, little parched. “Hey, babe, can you get me a glass of water?”
And guess what happened? Not that. I didn’t feel like I was asking for the moon, the stars, and the rainbow. But apparently, that was one glass of water too much, a bridge too far. Mind you, I’ve traveled across the world to come see this fool play basketball. And I just needed a little bit of help.
So, you know, as I walked to the kitchen to get that water for myself, all I could think of is everything that I had done to put his comfort first, to make sure his success was prioritized, to make sure that he had everything he needed to be successful and comfortable and thrive at his job.
But I realized that if you want to be successful in your relationship, in your friendship, in your working relationships, keeping track of wins and losses and who conceded and who got everything they wanted, it’s fool’s gold. That’s your pride talking. If you want a successful, peaceful, compassionate, nurturing relationship that has the space and a place for grace, it’s not about tit for tat. The easiest thing that you can offer someone else and also receive is grace.
I believe that balance is a myth. It is impossible to achieve. It is not realistic. But what we can offer… But we can encourage each other to give and to openly be receptive to is grace, that little bit of care and consideration and communication and just kind of taking your foot even slightly off the pedal.
And somebody is going to catch some Ls, but instead of looking at them as losses, it’s just looking at it as that’s just what happened that day. And tomorrow or the next day, it could be something else.
It’s okay if everything isn’t exactly so. It’s okay if someone’s a couple minutes late. It’s okay if someone just doesn’t have the goods that day. You can offer grace. And those days where you feel underwater, like you are drowning and everyone’s just walking past you with life preservers but no one is throwing you a line, you can give yourself grace.
And when someone offers to throw you that line, I know a lot of us, like myself, I’ll toss that back and be like, “No, I don’t need it.” Go ahead and grab on. That’s grace, and it’s a gift that is free. And it is never-ending, and I encourage everyone to offer it and receive it with care and love and kindness.
[SOUND OF WALKING]
I get this huge audition for “The Matrix” movies, and any time I had a big audition, I was always like, “Make me look like Janet Jackson,” because I felt like who wouldn’t want Janet Jackson, you know? So I would try to transform into Janet.
And so part of that journey to look like Janet was going to Extensions Plus. It’s a store that sells hair and most people called it vault hair because it was kept in a vault, and it was the very best of the best extension hair for your weaves. And who doesn’t want great hair for their weaves?
So I go there, and I’m like, “Look, I’ve got this huge audition. I need the hair that Janet got. I need that vault hair.”
And she was like, “Yeah, everybody’s got auditions, honey. It’s Hollywood.” And I was like, “But it’s for “The Matrix”.” And she was like, “Oh, okay.” So I got the good hair, got made up to look exactly like Janet Jackson, even drew on the mole, had the earrings, everything, right?
I arrive at Warner Bros. I sat down. I was so ready. I was so prepared. And in walks Janet Jackson, who looks at me and is like, “What? What?” because she’s here to audition for “The Matrix”.
And, yeah, neither one of us ended up getting the job on “The Matrix” because we probably canceled each other out because it was just… probably just turned weird.
Years go by, I’m in a club in Miami called Club B.E.D. It was, like, a dark, really cool, kind of small club, and it was just a bunch of beds that lined the club. And the extra special VI-V-V-V-VIP beds were, like, in the middle near the dance floor. Of course, I’m not there because I’m not a V-V-V-VIP. I’m balling on a budget still. So me and Wilmer Valderrama and his boy, Tadao, we’re in the back of the club, you know, popping affordable bottles.
And Tadao comes up, and he’s like, “Janet wants to meet you.” And I was like, “Oh, my god.” But mind you, I’ve been in the club for a while. I’m sweaty. I don’t look the way I want to look to, like, you know, make up for my weird, creepy clone thing that I was doing, you know, at “The Matrix” audition years before.
But they literally drag me through the club to Janet’s bed, and they immediately open their little curtains and let me on the bed. And I see someone whisper to Janet that I was there.
And she turns around, and she pops up, and she hugs me, like the best freaking hug ever. And this is my idol. This is my everything. This is Janet-freaking-Jackson. She is everything to me. And so, of course, naturally, I start crying. Yeah, I cried. I, I was blubbering. There was snot. I gave her, I’m pretty sure, my whole life story, and she said, “I’m so proud of you.”
Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me? That’s all you want from your heroes, to, like, acknowledge you and see you and know you exist. You know I exist enough to be, like, proud of me? What?
So, years go by, and she’s now a good friend. She’s the friend that, like, sends the Daylight Savings reminders and funny memes. And, you know, we’re both seasoned moms. So we share, like, mom tips and stories and pictures and whatnot. And one day, I was like, “I’m sure you don’t even remember, but do you remember when, like, I was dressed up as you, like, including the mole?”
And she was like, “Yeah, yeah.” But she offered me grace, and I received it.
I realized so much of why I was shape-shifting and trying to be somebody else, somebody more acceptable, somebody more universally thought of as beautiful or more intelligent was because I felt worthless. I felt invisible. But I never felt that being completely me was ever going to get me to where I wanted to go, you know? I couldn’t be successful as me. I got to look like Janet. I got to be something other than me because there’s no way that me being fully transparent, fully authentic could ever be enough. It’s just… It’s impossible. It’s impossible until I tried it.
So, right now, we’re hiking up this trail that’s surrounded by… It’s almost like a maize-colored grass, and the grass is long. It has those little prickly things that get stuck in your socks if you were to traipse through it. But if you stay on the path and you’re just looking, it just looks like golden… golden grass. I feel a little bit like Dorothy walking along the yellow brick road. But it’s all… it’s all natural. It’s all God’s gift.
You’ll see some little animals pop their little heads out every so often. Most are pretty chill, but on sunny days like today, we have our friends the rattlesnakes, which hopefully we’ll be able to hear before we see them. But, you know, we are in their… in their space, in their territory. So you got to be respectful and, you know, follow all the commonsense rules and not disturb their groove, either.
There’s something about being out in nature, you know, sometimes at its mercy, sometimes, you know, reaping the benefits of all its glory that makes you feel incredibly vulnerable. And that’s why I continue to hike. That’s why I continue to come back here.
[SOUND OF WALKING]
Music sets the soundtrack of my life whether that’s me getting dressed, I got to have the music to set the stage; whether it’s I want to cry or get hyped in the gym. Music is everything to me. It’s gotten me through. It has been my life preserver.
“Casanova” by LeVert was one of the first songs I heard when I walked into my first boy/girl dance party in Omaha, Nebraska, where there were Black boys there that actually might like me. And “Casanova” was playing. And forever, it’s just that moment of, like, when you’re first becoming who you are. And it just, for me, it was unlocking the key to Black boys that liked me back.
[MUSIC - “CASANOVA” BY LEVERT]
“Say a Little Prayer for You” by Dionne Warwick is from one of my all-time favorite movies, “My Best Friend’s Wedding”, though it has been used in countless works since and before. But there was something about this interview that Julia Roberts gave about why she chose Cameron Diaz, and wasn’t she intimidated to have this younger, fresh face in her movie? Like, why would she ever share the screen with this young upstart who wants to be her, basically?
And she said, “I needed to cast the best person for the job, and the best person for the job is someone that looks like Cameron Diaz, who acts like Cameron Diaz, who could’ve been no one other than Cameron Diaz. And she doesn’t make me insecure. She makes me feel seen.” And it said a little something about competition, collaboration versus competition and why you shouldn’t pit women against each other.
[MUSIC - “SAY A LITTLE PRAYER FOR YOU” BY DIONNE WARWICK]
My parents were married almost 30 years and “The Closer I Get to You” by Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack is one of my all-time favorites because my mom did a dance performance of this when I was very young. And she had a love of dance that she had to give up when she married my dad.
[MUSIC FADES IN]
And she was taking night classes to get her college degree. And she finally got to take this dance class, and this was her performance. And we were standing in the back with my dad, and my dad yelled out, “That’s my woman you got up there!” And the whole crowd went crazy.
[MUSIC - “THE CLOSER I GET TO YOU” BY DONNY HATHAWAY AND ROBERTA FLACK]
Now that we have had this walk, I feel clear. I feel at peace. And I have the ability to share stories that had an impact on my life, that I feel that I’m in community with you. So if any of these stories provide a lifeline or a sense of understanding or a little bit of clarity or a little bit of humor, I’m glad we did this. And thank you for taking the time to walk with me today.