Gabrielle Union speaks at U of M about her trials, triumphs

Gabrielle Union, right, begins speaking to students and other attendees at the University of Memphis.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A deafening applause welcomed actress and activist Gabrielle Union to the Michael D. Rose Theatre at the University of Memphis on Wednesday.

Union spent her time at the Student Activities Council’s event answering questions from students and a SAC representative in a conversation-style lecture. Questions ranged from topics like her advice for young people, her past trials and triumphs and her current activism.

She started off by telling attendees to do what makes them happy and lifts up their future without fears of judgement or failure, as she was hindered by in her past.

“Some of your day ones have been hating since day one,” Union said. “One of the biggest haters is fear.”

Because admission was free for U of M students, many of the attendees were students, and Union had questions geared towards them. She offed her advise for those students when they left the theater, and she told stories about how she struggled to pay for college.

“College is supposed to be fun, but for those of us who have to pay for college ourselves…less fun,” Union said. “The second you graduate, they come for your money like locusts. It was like Tony Soprano at my door every day.”

She talked about her experience being raped at gunpoint, but then she had a hard time getting people to believe what happened.

“Most survivors will tell you at some point, someone close to them thought they were full of s***,” Union said. “When you see people cheering for R. Kelly at McDonald’s…somebody has to be on our side. Is that you? Can you be counted on?”

With recent news that Empire actor Jussie Smollett was accused of faking a hate crime against himself, Union addressed the worry that some crimes are fabricated.

“Fake crimes are a tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny percentage,” Union said. “Real crimes happen all the time, every day. People are screaming for your help. They’re screaming to be believed.”

She also talked about her activism. She challenged the attendees to fight for other people’s inclusion and not stop fighting for what they think is right.

“You can’t fight for all people if you’re eliminating some,” she said. “There is no time for politeness when people’s lives are on the line.”

She was asked about problems young people face, and Union questioned what diversity really means. She wanted students to fight for a true inclusion of all people when the idea of diversity comes up.

“I wish I could say the problems stop at this door, but they don’t,” she said.

The event ended with a few students asking Union questions, mainly relating to her personal life. That personal life is why many of the attendees said they came.

“I really like a lot of the work that she’s done, and how she only represents herself but also is super open with her struggles that I think a lot of other people can identify with,” Ashley Caldwell said. “I can identify with some of her struggles and I really just admire her openness about them because it really impacts a lot of black women in ways no one really talks about.”

That idea of Union being an inspiration was echoed by other people in attendance.

“I came because of how she represents herself in every movie and production she has been in,” Sydney Kessler said. “And I’m a dark-skinned woman, so what it means to see other dark-skinned women on TV is impactful.”

“I really loved what she said about sexual assault and awareness and really being there for survivors and believing survivors, especially with a lot of things we have going on today,” ToNaya Gulley said. “It’s important that celebrities do real advocacy work, and I believe she does.”

Union is not the only big celebrity coming to the U of M campus this semester. Journalist and activist Jemele Hill will speak in the Norm Brewer First Amendment Lecture series on March 12 at 6 p.m. That event is free and open to the public.

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