As we celebrate Black History Month, I’m honored to salute a woman who is truly Sizzling After 60 and has been making history for a LOOOONNG time, Debbie Allen. This new article in Elle Magazine says it all–“Debbie Will Determine”:
Photo by Emily Shur for Elle
Debbie has been a trailblazer for years. Her supreme talent, incredible vision, infectious energy, indomitable tenacity and commitment to excellence and Black culture have kept me as a fan. Like many, I’ve watched her many works on the screen. I first met Debbie in person when she launched the premiere of her movie Amistad at the newly opened and Black-owned ICE Theater in Chicago in 1997. It took her 20 YEARS to get that awesome and Oscar-nominated movie made, and she overcame huge roadblocks to become an executive producer. I’ll never forget the pride I felt hearing her speak about her journey to get it done.
But then–I had the chance to actually work with Debbie when we were both Trustees of Howard University at the same time. And, I’m proud to say that we are both alums.
As soon as Debbie got on the Trustee Board, she started thinking of ways to use artistic creativity to help Howard. At the time, Founder’s Library was in dire need of funds for repairs. So she suggested holding a fundraiser for Founder’s Library, and I happily signed up to be on the committee.
Needless to say…we had a BLAST! Debbie recruited her sister, Phylicia Rashad (another Howard alum), Tariji P. Henson, her daughter Vivian Allen and others to perform. The evening at the newly refurbished Howard Theater was a stellar success. But what endeared me to Debbie was how she worked—the word NO was just not in her vocabulary.
To see her operate, was re-affirming. It re-affirmed the fact that we can be game changers at any age. We just have to decide to continue to be so. The only one stopping us from doing great things at any age is US.
The Founder’s Library Committee had to find donors, secure venues, plan a show, sell tickets, get publicity, engage the school administration, all in an effort to do something new and untried. And it was not only hard work, but it was exhilarating, because we were not only all on-purpose, but working under Debbie’s leadership was powerfully motivating. I can only imagine what it must be like to be on set with her on Grey’s Anatomy!
Shonda Rhimes speaks in the Elle article about how they met at Debbie Allen’s Dance Academy where she took her daughter for lessons. Shonda was impressed that Debbie was actually there–not jut lending her name. And that’s Debbie. When she’s involved, she’s THERE all the way. This “being there” philosophy is a lesson for anyone seeking to move others, to lead others. Shonda saw it, and knew she wanted it from Debbie as a director and now executive producer of Grey’s Anatomy. When your team, your crew, your family, your investors and your community see that you are truly THERE with them, the energy that’s generated can move mountains, and when applied to obstacles, that collective energy can make the naysayers of your dreams fade away, or at minimum, become more open to hearing your point of view.
Importantly, Debbie shares his bit of advice when seeking to live your dreams: When you want something, ASK for it!! In her own words, she says, “Guuurl, if you want something, you need to make sure people know it! Say yes. Say yes loudly. And don’t let anybody misunderstand the longing of your heart.” Make sure, Debbie says, that people KNOW what passions rule your heart. My late mother also shared this philosophy and taught it to me and others. It is so important!
President Obama thanked God for Debbie Allen when he was at a Hollywood fundraiser in 2014. I totally join him in doing so. She is a blessing to us all.
See you soon.