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Angela Bassett Takes the Stage, Front and Center for Presidential Candidate, Hillary Clinton
2/18/2016 10:10:45 AM
Last Updated:
2/24/2016 8:18:14 AM

Angela Bassett sat down with Thetyka O. Robinson for an interview with The Charleston Chronicle at Hannibal’s Kitchen February 10
By Thetyka Robinson, political journalist

Even though the community is changing, Hannibal’s Kitchen still holds its space for community, soul food and warm conversation.  As I enter in the door, the smell of something (okay, many things) enter my nose and I automatically think of Sunday dinners when I was little, however I can’t stay there because I am not here to eat.  I’m there to meet Angela Bassett.  A woman who I have grown to love and respect with every acting role she has played and movie or show she has produced.  However on today, I am here to talk to her about one of the most important roles she is serving in for Africans Americans as we embark on our next President of the United States.  Our right to vote.  She is here as an ambassador for Hillary Clinton and I can’t wait to hear why she is using her platform to do so.

Thetyka Robinson:  How have you become involved in politics and how has your journey prepared you to serve in this capacity?

Angela Bassett: My first major involvement was in 1993 when I went with Artist to Free South Africa into Johannesburg, South Africa before the first election.  We went out and met different people in various communities.  I mean into the woods, I mean really deep.  Going out and meeting people and embracing their culture and learning to greet them and come in a certain way to the elder of the communities.  You just couldn’t burst in and say what you wanted to say.  They greet you in a certain way.  They prepare for your coming.  There were so many places we were trying to hit that sometimes we would spend two hours and we’d have to say we can’t stay and eat the fatted cow.  Thank you for the love!  (a warm smile and laugh comes from her memory of the love shown).  People had nothing, but would share everything with you.  And just to see the pride, enthusiasm and the hard fight for their opportunity to vote.  I don’t know if I had taken it for granted up to that point.  It just illuminated the importance of voting in a deeper way.

TR: Have you continued to participate in political campaigns since then?

AB: Well in that particular organization, we participated until it became the new South Africa.  I have always been aware of issues since then, but not as involved as I am now as a surrogate and the Obama Campaign.  I had written a check and supported, but to get on a plane, stand, speak in front of a crowd and show my support in a place for our candidates.  So that was new and it wasn’t something that I had grown up doing.  However, to have this opportunity that I have had, I have to give back.  I just have to.

TR: What makes you align with Hillary Clinton and why do you feel African Americans should support her?

I really detest how candidates try to instill fear in their constituents and tell blatant lies, sound bites and rhetoric.  My first visit to the White House was under the Clinton Administration where I got to interface and interact with them.  I appreciate the history that she has had.  The Clinton’s have had over the past 40 years.  How she began her career right here in South Carolina working for the Children’s Defense Fund.  To know those are her roots, to me, speak to me.  She is not just about Jane come lately.  She began here in the South for children in the juvenile justice system, separating herself in mass incarceration and all its atrocities.  In her journey.  The makeup of these prisons.  She understands and has seen the challenges that they faced.  She knows the rhetoric of the criminal justice system.  She is strong enough and willing enough to stand up to the pharmaceutical and insurance companies.  As the first lady, one of her initiatives was the Children’s Hope Insurance Program that provided health insurance for 8 million children.  She is a huge supporter of Obama Care if you want to call it.  This next election, Republicans are making it known, that they will dismantle that by trying to widen the disparities.  I grew up with a mother who had a host of illnesses.  She had like seven different things that were wrong with her and it required a great deal of medication and monitoring.  You know?  I think about the pressures we are under, body and mind.  THANK GOD WE HAVE A SOUL THAT IS ON FIRE!  (We laugh about the truth within her words).  But, I thank God for Obamacare and Medicare.  For some of us, this is how we survive through these programs like social security.

TR: When you speak about your mom you become very passionate and alive, as if you are reliving that and could see that your experience a child, and what you’ve seen your mom go through.  Does that empower you in your platform for using your voice to encourage others to vote for Hillary?

AB: We grew up in the projects in St. Petersburg, FL with my mom who was forced to retire before she would get her full pension.  When something like that happens, you get half of your pension.  I didn’t know that, but I learned that.  I was grateful that as a single mother, she impressed upon me and my sister(s) the importance of education.  I was able to go on scholarship to one of the best schools in the world and I was able to with my public school education to remain in those schools.  Then get my masters there.  That was her pushing and insisting because education was going to be the only key to me succeeding.  And because I listened and because I did, I was able to supplement that where she wouldn’t have to suffer.  And for many families that is not possible.  We all need an advocate, and I was proud to advocate for my mother.  Flying back and forth to California to Florida talking to doctors to make sure she was situated and cared for, until she made her transition.  But you need an advocate and I look at the candidates who are buying for office and their deeds and their previous experience and the plans that they have.  Not just sound bites, but what they truly want for their communities.

TR: What concerns have you heard from the African American community when considering voting for Hillary? And how have you addressed those?

One young lady came up to me today [at the College of Charleston] and said she was considering voting for Bernie, but because of some of the things that I said… and I said A LOT (laughing)because there is just so much to address.  Now she is having second thoughts and is planning to go back and do her research on Hillary.  I thanked her for that because that is what it is all about because someone should earn your vote.  Someone said, why does Hillary think she is entitled to the Black vote?  I told them I don’t think that is the case at all.  She has always said she wants to earn your vote.  She has been on the grounds here in South Carolina since April.  She was the first one here on either side of the isle, building relationships, energizing, activating and gaining ground.  I think I was saying a lot of things to this young lady that Hillary wants to address.  Common sense laws as it pertains to purchasing guns.  It’s very important.  I mean something that seems so simple, a simple ask, so we can keep guns out the hands of terrorists, the mentally unstable and criminals.  To ask for comprehensive back ground checks.  I think she will stand up to gun lobbyist and won’t back down.  When others may not stand up, she won’t back down.  I was there at the college and speaking on her plan for making college affordable and making debt something that could be crushing for many receiving their degree.  All of these bright ideas to come out of school and have this massive debt that increases every year.  That was something I was concerned about coming out of college because I knew every time I signed that promissory note (huge sigh) I SHOOK a bit!!  I SHOOK!  Oh my gosh!  A thousand dollars might as well have been a million that I had to pay back.  Especially, trying to be an actor (she laughs as if to share a personal joke with herself).

TR:  I believe a lot of people can relate to that.

AB:  Yes, and you do want to invest in your future. Every student should invest in their future.  She has plans to make community/public colleges affordable for everyone.

TR: How do you feel African American women can get more involved in politics considering they may already be holding multiple roles within their family?

AB: I think I am doing it.  Maybe running for public office is not your thing.  It is certainly not mine, but get involved by volunteering.  Volunteering during the season, even if just an hour, so that you do not imagine that it is just another full time job.  Whatever you are able to do, would be appreciated.

TR: Why do you feel this election is so important?

AB:  More than ever this election is important because Republicans are threatening to rip away everything from President Obama’s progress AND that is IF they would even admit that there has been progress!   (laughing out loud)

TR: What projects are you personally working on that are empowering you and your work?  And helps you serve in this platform.  What projects actually speak to you? You’re more than an actress.  You are passionate.  You are a human being.  You have a story.   You didn’t have a silver spoon in your mouth.  You worked hard.  What feeds Angela’s spirit?

AB:  I don’t think I set out to be a voice for the people, but sometimes what I set out to do is to make my hard working mother proud of me.  I wanted to make my hard working grandfather and great grandfather proud of me. I had people in my corner who believed in me.  My director of my Upward Bound Program, George Langhorn, who told my mother I see something in her.  He encouraged me to apply to Yale, University of Miami, Harvard, etc. He touched my life because I did not know. I did not have counselors.  You know? I had a mother who hoped and would put me in certain situations where I could have some kind of exposure like the Upward Bound Program, which was a community program for underserved children. That’s where I met some of my dearest friends.  That’s where I was able to travel outside of the confines of Jordan Park Projects and go to Washington and see the government and hear all this talk.  You know?  (laughing). I got to see the arts and theater.  That really just changed the course of my life.  And now as you have said, I have been able to be successful and because of the people I had in my community.  The people who invested in me and the lessons I learned about not being average, it of course colored the way I see the world and it helped to create the paths that I chose to believe in the history of Black people in our community.  Being proud of the gains that we have won.  Going to South Africa, and having them say that it was Black people in America that gave them hope for freedom.  So, when I get an opportunity and people want to hear me speak, you know, I go.  I’ve met people that say that I speak for them, and I represent them.  That I stand for them as Black people and Black women and humanity well. Sometimes I have to get over my shy self and go where I need to go, you know?  Go where you need to be heard.   Speaking in prisons in New York and going to South Africa.  Coming to South Carolina.  You know?  There are some times when you need to say, I’ll come and I’ll be there.

TR: The role you played in what’s love got to do with it and what Tina Turner went through to find her voice to feel confident and find her own strength to make a difference.

AB: I love how roles like that show us the resilience of the spirit.  That movie did that and with Rosa Parks and the Jackson’s, taught me to stretch myself.  And now for about a year now, it was dropped in my hands to direct the Whitney project.  A lot of good that came from that from the directors guild talking about how low the numbers were and getting a nomination for the best television movie and now more opportunities to direct, which means more opportunities to empower others to tell their stories, and to employ the women and young sisters who can receive mentorship.

TR: How do you and other celebrities talk or communicate about your trail?

AB: I saw Vivica at the State House.  She is full of energy, which is so different from me and my shy self. Come on now! (laughing).  We were just in passing at the State House.  I was hoping we’d get to do some stops together and feed off one another, by dividing and concurring for Hillary.

TR: So, as we enter this season of championing President Obama, and shift our thoughts to who we will vote for as our new President, how do you feel the people should prepare for the transition?

Hillary has worked and supported President Obama.  He reached out to her to bring her into his inauguration.  Who has gone out into the world and championed for human rights.  So we are still on the same platform.  It’s not a brand new entity.  You know?  It’s one with deep experience and rich perspective who has been working in the past eight years.

TR: I appreciate your time and your authenticity.  I believe people will feel very empowered and hopefully see the enriching person you are.  Getting to know you from a different perspective outside of their TV, but to really understand your platform and why you are in this and what this matters to you.  So, thank you so much.  (We exchange a sister embrace that could only be understood by two women who have shared such a beautiful space).

AB:  Thank you, same here. 

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