Much like her character Joelle Brooks on the Netflix series Dear White People, Ashley Blaine Featherson knows what it's like to go unnoticed.
The D.C. native didn't spend the best four years of her life on an Ivy League campus like the fictional Winchester University but as a black woman breaking into Hollywood, she has uncovered ties to the best friend everyone needs that far outweigh their distinct college experiences.
"There were parts of playing Joelle that were painful, whether it was the rejection she suffers or feeling like she's constantly overshadowed or not seen in the same light as her friends, or maybe [she] feels used," she reveals. "All of those things are things that I felt too at a point in my life, and some of them I felt while I was shooting, if I'm really honest."
Ashley is fresh out of a meeting by the time we connect for our chat. If she's running low on energy, there's no way to tell, as her vibrant aura fills the gap that looms between us. Once she begins to retrace her steps to success on the hit Netflix series, it feels as though we're in the same room, rather than coasts apart.
Having gravitated to the arts as a toddler, she's forced to take a pause when attempting to pinpoint the exact moment she felt called to act. "For some people, it's like they saw a TV show one day and decided that's what they wanted to do," she says after some thought. "It wasn't like that for me."
What does jump to mind is the time she begged her parents to hire her a local manager at the age of 14. Shortly after they conceded, Ashley nailed her first audition and went on to star in Runaway Home at D.C.'s renowned Studio Theatre. "That was the first time I started making a living from what I loved to do," she reminisces.
"I was the kid who was leaving school early for tech rehearsals."
Ready to shift her training to high gear, she set her eyes on Howard University's fine arts department. "There must be something special about this place," she remembers thinking as she took in the HBCU's long list of distinguished alumni, which touts names like Zora Neale Hurston and Toni Morrison to Phylicia Rashad and Debbie Allen.
"There wasn't a day that went by that somebody or something didn't inspire me," she muses of her time on "The Yard" as a musical theatre major. "Howard is a school of hustlers."
In that vein, she boarded a one-way flight to Los Angeles a mere eight months after graduating in May 2009. With roughly $1,000 saved up from a leasing consultant job she accepted out of college, Ashley was prepared to make the move--or so she thought. "In some ways, I might have been a little unrealistic about what it was going to take," she reflects.
Her first year in California was a turbulent one. Although she had a place to stay, thanks to her godsister's open doors, she admits she was homesick and that making ends meet was a constant struggle. Add a recent break up to the mix, and life on the West Coast wasn't as sunny as she had hoped. Despite securing an agent and a manager within five months, Ashley approximates taking on a total of 22 survival jobs up until 2014. "Honey, I've done it all," she punctuates, listing retail, telemarketing, and restaurant hosting as former sources of income.
"I was never trying to build any resume other than a performance resume so when or if a job no longer worked for me, or felt like it was becoming a deterrent from my actual purpose, I just quit and found another job."
While stress did sweep in, she opted to focus on the bigger picture rather than the pain of the process, which included tons of rejection. "I have never thought maybe, this isn't for me or maybe, I should move back home. Those have never been options for me," she affirms.
"I can never give up on what I'm purposed to do because that's the only reason why I'm here."
Frustrated by the dearth of opportunities afforded to black actresses, Ashley set out to create her own during a time several, including Insecure's Issa Rae, were turning to the web as an avenue to promote their talent. "We're in such a time where there's so many women that look like us on television that we almost forgot what it was just like five years ago," she reminds me. "When I moved to LA, Scandal wasn't even on TV yet. There was no Being Mary Jane. There was no Dear White People or Atlanta."
Taking a lesson from undergrad--"Howard taught me how important community is," she notes earlier--Ashley joined forces with fellow creative Lena Waithe (now the first black woman to win an Emmy for outstanding writing for a comedy series) to birth Black & Sexy TV's Hello Cupid in 2013. "It takes a village," she says of the first season, which was shot within a month. "Had I just sat there and thought I was going to do this all by myself, I don't think we'd be sitting here talking about it."
The web series, which cracked the lid on colorism all while zooming in on friends Whitney (played by Ashley) and Robyn's foray into the online dating world, serves as a pivotal chapter in her career. "You can't wait for other people to give you an opportunity all of the time. You just can't," she stresses. "Hello Cupid gave me a platform that I didn't have prior to that and a fanbase that still rocks with me today."
Ashley Blaine Featherson in "Hello Cupid"
Within her tribe of friends, writer and director Justin Simien would blaze his own trail as well with his first feature film Dear White People. After reading the satirical take on race relations at a predominantly white institution, Ashley entered the running for Coco. Though the role ultimately went to Teyonah Parris, the Hello Cupid star was called back for Curls. Her character had few lines, but she gladly flew out to Minneapolis to take on the part as a firm believer in "What's for me is for me."
What Ashley didn't predict was that a little more than two years after winning the Sundance Film Festival's Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent in January 2014, Dear White People would be set to take on new life as a Netflix series, and she would be a critical player in its success. When Simien landed his deal with the streaming giant, she was, instead, navigating "a weird time" in her career. "I had just booked a pilot for CBS, and I was like, This is it, but it didn't get picked up so I was devastated," she explains.
One offer would change that. "Justin called me one day and was like, 'Are you ready?'" she says of the opportunity to return as a fuller, fleshed-out Joelle "Curls" Brooks, no audition required.
"As an actress, sometimes you feel like you have to jump through so many hoops," she sighs. "It's so much that people don't even know that goes into getting the part months before showing up on set so for Justin to excitedly look at me and tell me, 'This role is yours' was so rewarding. He was basically saying, 'I see you,' and I'll always cherish that."
As the ultimate confidant to protagonist Samantha White and just about everyone else in her circle, Joelle swiftly emerged as a fan favorite on the show, leaving a plethora of viewers anxious for a closer look into her world. "She's kind of the voice of the people," Ashley describes the gravitational pull of her character. "She says what people don't want to say, but she says it in a way that's palatable."
Now that Joelle's episode is lined up for Dear White People's second season, Ashley is most excited for fans to explore her backstory and witness her evolve in a way that's sure to stir conversation, something the series hasn't steered from since its premiere last April. "As an actress, one of the best gifts is to live vicariously through a character who can inspire millions," she says.
Like Joelle, there's more in store for Ashley, who stars in the sex-positive series Leimert Park released at Sundance this year. She's come to know that success in Hollywood isn't necessarily based on merit but with a desire to "ascend and keep growing" as a creative, she's more ready than she's ever been for what lies ahead.
"Your promotion can come at any time..."
"The way this business works, I can get a promotion today as soon as we get off the phone," she states. "There can be years where it doesn't make sense, and the next moment, it could all make sense, and you can understand that all those years of waiting and sowing seeds and sticking to your purpose can pay off in a way that's almost inexplicable."
For more Ashley Blaine Featherson, be sure to follow her on Instagram and catch her in the current season of Dear White People, now streaming on Netflix.
Featured image by Featureflash Photo Agency / Shutterstock.com
Originally published May 4, 2018.
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This article is in partnership with Sensodyne.
Our teeth are connected to so many things - our nutrition, our confidence, and our overall mood. We often take for granted how important healthy teeth are, until issues like tooth sensitivity or gum recession come to remind us. Like most things related to our bodies, prevention is the best medicine. Here are five things you can do immediately to improve your oral hygiene, prevent tooth sensitivity, and avoid dental issues down the road.
1) Go Easy On the Rough Brushing: Brushing your teeth is and always will be priority number one in the oral hygiene department. No surprises there! However, there is such a thing as applying too much pressure when brushing…and that can lead to problems over time. Use a toothbrush with soft bristles and brush in smooth, circular motions. It may seem counterintuitive, but a gentle approach to brushing is the most effective way to clean those pearly whites without wearing away enamel and exposing sensitive areas of the teeth.
2) Use A Desensitizing Toothpaste: As everyone knows, mouth pain can be highly uncomfortable; but tooth sensitivity is a whole different beast. Hot weather favorites like ice cream and popsicles have the ability to trigger tooth sensitivity, which might make you want to stay away from icy foods altogether. But as always, prevention is the best medicine here. Switching to a toothpaste like Sensodyne’s Sensitivity & Gum toothpaste specifically designed for sensitive teeth will help build a protective layer over sensitive areas of the tooth. Over time, those sharp sensations that occur with extremely cold foods will subside, and you’ll be back to treating yourself to your icy faves like this one!
3) Floss, Rinse, Brush. (And In That Order!): Have you ever heard the saying, “It’s not what you do, but how you do it”? Well, the same thing applies to taking care of your teeth. Even if you are flossing and brushing religiously, you could be missing out on some of the benefits simply because you aren’t doing so in the right order. Flossing is best to do before brushing because it removes food particles and plaque from places your toothbrush can’t reach. After a proper flossing sesh, it is important to rinse out your mouth with water after. Finally, you can whip out your toothbrush and get to brushing. Though many of us commonly rinse with water after brushing to remove excess toothpaste, it may not be the best thing for our teeth. That’s because fluoride, the active ingredient in toothpaste that protects your enamel, works best when it gets to sit on the teeth and continue working its magic. Rinsing with water after brushing doesn’t let the toothpaste go to work like it really can. Changing up your order may take some getting used to, but over time, you’ll see the difference.
4) Stay Hydrated: Upping your water supply is a no-fail way to level up your health overall, and your teeth are no exception to this rule. Drinking water not only helps maintain a healthy pH balance in your mouth, but it also washes away residue and acids that can cause enamel erosion. It also helps you steer clear of dry mouth, which is a gateway to bad breath. And who needs that?
5) Show Your Gums Some Love: When it comes to improving your smile, you may be laser-focused on getting your teeth whiter, straighter, and overall healthier. Rightfully so, as these are all attributes of a megawatt smile; but you certainly don’t want to leave gum health out of the equation. If you neglect your gums, you’ll start to notice the effects of plaque buildup, which can irritate the gums and cause gingivitis, the earliest stage of gum disease. Seeing blood while brushing and flossing is a tell-tale sign that your gums are suffering. You may also experience gum recession — a condition where the gum tissue surrounding your teeth pulls back, exposing more of your tooth. Brushing at least twice a day with a gum-protecting toothpaste like Sensodyne Sensitivity and Gum, coupled with regular dentist visits, will keep your gums shining as bright as those pearly whites.
With two Eclipses happening this month, this is one of the powerhouse months of 2023 and one that will be unforgettable for many. The month begins in Libra Season, and with Mercury also entering Libra on October 4th. When Mercury is in Libra, the focus is on keeping the peace, creating harmony, and finding the beauty in life. Relationships, finances, pleasure, and creation are all the focus during Libra Season, and this month overall will be creating a lot of positive change in these areas of life.
What October 2023 Has In Store For Your Zodiac Sign
On October 8th, Venus moves into earth sign Virgo, and love takes on a more serious and grounded tone here. Venus in Virgo has high standards and wants the best of the best. There is a possibility of becoming overly critical in love or relationships with this energy, however overall, Venus in Virgo will be focused on letting go of unhealthy behaviors in love and creating more positive ways of relating, giving, and receiving in relationships. A few days later, Pluto goes direct in Capricorn after going retrograde in Aquarius back in May, and fewer power struggles and obstacles are more likely.
With Pluto direct in Capricorn, it is easier to reach your goals, build success, and see your own self-empowerment in it all.
On October 12th, Mars enters Scorpio, and Mars loves being in this water sign as it’s the ruler of Scorpio. Mars in Scorpio is passionate and direct and heats things up when it comes to your relationships. Mars will be in Scorpio until November 24th, and a spark is definitely being lit. A few days later, we have a New Moon Solar Eclipse in Libra.
This Solar Eclipse is creating a fresh start in love, but may also be bringing things to the forefront that are uncomfortable to see. A Solar Eclipse in Libra is relationship-oriented, and this is where you will be seeing the most impact now.
Before the month ends, Mercury enters Scorpio on October 22nd, Scorpio Season begins on the 23rd, and there is a Full Moon Lunar Eclipse in Taurus on October 28th. The end of October is when a lot of big moves are being made, and transformations are occurring, and it’s about letting go of baggage before moving forward again. The Lunar Eclipse in Taurus is another eclipse that has an impact on relationships, as both Libra and Taurus are ruled by Venus, the planet of love.
Through what is changing and transforming in some of your close relationships, this energy suggests there is greater love on the other side of it. Find gratitude in where you are, and stand in hope and self-belief for where you want to be.
Your October 2023 Monthly Horoscopes
ARIESAriesKyra Jay for xoNecole
Your strength is needed this month, Aries. During October, the Sun is in Libra, meaning the Sun is in your 7th house. The 7th house is the house of love and relationships, but it’s also the house of open enemies and opposition. This month, you will be finding your balance between the opening you are seeing in your life right now and what still needs to be built.
On October 14th, there is a New Moon Solar Eclipse in this area of your chart, the 7th house, and this is an impactful time for you emotionally. The intentions you have been setting in your love life and financially are creating a new scene for you. This is a good month to do more of the things that make you happy, to get creative, and to notice the beauty in your life. Before the month ends, your ruling planet, Mars, moves into your 8th house, and things get deep and even more emotional for you moving into November.
TAURUSTaurusKyra Jay for xoNecole
October is a month of reflection for you, Taurus. There is a lot happening this month and a lot happening for you personally, yet you are taking the time to tend to your inner world and recreate your safe spaces. With Venus in a fellow earth sign and in your 5th house of romance for most of this month, you will be sure to have plenty of love in your life to help you through some of the downtime you are getting in October.
Mars moves into your house of love on October 12th, and this is heating things up for you in your relationships and sex life. Fuel your passions and notice what is lighting you up inside right now. Before the month ends, on October 28th, there is a Full Moon Lunar Eclipse in your sign, and you are going through some major life changes. You are closing one chapter of your life of self-discovery and moving forward with a new view of yourself and the world around you.
GEMINIGeminiKyra Jay for xoNecole
This month is all about letting go, Gemini. You are moving through a time of releasing what has been filling your world with more chaos and confusion than clarity and are paving a new path for yourself. Your ruling planet, Mercury, is in your house of happiness for most of this month, and you are really thinking of the things that your heart wants and expressing yourself through this space of openness as well. Communication channels are exciting for you this month.
On October 14th, the New Moon Eclipse will be highlighting all of the energy of love you have been feeling this month and will be helping you hone in on your creative passions and hobbies as well. This month is surprising you on how well things turn out when you let go of what isn’t working. The second eclipse of the month is on the 28th, and this one for you is about laying the past to rest once and for all and giving yourself time to heal and process.
CANCERCancerKyra Jay for xoNecole
October is an activating month for you, Cancer. There are some eye-opening moments happening, and a lot of things are coming to a head. The energy of the month is about letting things find their place and allowing yourself to be okay in the process. Venus is in your 3rd house of communication for most of this month, and you will be able to communicate more freely how you are feeling and what you need in your relationships right now.
With the Sun in Libra and in your 4th house for most of October, home is really where the heart is right now. Spending time in comfortable environments where you feel the most at ease is nourishing. Before the month ends, there is a Full Moon Lunar Eclipse in your 11th house of community, and things are coming full circle for you. Lean on your support systems and community for an extra hand, and know that you deserve to take up space.
LEOLeoKyra Jay for xoNecole
This is a month of things moving forward for you, Leo. Patience is still needed, as things may not be moving as quickly as expected, however, they are moving nonetheless, and you are leaving the space of stagnation you have been feeling the past couple of months. Openings are coming into your life, and with Venus now in your 2nd house, you are able to capitalize on what you have been investing in and claim your abundance.
The Solar Eclipse happening mid-month will be awakening something within you when it comes to expressing yourself. You are breaking free from fears, limitations, and self-judgments and seeing yourself as someone who deserves to be heard. The Sun is also in this area of your chart until the end of the month, and you have all the support from the universe right now to speak up and speak your truths.
VIRGOVirgoKyra Jay for xoNecole
October is a month of blessings for you, Virgo. This year has been a year of a lot of ups and downs for you, and in the second half of this year, you really get to settle into more stability and positive fruition. You are being guided to use your instincts wisely this month, however, so as to keep blessings rolling. Your ruling planet, Mercury, will be in your 2nd house of income for most of the month, as well as the Sun, and financially, this is a really good month for you.
On October 8th, Venus moves into your sign, and you are receiving and feeling the love right now. Venus will be in your sign until November 8th, and over the next month, this is a good time for your relationships and business, receiving positive feedback, and putting yourself out there. On October 28th, there is a Full Moon Lunar Eclipse happening in your 9th house of adventure, and you could be seeing some travel or education plans coming to fruition now. You are really ready to enjoy how far you have come this month.
LIBRALibraKyra Jay for xoNecole
This month is all about creating your dreams, Libra. This is an exciting month for you and one where you are healing your inner child, gaining a new perspective, and manifesting your life. Libra Season is fully underway, and this is an impactful Libra Season for you, as there is a New Moon Solar Eclipse happening in your sign on the 14th. This Solar Eclipse is your time to shine, to bring your dreams to the forefront, and to let go of the past that doesn’t resonate with you anymore. It’s all about the vision this month; focus on the best one for yourself.
With the Sun and Mercury in your 1st house of self for most of the month and Venus in your 12th house of closures, you are finding your balance between the new and the old. You know there is a lot to release emotionally in your life still, but you are also giving yourself the space and freedom to soak in the good that has already arrived and making you happy right now. On October 23rd, Libra Season ends, and you are ready to focus more on your plans for the future.
SCORPIOScorpioKyra Jay for xoNecole
October is a month of rebirth for you, Scorpio. This is one of the most powerful months for you and one where you are starting fresh in many ways. Mercury is in your house of endings for most of the month, and your mind is focused on your spirituality, finding solutions, and letting go of perspectives and habits that don’t serve you or your health. Through the transformations that are occurring right now, new life is coming to fruition.
Mars and Mercury both enter your sign before Scorpio Season begins on the 23rd, and by the end of October, the energy moves from release to receive. You have more energy at your disposal when Mars is in your sign, and you are moving through a time of passion, action, and making things happen for yourself. This Scorpio Season for you is one where you are creating a new life for yourself and following the dreams you left to the wayside.
SAGITTARIUSSagittariusKyra Jay for xoNecole
Sagittarius, October is all about the heart and about showing up. This month for you is a time of support, friendship, and community, and a time where you are really discovering who your people are. You are awakening to what your inner child needs to heal and are seeking forgiveness this month. This is a time for you to move toward a new path in your life, one that feels more fulfilling for you and your well-being.
Venus is in Virgo and in your 10th house of career this month, and you are seeing some positive changes within your professional world. You are being received especially favorably right now, and this is a good month to ask for a promotion, network, or redefine your career goals. On October 14th, there is a New Moon Solar Eclipse happening in your 11th house, and your hopes and dreams are coming true for you. The clarity you gain this month is life-changing.
CAPRICORNCapricornKyra Jay for xoNecole
This month is all about patience, finding your peace, and exploring the world, Capricorn. You are focusing a lot on your belief systems, your intentions, and what goals you have set for yourself and your life. Venus is in your 9th house of adventure for most of the month, and you are really thinking about the big picture right now. You are doing more things differently this time of the year, thinking outside of the box and allowing your intentions to come to fruition.
On October 10th, Pluto goes direct in your sign. Pluto retrograde entered your sign in June, and you finally get to settle into the transformations that have been occurring since then. You’ve had a lot of moments of self-clarity and change, but now you are ready to live in this space and experience fewer changes to your environment. On October 28th, there is a Full Moon Eclipse happening, and this Lunar Eclipse is a time of love coming full circle for you. Relationships are developing at the end of October, and you are letting go of the past in love.
AQUARIUSAquariusKyra Jay for xoNecole
October is all about allowing life to unfold effortlessly, Aquarius. The path of least resistance is the most rewarding one, and this month, you are tapping into your inner faith. You have truly been trusting the process, and with the Sun in your 9th house for most of the month, the divine guidance is there for you right now. This month is about trusting that things are coming together for you and enjoying your life how you can right now.
On October 14th, there is a New Moon Solar Eclipse happening, and this eclipse is helping you build new foundations in your life. You have goals you want to set, places you want to see, and people you want to meet, and this eclipse is highlighting all of that for you. The second eclipse of the month is happening on the 28th, and this Lunar Eclipse is about letting things settle in, finding your ground, and nourishing your inner world. You are going within a lot this month, and through the new insight you have found, you are ready to make some concrete decisions that have been needed.
PISCESPiscesKyra Jay for xoNecole
October is a time of compassion, nurture, and love, Pisces. You are putting the love into your life and feeling this energy come back to you as well. Venus is in Virgo, your opposite sign, for most of the month, and this is good energy when it comes to your relationships and your love life. Your focus is on the people in your life and where you want things to grow in love, and you are putting in the effort to make your dreams come true for you here.
With the Sun also in your 8th house of commitments for most of the month, another love area of your chart, you can expect this to be a more emotional month for you. You are getting vulnerable, expressing where you stand, and creating a new slate for yourself in love. On October 28th, there is a Full Moon Eclipse happening in your 3rd house of communication, and the messages and insights you have been looking for are coming in.
The end of the month is a busier time for you, and you will be suddenly seeing everything you want to do and plan right now.
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Featured image by Kyra Jay for xoNecole