Picture this: it's a rainy Sunday morning in the winter. You wake up still tired from the night before (wink, wink) but nevertheless, you're in good spirits. You roll over to feel the warmth of your significant other but to your surprise, he's not there. You sit up, rubbing the sleep from your eyes in a slight state of confusion and angst––that is until he comes sauntering in with a tray of food. He's brought you breakfast in bed, specifically your favorite: Blueberry French Toast, eggs made just the way you like, a side of bacon, and a carafe of home-mixed mimosas.
The tray looks like it belongs on the cover of Food Network Magazine. You smile sweetly at him before digging in. Now this could be you IRL sis, but you playing. Put yourself and the lover in your life on game by putting them onto these delectable treats made by black bakers sure to keep your sweet tooth singing.
Chef Jeff Morneau
Courtesy of Chef Jeff Morneau
With a background in French Culinary and vast experience working for various catering companies and restaurants, Chef Jeff quit his job in 2011 in pursuit of more fulfilling work. Thus Chef Jeff Catering was born. And though he admits to initially running away from baking as long as he could, it's something he now truly loves in the most positive way. "It's the passion for me. I never look at the dollar amount and I think that's why I'm in abundance the way I am now. The satisfaction of my customers and the retention of my customers really keep me going." And while this self-taught baker excels at all things cakes, pies, cookies, cupcakes, and event planning, his viral claim to fame are no doubt his flaky, buttery, melt-in-your-mouth Haitian patties.
What Baking Means to Him:
"It's a sense of fulfillment to know that people seek something I created. My job isn't a job, it's a hobby that pays well. My downtime, I find fulfillment in creating new things and trying new techniques. Baking makes me whole. It gives me a sense of tranquility, I get a sense of peace out of it. It allows me to create."
"It would be the Haitian patties. I say that because the biggest thing you're planning is never going to pop the way you want it to pop. It's always going to be the least amount of work in, that's gonna be the thing. They [The Haitian Patties] were never supposed to be a thing. I forgot them at an event and I needed to figure out what to do with them. But they helped put me on the route of becoming a household name. You know, people are waiting on them to be released again. So now, I have a tangible product that's sought after."
"I would like to have Haitian Patties in distribution and create well-branded cookware. I want to have more things inside people's homes that say 'Chef Jeff.'"
For more of Chef Jeff, follow him @ChefJeffDidIt.
Chef Jeff's Blueberry French Toast
Courtesy of Chef Jeff Morneau
Prep Time: 10 mins | Cook Time: 20 mins
- 8 slices brioche
- 1 stick of butter
- 1 cup evaporated milk
- 1/2 cup sweet condensed milk
- Dash of cinnamon
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon orange zest
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon of Brandy
- 2 cups blueberries (or fruits of choice)
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon brandy
Cream Cheese Drizzle:
- 8 ounces cream cheese
- 1/2 cup sweet condensed milk
- 1/2 cup evaporated milk
- Whipped cream
- Fresh mint
- In a bowl, whisk together: milk(s), egg, vanilla, brandy, orange zest, cinnamon and nutmeg.
- Dip bread in egg mixture, flip to coat both sides evenly. (Do not let it get too soggy.)
- Toast bread slices on a buttered nonstick skillet on medium heat until browned on both sides. (Dress with the drip.)
- Blueberry Drip: In small saucepan, add fresh blueberries, dash of Brandy, 1/2 cup of sugar, and bring to a boil; then slowly simmer for 5 minutes.
- Cream Cheese Drizzle: Mix Cream Cheese (softened), sweet condensed milk, evaporated milk. (Transfer into a squeeze bottle.)
- Top with 10 times sugar, a dollop of whipped cream and fresh mint.
Vee the Baker
Courtesy of Vee the Baker
Veronica Fletcher has Thanksgiving of 2014 to be grateful for when it comes to her booming business. After a coworker commissioned her to bake desserts to adorn the family dinner table, it proved to be the spark she needed to launch her then-fledgling version of Vee's Bakeshoppe. By Christmas of that same year arrived, Fletcher received more dessert requests from coworkers for their family gatherings. Following the successful holiday season, Vee's Bakeshoppe hosted a pop up in May of that next year where she sold out of her signature cupcakes in the first 30 minutes--officially cementing her as a small business owner.
For Vee though, it's all about the feeling of satisfaction for people she serves. "The best part is the smile I get when someone enjoys one of my creations. I live for the pause and long, drawn-out "yums" when that first bite melts into their mouths. The happiness of being satisfied or having spirits lifted by a little flour, sugar, butter, and time is well worth my effort."
Length of Time Baking:
"I started baking in college with the hopes of recreating the desserts I grew up enjoying. The hunger for home led to numerous calls to and long recipe walk-throughs with my mom. Growing up, we didn't keep packaged sweets in our pantry because my mom, known to many in the Dallas area as the 'Cookie Lady', baked all the time."
Favorite Dishes to Bake:
"My beloved bakes are 7-Up pound cake, homemade cinnamon rolls, and a beautifully decorated layer cake. The versatility of and endless ways you can enjoy a delicious piece of pound cake has allowed me to create recipes that range from breakfast to dessert. The inviting smell and ooey-gooey goodness of a homemade cinnamon roll with a cup of coffee is the perfect way I like to start the day and end it on some occasions. Creamy, velvety buttercream, and bright colored decorative elements on my layer cakes allow me to be artistic and playful."
What Baking Means to Her:
"Baking is my therapy. As one who works a corporate job full-time, I look forward to getting into the kitchen after a long day and baking my feelings away. Sweet creations are always the best reward before calling it a day (or night). The process of baking and the bakes I'm able to create bring to fruition an idea, or emotion that I want to convey. It is truly my passion. I want each and every recipe that I craft to ring of my personality and love for good food, great moments, and amazing memories."
Let's go sis! For more of Vee, follow her on IG @veethebaker.
Vee’s 7-Up Pound Cake Recipe
Courtesy of Vee the Baker
1 cup of salted butter (2 sticks), room temperature
1/2 cup of vegetable oil
3 cup of granulated sugar
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. lemon extract
3 cup of all-purpose flour
5 eggs, room temperature
3/4 cup of Sprite, room temperature
- We'll be using a single rack in the oven. Remove the top oven rack and place the bottom rack on the third position rack from the bottom. Preheat the oven to 290 degrees.
- Prepare your bundt pan by coating it with non-stick vegetable spray or shortening and flour. I personally prefer shortening and flour. (You cannot substitute vegetable oil for shortening here. The consistency is not the same.)
- Sift flour and set aside.
- Crack eggs in a small bowl, removing the chalaza. Beat eggs with a fork and set aside.
- In a bowl of a stand mixer, add butter, oil, sugar, vanilla, and lemon extract, and turn the mixer to Stir. Mixture should become light and fluffy before moving to the next step.
- Spoon in flour alternately with the Sprite while the mixer is going. You want to add enough Sprite to moisten the dry ingredients. I suggest you add the flour ingredients in thirds. Stir until mixture is smooth.
- Slowly pour in eggs while the mixer is running. Stir until batter is well mixed and smooth. Do not over beat the batter.
- Pour batter into the prepared bundt pan, spreading evenly to ensure the cake bakes out evenly.
- Bake for 90 minutes (timing will depend on how your oven cooks) or until the cake tester/toothpick comes out clean.
- Remove from oven and allow to cool for five (5) minutes before flipping out on the cake stand. Allow cake to finish cooling before serving.
Courtesy of Chef Darius Williams
Idle time might be the devil's playground but for Chef Darius Williams it was exactly what he needed to launch his now 7-figure business. After closing down his Chi-Town bakery two weeks before the pandemic hit, all it took was time, creativity, and a viral Peach Cobbler Pound Cake to position himself where he needed to be in this new season. And after just two weeks of fulfilling customer orders, Williams was able to obtain a space and staff to further serve his base with not just cakes but with a sense of care and compassion as well. "For me looking back over the years, watching my grandmother in the kitchen moving about--all of the values that I learned from her are sort of ingrained in me. And you see that come out in the food I make. So it's more so about expressing the history and the culture and all these little nuances that have inspired me to be who I am today."
Length of Time Baking: Over 20 years.
Favorite Dishes To Bake: "Red Velvet Cake, Vanilla Cake with Vanilla Cream Cheese. Anything I can mix with cognac, rum, or tequila when it comes to food––I enjoy that a lot."
Career Highlight: "Starting the pound cake business and in two months, making a half-million dollars."
For more of Chef Darius, follow him on IG @Dariuscooks.
Chef Darius Williams' Strawberry Moscato Shortcake
Courtesy of Chef Darius Williams
- 2 cups of sugar
- 1 cup of vegetable oil
- 1 1/2 cups of buttermilk
- 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
- 1 pinch of Kosher salt
- 2 1/2 cups of all purpose flour
- 2 cups of chopped strawberries
- 1 tablespoon of sugar
- 1/2 cup of Moscato wine
- For the whipped cream
- 2 cups of heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons of sugar
- 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- In a bowl, combine the sugar, vegetable oil, and buttermilk until the sugar is dissolved. Then, add in the eggs and vanilla extract. Mix well. Then, add the remaining dry ingredients and mix until well combined.
- Pour into prepared ramekins and bake until golden brown. This should take 13-15 minutes.
- Once the cakes have cooled, remove and cut in half. Then, brush each half with Moscato.
- For the whipped cream, add all the ingredients into a mixer and whip until well combined.
- For the strawberries, mix with the sugar and Moscato and set aside.
To assemble, layer the cake with strawberries and whipped cream and enjoy.
Having a restauranteur for a grandmother and a caterer for step-mom, if cooking didn't become a part of your personality, it would be very hard to believe. Luckily for Jarrett Hill, that isn't the case. Having been in the kitchen since he was a little kid, baking has always been an enjoyable part of his life. Whether it was baking desserts as a way to connect with his family as a young one or making monkey bread to cope with the myriad of emotions that come with a global pandemic, for Hill this passion is one he's found to be both a spiritual and saving grace during these times. "A friend of mine references cooking as a prayer and says sometimes cooking can be prayer if we're methodical in the way that we handle different things and really zoned in on it. That's always kind of stuck with me, that you can make anything into a prayer or a meditation. It's not just about sitting with your legs crossed or your hands folded. It can be anything where you really immerse yourself. And I've found that to be true for me."
Favorite dishes to Bake:
Puff pastry desserts, Cheesecakes, Banana Bread
What Baking Means for Him:
"I started to do 'rage baking' back in May and June with the protests happening all around because of anti-Blackness and policing. I was baking so much to the point where I started giving it away to friends. It's been something that helps me calm down in moments where I'm angry or sad or depressed. It's been really helpful. And I think part of it is also about feeling like you have a little bit of control over something. It gives a sense of accomplishment and I think that's important in the time we're living in right now. A lot of people's careers are thrown into question, their futures are thrown into question, and sometimes we just need a win."
"I'm really curious about venturing into the edible space, so I've been intrigued by that. Especially since it's legal where I live in California. It's not a part of my long-term goals to open up a bakery, but I'd be lying if I said I hadn't thought about it. I do enjoy it but I don't want it to start feeling like a job."
To keep up with Jarrett, follow him on IG @jarretthill.
Jarrett Hill’s Banana Bread
Courtesy of Jarrett Hill
"I add in twice the vanilla, scratch the coconuts, and sometimes (if I'm really feeling myself) like to switch out bananas for sweet potatoes. Making my own vanilla extract is one of my favorite secrets to always turning out great baked goods. And it's super simple using scrapped vanilla beans and your favorite pure alcohol – i like to use bourbon or whiskey."
- 2 cups mashed bananas (about 5-6 bananas)
- 2/3 cups canola oil
- 4 eggs
- 2 cups all-purpose flour (and extra to dust pan with)
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 box vanilla instant-pudding mix
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
- 1 (3.5 oz) bar dark chocolate (chopped into chunks)
- Salted butter optional for serving
- Preheat the oven to 325°F.
- In a large bowl, mix the mashed bananas, eggs, and oil and set aside.
- In another bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, salt, sugar, and pudding mix. Mix the dry ingredients into the bowl of wet ingredients, but avoid using a mixer. Do this part manually to keep the end result nice and fluffy.
- Chop up the dark chocolate bar. Add that and the shredded coconut to the batter.
- Grease the pan (this means rubbing lots of butter all over it) and coat the butter in a layer of flour. Flip the pan upside down to shake out the excess flour.
- Bake until the cake bounces back when pressed or if a toothpick comes out clean when poked in. Depending on the pan, your baking time will vary. With a bundt pan, estimate around 60 to 80 minutes, depending on how deep it is. Let it cool for about 10 minutes and flip it onto a clean plate or tray for serving.
- Enjoy it warm with butter or a scoop of ice cream! Keep it either refrigerated or left out in an airtight container.
Desserts by Ine
Courtesy of Ine Ihonkhai
The search for the perfect cheesecake is what led this Parisian baker on a serious quest to satisfy her sweet tooth. Emerged in a world of French pastries, sadly Ihonkhai couldn't find one that truly hit the spot so she decided to bake her own and thus the love affair began. 11 years later, her love for baking and sharing her baked goods continues to be the driving force behind her success. "For me, baking is a passion that can be shared and enjoyed with family and friends. It's often the dessert that gets people talking over dinner and I love that! It's also an outlet to express creativity and to be as imaginative and original as you want, there are no limits in baking and that is what's so amazing about it. Of course you make mistakes along the way, but that's all part of the baking process and definitely what has turned me into the baker I am today."
The Best Part of Baking for Her:
"For me, there are three best parts: 1) being able to use my creativity to come up with new recipes and dessert decorations, 2) my love of baking has revealed a new passion that I didn't know I had before: food photography! I now love taking pictures of my desserts just as much as I love making them, 3) sharing my desserts with family and friends. Eating the dessert has got to be the ultimate best part, right?!"
"As a homebaker, my highlight would probably be when I was contacted by a well-established coffee shop to supply them with my desserts. Unfortunately with the coffee shop based in Washington DC and me over in Paris this was logistically impossible! However it was a real honour to be contacted."
Favorite Dishes to Bake:
"I love making entremets with at least three different layers. The complexity of the different flavours is always so interesting and also beautiful to look at. I also love making cheesecakes, my all-time fave!"
Save us a slice, sis! To keep up with Ine, follow her on Instagram: @dessertsbyine.
Ine’s Hojicha Matcha Madeleines
Courtesy of Ine Ihonkhai
- 115g melted butter (cooled)
- 130g sugar
- 120g plain flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp hojicha matcha powder
- 2 large eggs (room temp)
- 1 tbsp milk
- 200g white chocolate
- 2 tsps hojicha matcha powder
- In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, salt, baking powder and hojicha powder. In another bowl, whisk the eggs and milk together until frothy. Pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture and stir with a spatula until just combined. Pour in half of the cooled melted butter and combine well before adding the rest of butter. Stir gently until just combined. Cover and refrigerate the batter for at least 2 hours.
- Preheat oven to 190C. Grease and dust two 9-shell silicone madeleine moulds. Scoop 1 tbsp of the hardened batter into each mould then bake in oven for 12 mins. Remove madeleines from moulds and allow to cool on a rack.
- Chocolate shell: Melt white chocolate in a bain marie to 29C then mix in hojicha powder. Pour 1 tbsp of the chocolate mixture into each mould shell then press the madeleines into them. Leave to set in the fridge for 1 hour before removing from moulds.
Enjoy with a hojicha latte!
Doctor Jon Paul
Courtesy of Doctor Jon Paul
Armed with the knowledge and impressive skills passed all the way down from their great-grandmother, Dr. Jon Paul took to baking with both a natural ease and passion. (And you better, especially when your entire maternal side inherently knows how to throw down in the kitchen.) But it wasn't until one of their uncles taught them and ONLY them, their great-grandmother's coveted peach cobbler recipe that they took their commitment to the craft and love of community to a whole 'nother level. "To me, baking comes from a place of love. Because not only is it chemistry, it's a lot of time. If someone bakes for you, it's a way of them saying 'I got you.'"
Favorite Dishes to Bake: Pecan Pie, Circus Cookie Cheesecake, Peanut Butter Pie
What Baking Means to Them: "The best feeling in the world is knowing that you made something that people really like or enjoy. It's that feeling when you bake a peach cobbler for someone and you drop it off, and then you go to pick up the container you brought it in and they're like' there's no more of this?' That's the best feeling. So it's a form of joy for me."
Future Plans: "I can't say but I did something during COVID related to baking that will be on TV. And I'm hoping to do more of that, but that's all I can say. But I would love to do something where I'm able to work with other Black and Brown creators, and we're having conversations about food and the connections that we have to it. So I would like to do more in the television or entertainment sphere about baking and what it means to Black people and Black Queer people specifically."
To keep up with Doctor Jon, follow them on IG @doctorjonpaul.
Dr. Jon Paul's Carrot Cake
Courtesy of Dr. Jon Paul
Prep Time: 35 min | Cook Time: 1 hr
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
- 4 fresh whole eggs
- 2 cups pastry flour
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 3 cups raw finely ground carrots
- 4 ounces finely chopped walnuts
- 1 1/2 pounds powdered sugar
- 12 ounces room temperature cream cheese
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 2 ounces room temperature margarine
For the cake:
- Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. In a mixing bowl, mix sugar, vegetable oil, and eggs. In another bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Fold dry ingredients into wet mixture and blend well. Fold in carrots and chopped nuts until well blended.
- Distribute batter evenly into 3 (9-inch) cake layer pans, which have been generously greased. There will be approximately 1 pound 5 ounces of batter per pan. Place in preheated oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes. Cool layers in pans, for approximately 1 hour. Store layers in pans, inverted, in closed cupboard to prevent drying. Layers must be a minimum of 1 day old.
- To remove layers from baking pan, turn upside down, tap edge of pan on a hard surface. Center a 9-inch cake circle on top of revolving cake stand. Remove paper from bottom of layer cake.
For the frosting:
- In a suitable bowl of large mixer, place powdered sugar, cream cheese, vanilla, and margarine. Beat at second speed until thoroughly blended. Hold refrigerated and use as needed.
- For the assembly: Place first layer, bottom side down, at center of cake stand. With a spatula, evenly spread approximately 3 1/2 ounces of frosting on the layer.
- Center second layer on top of first layer with topside down. Again with a spatula, evenly spread approximately 3 1/2 ounces of frosting on the layer. Center third layer on top of second layer with topside down. Using both hands, press firmly but gently, all layers together to get one firm cake. With spatula, spread remainder of frosting to cover top and sides of cake. Refrigerated until needed. Display on counter or cake stand with a plastic cover.
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Featured image courtesy of Chef Jeff Morneau.
Writer. Empath. Escapist. Young, gifted, and Black. Shanelle Genai is a proud Southern girl in a serious relationship with celebrity interviews, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and long walks down Sephora aisles. Keep up with her on IG @shanellegenai.
Amber Riley Is In Her Element
Amber Riley has the type of laugh that sticks with you long after the raspy, rhythmic sounds have ceased. It punctuates her sentences sometimes, whether she’s giving a chuckle to denote the serious nature of something she just said or throwing her head back in rip-roarious laughter after a joke. She laughs as if she understands the fragility of each minute. She chooses laughter often with the understanding that future joy is not guaranteed.
Credit: Ally Green
The sound of her laughter is rivaled only by her singing voice, an emblem of the past and the future resilience of Black women stretched over a few octaves. On Fox’s Glee, her character Mercedes Jones was portrayed, perhaps unfairly, as the vocal duel to Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), offering rough, full-throated belts behind her co-star’s smooth, pristine vocals. Riley’s always been more than the singer who could deliver a finishing note, though.
Portraying Effie White, she displayed the dynamic emotions of a song such as “And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going” in Dreamgirls on London’s West End without buckling under the historic weight of her predecessors. With her instrument, John Mayer’s “Gravity” became a religious experience, a belted hymnal full of growls and churchy riffs. In her voice, Nicole Scherzinger once said she heard “the power of God.”
Credit: Ally Green
Riley’s voice has been a staple throughout pop culture for nearly 15 years now. Her tone has become so distinguishable that most viewers of Fox’s The Masked Singer recognized the multihyphenate even before it was revealed that she was Harp, the competition-winning, gold-masked figure with an actual harp strapped to her back.
Still, it wasn’t until recently that Riley began to feel like she’d found her voice. This sounds unbelievable. But she’s not referring to the one she uses on stage. She’s referencing the voice that speaks to who she is at her core. “Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind,” the 37-year-old says. “It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women. I got so comfortable in [doing so], and I really want other people, especially Black women, to get more comfortable in that space.”
“Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind. It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women."
If you ask Riley’s manager, Myisha Brooks, she’ll tell you the foundation of who the multihyphenate is hasn’t changed much since she was a kid growing up in Compton. “She is who she is from when I met her back when she was singing in the front of the church to back when she landed major roles in film and TV,” Brooks says. Time has allowed Riley to grow more comfortable, giving fans a more intimate glimpse into her life, including her mental health journey and the ins and outs of show business.
The actress/singer has been in therapy since 2019, although she suffered from depression and anxiety way before that. In a recent interview with Jason Lee, she recalls having suicidal ideation as a kid. By the time she started seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants in her thirties, her body had become jittery, a physical reminder of the trauma stacked high inside her. “I was shaking in [my therapist’s] office,” she tells xoNecole. “My fight or flight was on such a high level. I was constantly in survival mode. My heart was beating fast all the time. All I did was sweat.”
There wasn’t just childhood trauma to account for. After auditioning for American Idol and being turned away by producers, Riley began working for Ikea and nearly missed her Glee audition because her car broke down on the highway while en route. Thankfully, Riley had been cast to play Mercedes Jones. American Idol had temporarily convinced her she wasn’t cut out for the entertainment industry, but this was validation that she was right where she belonged. Glee launched in 2009 with the promise of becoming Riley’s big break.
In some ways, it was. The show introduced Riley to millions of fans and catapulted her into major Hollywood circles. But in other ways, it became a reminder of the types of roles Black women, especially those who are plus-sized, are relegated to. Behind the scenes, Riley says she fought for her character "to have a voice" but eventually realized her efforts were useless. "It finally got to a point where I was like, this is not my moment. I'm not who they're choosing, and this is just going to have to be a job for me for now," she says. "And, that's okay because it pays my bills, I still get to be on television, I'm doing more than any other Black plus-sized women that I'm seeing right now on screen."
The actress can recognize now that she was navigating issues associated with trauma and low self-esteem at the time. She now knows that she's long had anxiety and depression and can recognize the ways in which she was triggered by how the cult-like following of the show conflicted with her individual, isolated experiences behind the scenes. But she was in her early '20s back then. She didn't yet have the language or the tools to process how she was feeling.
Riley says she eventually sought out medical intervention. "When you're in Hollywood, and you go to a doctor, they give you pills," she says, sharing a part of her story that she'd never revealed publicly before now. "[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that's not fixing my problem. If anything, it's making it worse."
“[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that’s not fixing my problem. If anything it’s making it worse.”
Credit: Ally Green
At one point, while in her dressing room on set, she rested her arm on a curling iron without realizing it. It wasn't until her makeup artist alerted her that she even realized her skin was burning. Once she noticed, she says she was "so zonked out on pills" that she barely reacted. Speaking today, she holds up her arm and motions towards a scar that remains from the incident. She sought help for her reliance on the pills, but it would still be years before she finally attended therapy.
This stress was only compounded by the trauma of growing up in poverty and the realities of being a "contract worker." "Imagine going from literally one week having to borrow a car to get to set to the next week being on a private jet to New York City," she says. After Glee ended, so did the rides on private planes. The fury of opportunities she expected to follow her appearance on the show failed to materialize. She wasn't even 30 yet, and she was already forced to consider if she'd hit her career peak.
. . .
We’re only four minutes into our Zoom call before Riley delivers her new adage to me. “My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway,” she says.
On this Thursday afternoon in April, the LA-based entertainer is seated inside her closet/dressing room wearing a cerulean blue tank top with matching shorts and eating hot wings. This current phase of healing hinges on balance. It’s about having discipline and consistency, but not at the risk of inflexibility. She was planning to head to the gym, for instance, but she’s still tired from the “exhausting” day before. Instead, she’s spent her day receiving a massage, eating some chicken wings, and planning to spend quality time with friends. “I’m not going to beat myself up for it. I’m not going to talk down to myself. I’m going to eat my chicken wings, and then tomorrow I’m [back] in the gym,” she says.
“My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway."
This is the balance with which she's been approaching much of her life these days. It's why she's worried less about whether or not people see her as someone who is humble. She'd rather be respected. "I think you should be a person that's easy to work with, but in the moments where I have to ruffle feathers and make waves, I'm not shying away from that anymore. You can do it in love, you don't have to be nasty about it, but I had to finally be comfortable with the fact that setting boundaries around my life – in whatever aspect, whether that's personal or business – people are not going to like it. Some people are not going to have nice things to say about you, and you gotta be okay with it," she says.
When Amber talks about the constant humbling of Black women in Hollywood, I think of the entertainers before her who have suffered from this. The brilliant, consistent, overqualified Black women who have spoken of having to fight for opportunities and fair pay. Aretha Franklin. Viola Davis. Tracee Ellis Ross. There's a long list of stars whose success hasn't mirrored their experiences behind the scenes.
Credit: Ally Green
If Black women outside of Hollywood are struggling to decrease the pay gap, so, too, are their wealthier, more famous peers.
Riley says there’s been progress in recent years, but only in small ways and for a limited group of people. “This business is exhausting. The goalpost is constantly moving, and sometimes it’s unfair,” she says. But, I have to say it’s the love that keeps you going.”
“There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman,” she continues. “We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
"There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman. We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
Last year, Riley starred alongside Raven Goodwin in the Lifetime thriller Single Black Female (a modern, diversified take on 1992’s Single White Female). It was more than a leading role for the actress, it also served as proof that someone who looks like her can front a successful project without it hinging on her identity. It showcased that the characters she portrays don’t “have to be about being a big girl. It can just be a regular story.”
Riley sees her work in music as an extension of her efforts to push past the rigid stereotypes in entertainment. Take her appearance on The Masked Singer, for instance. Riley said she decided to perform Mayer’s “Gravity” after being told she couldn’t sing it years earlier. “I wanted to do ‘Gravity’ on Glee. [I] was told no, because that’s not a song that Mercedes would do,” she says. “That was a full circle moment for me, doing that on that show and to hear what it is they had to say.”
As Scherzinger praised the “anointed” performance, a masked Riley began to cry, her chest heaving as she stood on stage, her eyes shielded from view. “You have to understand, I have really big names – casting directors, producers, show creators – that constantly tell me ‘I’m such a big fan. Your talent is unmatched.’ Hire me, then,” she says, reflecting on the moment.
Recently, she’s been in the studio working on original music, the follow-up to her independently-released debut EP, 2020’s Riley. The sequel to songs such as the anthemic “Big Girl Energy” and the reflective ballad “A Moment” on Riley, this new project hones in on the singer’s R&B roots with sensual grooves such as the tentatively titled “All Night.” “You said I wasn’t shit, turns out that I’m the shit. Then you called me a bitch, turns out that I’m that bitch. You said no one would want me, well you should call your homies,” she sings on the tentatively titled “Lately,” a cut about reflecting on a past relationship. From the forthcoming project, xoNecole received five potential tracks. Fans likely already know the strengths and contours of Riley’s vocals, but these new songs are her strongest, most confident offerings as an artist.
“I am so much more comfortable as a writer, and I know who I am as an artist now. I’m evolving as a human being, in general, so I’m way more vulnerable in my music. I’m way more willing to talk about whatever is on my mind. I don’t stop myself from saying what it is I want to say,” she says.
Credit: Ally Green
“Every era and alliteration of Amber, the baseline is ‘Big Girl Energy.’ That’s the name of her company,” her manager Brooks says, referencing the imprint through which Riley releases her music after getting out of a label deal several years ago. “It’s just what she stands for. She’s not just talking about size, it’s in all things. Whether it’s putting your big girl pants on and having to face a boardroom full of executives or sell yourself in front of a casting agent. It’s her trying to achieve the things she wants to do in life.”
Riley says she has big dreams beyond releasing this new music, too. She’d love to star in a rom-com with Winston Duke. She hasn't starred in a biopic yet, but she’d revel in the opportunity to portray Rosetta Tharpe on screen. She’s determined that her previous setbacks won’t stop her from dreaming big.
“I think one of my superpowers is resilience because, at the end of the day, I’m going to kick, scream, cry, cuss, be mad and disappointed, but I’m going to get up and risk having to deal with it all again. It’s worth it for the happy moments,” she says.
If Riley seems more comfortable and confident professionally, it’s because of the work she’s been doing in her personal life.
She’d previously spoken to xoNecole about becoming engaged to a man she discovered in a post on the site, but she called things off last year. For Valentine’s Day, she revealed her new boyfriend publicly. “I decided to post him on Valentine’s Day, partially because I was in the dog house. I got in trouble with him,” she says, half-joking before turning serious. “The breakup was never going to stop me from finding love. Or at least trying. I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness, and you enjoy it and work through it.”
Credit: Ally Green
"I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness and you enjoy it and work through it.”
With her ex, Riley was pretty outspoken about her relationship, even appearing in content for Netflix with him. This time around is different. She’s not hiding her boyfriend of eight months, but she’s more protective of him, especially because he’s a father and isn’t interested in becoming a public figure.
She’s traveling more, too. It’s a deliberate effort on her part to enjoy her money and reject the trauma she’s developed after experiencing poverty in her childhood. “I live in constant fear of being broke. I don’t think you ever don’t remember that trauma or move past that. Now I travel and I’m like, listen, if it goes, it goes. I’m not saying [to] be reckless, but I deserve to enjoy my hard work.”
After everything she’s been through, she certainly deserves to finally let loose a bit. “I have to have a life to live,” she says. “I’ve got to have a life worth fighting for.”
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Queen Latifah On Her Journey To Self-Acceptance: 'I've Been Trying To Maintain My Freedom To Be Me'
Actress and rapper Dana "Queen Latifah" Owens is defying societal standards by refusing to be confined in a box regarding her personal and professional life.
Owens, who has been a part of the entertainment industry for over three decades, is widely recognized for her empowering songs and the variety of acting roles she has obtained throughout her career, among other things. The list includes Living Single, Set It Off, Chicago --with which she earned an Oscar nomination-- Just Wright, Girls Trip, and most recently, The Equalizer series on CBS.
Owens is also very tight-lipped about her personal life. However, in 2021, The Last Holiday actress showed appreciation to Eboni Nichols, who is reportedly her partner, and their son Rebel after receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award.Since then, Owens has revealed why she doesn't want to be defined as anything but herself and how she maintains her sense of freedom. In a resurfaced video from theGrio Awards, Owens opened up about those topics when she accepted the Television Icon Award for her past contributions
In a clip uploaded on theGrio's Instagram account last week, Owens explained that she often had to fight to be herself because "the world" kept trying to put her in a box based on what society thought a woman should be.
"My whole life, I feel like I've been trying to maintain my freedom to be me. And the world is trying to put these things on me to stop me from being who I am," she said.
Further into the speech, Owens explained that although many would have their own opinion about her from what the media spews out, she would continue to be herself by wearing "beautiful gowns and dresses," playing in the dirt, participating in basketball games with men and loving who she loves because that's what makes her happy.
The Beauty Shop star also added that despite her celebrity status, she would continue to show respect for others because that's who she is as a person and how she was raised.
"So I wear these beautiful gowns and dresses because I want to because that's part of me. I play in the dirt. I play basketball with the boys because that's me,” she stated. "I love who I love because that's me. I love all of you who have supported me. I give you your respect. I don't have to be above you because that's me. I know me."
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