Could you imagine God having a Facebook page and sending you a friend request? For some, this sounds intriguing, for others very feasible---considering they already consider God a bestie--and for a few more the premise sounds like a hoax or crazy troll. Well, the idea is set to come alive in the form of a CBS show called God Friended Me, debuting Sept. 30, and the cast includes some breakout black star power you won't want to miss.
One such star is Javicia Leslie, a Hampton University graduate whose career leap of faith that led to a fast-track path to acting credits including CBS's MacGyver and the lead on Lifetime's Killer Coach.
Javicia Leslie in 'Killer Coach' (2016)Lifetime
Now, she'll be playing the role of Ali Finer and joining a cast that includes Hollywood vets Malik Yoba and Joe Morton (hey, Papa Pope). Ali is the sister of the main character, Miles (played by Brandon Michael Hall), an outspoken atheist and preacher's kid who is forever changed when he gets a friend request from God and becomes an unwitting agent of change in the lives of strangers.
"When I got this, I posted on my social media, God Friended Me, and what a title for this point in my life," she shared in an exclusive xoNecole interview. "I really connected to the role of Ali. The character is very much [like me]--she psychoanalyzes everything and she loves to give advice. That's who I am. She's artsy and she's creative. But, more than anything, I really connected with the relationship she has with her brother. I have an older brother--he's two years older than me--and I admire him like crazy. And that's Ali, with her brother."
The show has themes that include acceptance and exploration of diverse religions and issues related to purpose, human connection, and community.
"No matter what you believe in, human connectivity is always the most important thing," she said. "You can sit in front of the TV with your family and every single member of the family can find someone or something to connect with on the show. Miles [the main character] is on a mission and it's one he struggles with… He comes from a father who is a Christian, but it's very much a spiritual show. … You'll see that it's going to help people of different faiths---acceptance for people being exactly who they are---that will be the catalyst for the whole show. It gets deep---Ali has secrets, Arthur [the preacher and Miles's father] has secrets, Miles has secrets. It's going to get interesting."
Leslie's true-life foray into acting is one that reads like its own interesting feel-good TV drama script. After earning a business management degree, Leslie did what many grads do and went the safe route---taking a job that could provide a stable income and benefits---until she felt led to pursue a desire that never died. While in college, she'd acted in plays including Ntozake Shange's For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf, and the acting bug was still biting post-graduation.
"For about two years, I was helping soldiers [and their] families while working in Washington, D.C. It felt good to help, but you know, only dealing with sadness can weigh you down a little bit," the 31-year-old actress recalled. "The entire time I was there, I was thinking I wanted to move to LA. So [one day], I finally packed everything up. I knew [I'd have] to break my lease. I was like, 'Oh, I can't do this. I have this job that's taking care of my bills.' Around that same exact time, our [work] contract ended... and a random person came to my building and said they'd take over my lease. It was a God-send; I had a perfect exit door. So I moved to LA, I met my manager a month after I moved there, at an event where I was helping a friend sell scarves, and I signed with her. We got an agency, and it's just been history since."
Leslie has taken her own trek toward spiritual awakening and self-realization through exploration that has helped to provide a foundation for her life and an authentic connection with God and purpose. She has enjoyed connecting with faith---on her own terms---by being inquisitive and open to expanding her awareness through experience. "My faith is who I am. It's in every part of my life. It's the purpose that I walk in. When I got to 10th grade, I decided I wanted to go to church, and every single Sunday I would go---even if I had to go by myself," she said. "I did that journey as a choice. I think making that choice on my own---as a child, pretty much---is why I feel so strong about it now. From the beginning of my walk with Christ until now---it has all been about transitions and learning."
"My faith is who I am. It's in every part of my life. It's the purpose that I walk in."
Leslie is a big advocate of learning by seeking answers and advancing through lessons of failure. "Mistakes are necessary in order to grow. Anything I've prayed for, whether I've gotten it or not, I know God heard me. It's not about whether you get [what you've prayed for], it's about the communication with Him. The more I communicated, the more I felt my prayers were strengthened. Thank God for [lessons from] the failures and the successes."
She also believes that faith and community intertwine when pursuing an ultimate goal of turning a dream into reality. "I realized...start praying for other people and start praying for your network and family---that way you strengthen your team. Another thing you realize in this industry is that you can't do this by yourself," she added. "God gives us the community for a reason, even if we're not related, like a blood situation. There are people in your life that are there for a reason."
Having, supporting, and being inspired by a tribe of fellow black female actresses, including Tessa Thompson and Nafeesa Williams, has kept Leslie motivated and hungry for success in continuing to change the game.
"We don't feel, a lot of times, that black actresses are getting the opportunities to tell authentic stories. That's going to be the most important part of my career. I want to be able to tell these authentic stories. I want to break those barriers," she added. "That's what I also love about this show. [They've] written a beautiful character in Ali who has something to say---she has depth. I want to find characters who talk about something---those who, when I was a little girl, I looked up to."
"I have a strong faith that God gives us a passion, and when we follow our passion, we find our purpose, so a lot of what my steps were [was] listening to how I felt about things. I had to pay attention to my surroundings, to myself and how I felt about things---the answers are right there."
For more on Javicia, follow her on Instagram. The CBS series God Friended Me premieres September 30.
Featured image by Paul Zimmerman/WireImage
This article is in partnership with Meta Elevate.
If you’ve been on the internet at all within the past decade, chances are the names Hey Fran Hey and Shameless Maya (aka Maya Washington) have come across your screen. These content creators have touched every platform on the web, spreading joy to help women everywhere live their best lives. From Fran’s healing natural remedies to Maya’s words of wisdom, both of these content creators have built a loyal following by sharing honest, useful, and vulnerable content. But in search of a life that lends to more creativity, freedom, and space, these digital mavens have moved from their bustling big cities (New York City and Los Angeles respectively) to more remote locations, taking their popular digital brands with them.
Content Creators Hey Fran Hey and Maya Washington Talk "Embracing The Pivot"www.youtube.com
In partnership with Meta Elevate — an online learning platform that provides Black, Hispanic, and Latinx-owned businesses access to 1:1 mentoring, digital skills training, and community — xoNecole teamed up with Franscheska Medina and Maya Washington on IG live recently for a candid conversation about how they’ve embraced the pivot by changing their surroundings to ultimately bring out the best in themselves and their work. Fran, a New York City native, moved from the Big Apple to Portland, Oregon a year ago. Feeling overstimulated by the hustle and bustle of city life, Fran headed to the Pacific Northwest in search of a more easeful life.
Her cross-country move is the backdrop for her new campaign with Meta Elevate— a perfectly-timed commercial that shows how you can level up from wherever you land with the support of free resources like Meta Elevate. Similarly, Maya packed up her life in Los Angeles and moved to Sweden, where she now resides with her husband and adorable daughter. Maya’s life is much more rural and farm-like than it had been in California, but she is thriving in this peaceful new setting while finding her groove as a new mom.
While Maya is steadily building and growing her digital brand as a self-proclaimed “mom coming out of early retirement,” Fran is redefining her own professional grind. “It’s been a year since I moved from New York City to Portland, Oregon,” says Fran. “I think the season I’m in is figuring out how to stay successful while also slowing down.” A slower-paced life has unlocked so many creative possibilities and opportunities for these ladies, and our conversation with them is a well-needed reminder that your success is not tied to your location…especially with the internet at your fingertips. Tapping into a community like Meta Elevate can help Black, Hispanic, and Latinx entrepreneurs and content creators stay connected to like minds and educated on new digital skills and tools that can help scale their businesses.
During a beautiful moment in the conversation, Fran gives Maya her flowers for being an innovator in the digital space. Back when “influencing” was in its infancy and creators were just trying to find their way, Fran says Maya was way ahead of her time. “I give Maya credit for being one of the pioneers in the digital space,” Fran said. “Maya is a one-person machine, and I always tell her she really changed the game on what ads, campaigns, and videos, in general, should look like.”
When asked what advice she’d give content creators, Maya says the key is having faith even when you don’t see the results just yet. “It’s so easy to look at what is, despite you pouring your heart into this thing that may not be giving you the returns that you thought,” she says. “Still operate from a place of love and authenticity. Have faith and do the work. A lot of people are positive thinkers, but that’s the thinking part. You also have to put your faith into work and do the work.”
Fran ultimately encourages content creators and budding entrepreneurs to take full advantage of Meta Elevate’s vast offerings to educate themselves on how to build and grow their businesses online. “It took me ten years to get to the point where I’m making ads at this level,” she says. “I didn’t have those resources in 2010. I love the partnership with Meta Elevate because they’re providing these resources for free. I just think of the people that wouldn’t be able to afford that education and information otherwise. So to amplify a company like this just feels right.”
Watch the full conversation with the link above, and join the Meta Elevate community to connect with fellow businesses and creatives that are #OnTheRiseTogether.
Featured image courtesy of Shameless Maya and Hey Fran Hey
I came up into my sexuality with what I thought was a perfect understanding of how desire worked. It’s only now that I’m in my 30s that I finally understand how desire actually works—and not just desire in general, but my desire personally. And my understanding of desire came after I disentangled myself from a lot of the myths that are embedded in desire.
Like most people, I grew up thinking that sexual desire was an untamable and mysterious force that lives inside your body, its purpose being to jumpstart and facilitate erotic longing deep in your loins. As I understood and witnessed it, desire was very important; no romantic relationship could survive without it, and if yours lacked it, your relationship needed an intervention. It was stressed that you had to find a partner whose desire matched yours because, try as you might, mismatched desires cannot be reconciled.
Some other desire “facts” that shaped my experience: Desire is spontaneous and involuntary—it happens to us rather than it happening with our control. Everyone is said to both have this internal mechanism of longing somewhere inside of them and experience it in the same way. If you don’t have desire (or don’t have enough of it), there is something wrong with you, as desire is a natural part of being human, a biological imperative to mate and fall in love. Therefore, those who don’t desire in the “right” way are disordered, diseased, and missing an essential part of their humanness.
I held those stories in my mind and my body about desire, many of which came from the pages of Cosmopolitan, bestselling love and relationships books, therapists, films, and well-meaning friends. And upon getting this information, I waited with bated breath for desire to hit me like it seemed to influence others.
I waited for the sparks, the unbridled passion, the fanny flutters. I waited for desire to awaken and possess me, for it to turn me into a nymphomaniac. I waited and waited, and when it still hadn’t arrived to the degree I was promised, when my desire stayed elusive, finicky, and sometimes nonexistent, especially when compared to my others’ desire, I diagnosed myself with having a desire disorder. Shortly after that, I had a mild breakdown.
I was all too quick to pathologize my low sexual desire because that’s what I was taught to do, and that’s what everybody else was doing to me. I spent much of my 20s trying to solve my desire like a mathematical equation, adding what I thought I lacked (confidence, courage, sex positivity) and becoming people that I wasn’t (Beyoncé, Rihanna, Dita von Teese) in order to overcome this hardship, thinking that there was something I was missing, something that I needed to do, or think, or heal within myself that would unlock my desire.
It felt proactive, like I was working hard to correct something that was broken inside of me, not realizing that in my attempts to “fix” myself, I was actually harming myself.
Troubleshooting my desire looked like doing multiple sets of kegels daily because someone mentioned that there might be a correlation between a strong pelvic floor and strong sexual desire; watching porn when I didn’t want to because I thought that maybe if I was exposed to sex more often, I could train my brain/body to want more sex naturally; and following advice on the internet that said that if I didn’t want to have sex, have sex anyway because it was my wifely duty to do so.
The amount of times I decided to override my wants, violate my boundaries, and interrupt a visceral no in my body to try to create a sexual desire that wasn't there, all to contort myself into being a kind of desire that I just didn't have, is evident in the way that when sex is on the table today, sometimes I still have trouble discerning if my "yes" is really a yes or if it's a "yes" I feel I should offer.
This conditioning around desire is carved deep in my body after decades of repeated messaging from a sex-obsessed culture that has told me that there is only one way to desire which is for it to be high, reliable, and never-changing.
In my work as a sexuality doula, I've heard from clients and students (usually women and nonbinary folks) who have received the same pressures to be who they're not sexually, to do whatever it takes to raise their desire levels to be a worthy partner, to coax the sex out of them with medications and violation of self.
They've jumped through similar hoops, harmed their bodies in similar ways, and carried the weight of their sexual relationship on their shoulders because those with low sexual desire are always responsible for the lack of sex. They're tired. They want freedom, intimacy, and loving relationships that aren't at the expense of their authentic sexual selves.
In my work, I act as a guide for them as they explore alternate avenues of sexual liberation that hold the nuances of their desire and create more room for them to be as they are sexually without pathologizing them. How I hold space for them through this is similar to the way I held space for myself as I found peace with my own sexuality and unshamed my low desire, which started with educating myself about how desire works and creating new stories I could embody when it comes to my desire personally.
1. There is not just one way to experience sexual desire.
Despite having been told that it’s pretty straightforward and immutable, what I’ve learned is that sexual desire, like most things under the sun, is on a spectrum for most people. And not only is desire on a spectrum, but it can also (and likely will) fluctuate based on many different factors: a person’s mental health, their age, the relationship they’re in, their physical health, where they’re at in their menstrual cycle, their emotional state, medications they’re taking, etc.
When I realized that desire is not a fixed experience, it allowed me a lot more room to move along that spectrum without judging myself for it. Essentially, it allowed me to include my humanity and nuances within my desire.
2. Learn your desire type.
Following this thread that not everybody desires the same way led me to learn about two common desire types that people can have: spontaneous and responsive.
Spontaneous desire vs. Responsive desire
If you’re someone with spontaneous desire, your desire for sex tends to come out of thin air. If sex is spontaneously on the table and they feel safe and able to enjoy it, people with spontaneous desire can get turned on pretty quickly. This is the type of desire that we usually see depicted in movies and is often upheld as the desire we’re meant to have, and if we don’t have it, we must strive for it.
Some of us do have it. It just depends on the circumstances. For example, a lot of people experience spontaneous desire at the beginning of a relationship. Then, their desire changes, maybe into responsive desire.
With responsive desire, your desire for sex doesn't come out of nowhere. Instead, it arises in response to sex-related things that are already happening. Often, folks with responsive desire experience their desire emerging as or even before they feel physically turned on. In my work as a sexuality doula, most of the people I've worked with have had responsive desire.
Obviously, there are more than two ways to experience desire, and it's also possible that you can be both responsive and spontaneous. What I've found, though, is that having language that can better describe the nuances of desire can help put things into a new perspective, one that can celebrate our desire variances rather than pathologize them.
For me, figuring out that I was responsive helped me stop feeling shame that my desire wasn't "on" all the time.
3. Desire lives between the ears, not the legs.
I lived for years thinking that desire came from my genitals, and when I was in the thick of it, trying to fix my fluctuating desire, I contemplated going on Viagra to help raise my libido. When I think back to those times, I’m struck both by my desperation and how absurd it was for me to think that a pill that’s meant to target the blood flow in genital tissues is equivalent to creating more sexual desire.
It wouldn’t have worked anyway. Desire lives between our ears, not between our legs. This is one of the reasons “female Viagra” hasn’t been effective. In a lot of ways, we can’t choose the way our sexual desire works and presents itself. As I mentioned earlier, desire for a lot of folks isn’t so cut and dry. It varies depending on the circumstances.
That said, it’s important to also name that our ideas of sexual desire have been deeply shaped by a culture and society that has placed and continues to place men’s sexuality on a pedestal as the end all, be all expression of sexual desire, as something we’re all supposed to strive for (which, the expectations we put on men to be hypersexual and ready to go is harmful in itself, but that’s a whole other article).The moment I asked myself, “To whose standards am I measuring my supposed ‘low’ desire against?” and read about the rich history of female hysteria, frigidity, acephobia, and our culture’s obsession with sex, it helped me stop harming myself and accept who I am: someone who desires differently.
. . .
Having a deeper understanding of the myriad of possibilities that desire can be expressed has helped release a lot of the pressure I’ve put on myself and had put on me by previous lovers, doctors, and the culture at large. Rather than trying to control the flow, timing, and pacing of my desire, rather than constantly looking at the ways it doesn’t measure up against the rigid standards set before me and others, I’ve learned to celebrate my desire—even when it’s low, fluctuating, or nonexistent. I’ve learned to accept myself as who I am sexually.
I no longer see my desire as a mathematical equation to solve but as a continually evolving question that I get to live into.
- Refusing Compulsory Sexuality: A Black Asexual Lens on Our Sex-Obsessed Culture, by Sherronda J Brown
- Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex, by Angela Chen
- Episode 56 of the Sensual Self podcast: “I’m Not Broken, I’m Asexual”
- Episode 72 of the Sensual Self podcast: “Refusing Compulsory Sexuality”
- Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life, by Dr. Emily Nagoski
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Featured image by PeopleImages/Getty Images