You’ll have everything you want when you realize you are the one that has to get up and go get it.
When I was a kid, I loved story lines that had a beginning, a middle, and an end. That’s one reason I was that kid who did not like Saturday morning cartoons. For some reason I felt they were too vapid, hahaha. No, I didn’t literally think the word vapid, but I did hate the fact that Tom and Jerry never learned anything. I didn’t get why it was supposed to be funny, when it was always the same plot with no twists and no lessons.
It wasn’t until I discovered live-action shows that I really indulged in television. I loved Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. I think in many ways it influenced who I wanted to be in this world. I loved how inclusive his show was. I always felt like Mr. Rogers was talking directly to ME and that made me feel special. I also loved The Big Comfy Couch, Sister Sister, and Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, to name a few other shows that helped shape me. Sabrina was actually a very important show for me as a kid. I say that because I believe it was there that I saw the good persona and the bad persona displayed on television. (You know, like the good angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other .) I loved it so much because we all have voices telling us who to be and what to do. Some are thoughts in our heads (concepts, limitations, ideas that shape our opinions) and some are literal things we’ve heard from people around us and society (hello parents, hello friends, hello Instagram comments!) echoing from our thoughts. But we can’t give them control—or we’ll end up losing ourselves before we have time to find ourselves!
As a kid it was easier to trust my spirit. I believe that deep down we know who we are, and I was very aware that the voices in my head weren’t me! My gut and instincts attempted regularly to show me the way to go. Did I always listen? Mostly! But being human, I’ve fallen into treating the mind as a master as opposed to a servant. Sound familiar? I quickly figured out how to differentiate myself from the irrational thoughts jumbling around in my brain. It was easy to tell, because one voice made me feel chill and eezy breezy and the other voice caused me to feel fear, worry, and anxiety . It’s a battle and a choice which voice you listen to.
On Sabrina they depicted the simplicity of life, which I loved. The message I took away was: You are here living and breathing. You have gifts, some of which you know immediately or find out about later, and you have the choice to use them for good or bad. That influenced my approach to life at a young age. I said to myself, This is how I see life.
WHO DO WE BELONG TO?
I was also very aware that life was a game of choices and experiences. The choices we make determine the experiences we have. We can decide to just drift along and let the voices in our head control us, or we can remain conscious and be a force in directing where we want our lives to go. I learned that my destiny belonged to me and that the present moment belonged to me. I belonged to me, and I had to have my back and I had to have enough awareness to make the right choices for me. That’s the first step. In life, before we can make a good conscious decision about what we’re going to eat for dinner, what activities we’re going to do, what job suits us best, who we want to date, and what we’re going to do—pretty much any choice we’re going to make at all—we have to first determine who we belong to by accepting that we are responsible for ourselves. And we can be guided by whatever it is in our lives that stirs our passion and inspires us to dream.
Later, I learned by reading the spiritual author Eckhart Tolle’s book A New Earth that the personalization of the ego is one of humanity’s biggest dysfunctions. Simply put, taking things personally is what creates our identities as human beings. The human brain believes its reality is based off of its story. And sometimes the story can become so traumatic—which all of our stories are to some degree—that you forget your life experience is not just about what has happened to you. It’s also about how you’ve grown and transcended. Our lifetimes are just a blip in our eternal existence, and it is our responsibility while we’re here to try not to get too attached to any one facet of the story. No matter how aware I was as a child, or any of us are as children, we are not exempt from this experience. Because the gag is that is the experience that is life!
We can acknowledge and accept the thoughts we have, but we shouldn’t leave it up to them to determine who we are or how we act. We should live in the moment and find peace in not knowing what is next. I love this quote from A New Earth: “What a liberation to realize that the ‘voice in my head’ is not who I am.”
FOLLOW YOUR HEART
Martin Luther King said, “If a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.” Living your passion gives your life purpose. The good news is that the things you are meant to do are already inside you, built into who you are. Sometimes we have to simply move through all the bullshit (defense mechanisms) that have clouded us from seeing what it is we want to offer to our world in our lifetime—and what we are here to express! Not just on the surface, but in the soul of our being. There is no right or wrong per se—it’s just about getting as close to your truth as possible. There is no blueprint, other than the one that is already imprinted on our soul. And it ultimately comes down to: What have you gone through that when coming out of the other side gave you a perspective that world needed to see. And I believe the best place to start is following what we are interested in.
I made an unconscious vow as a child to always follow the voice of my heart wherever it led me, and my heart as a baby girl led me to my first real passion—music! I began singing in the church. My mother was a choir director before my father even thought about becoming ordained. Every Wednesday there were choir rehearsals and I’d always beg my mother to let me sing a solo. I was so hurt every time she would tell me no, I felt like she wouldn’t even give me a chance! She’d always tell me that I was too young, and I never could understand what age had to do with singing. #MOMS.
The reality was she probably just thought I was playing, but even though I was a lighthearted child I took myself and my work very seriously, haha #VIRGO. My mother was just thinking I was a kid who was not being serious, so she wanted me to sit down. She thought I was just talking. She didn’t understand I really had a desire to sing and touch people until I showed her how persistent I was. You see, I idolized my mother’s singing and I saw how she affected people with her voice. I wanted to do that too.
I wanted a chance at THAT! I remember the first time I got her to agree to let me sing a solo, and my song of choice was “Jesus Loves Me.” Not too long after that, I was the lead soloist singing in my kindergarten play.
My mom was so scared because we rehearsed all week for my solo, and when I walked to the front of the stage to start—they hadn’t lowered the mic from the class before! My mom thought I was doomed, but I wasn’t afraid, because I had watched her pull a mic out of its stand my whole life, haha. I whipped out that mic and went to town, y’all!
It was truly a special feeling to be able to touch people with my voice, and even more amazing to know that it was specific to me. I claimed my music abilities as a part of my identity.
When my parents first approached me about acting, the connection was music. There was a newspaper article about casting for The Lion King production at the Cadillac Palace Theatre in January 2002. The article said they were looking for little black girls of all ages, fitting this height and this weight, to play Nala. They needed a singer, and my parents thought of me. I went and didn’t make it! That’s how the story goes. But it didn’t take long for me to realize that I liked what I saw in that audition room.
I saw that acting was another way to move people. Through playing out different scenarios and showcasing emotions as an actress, I could affect other people’s perspectives and feelings just as I saw my mother do with her singing. Movies, plays, and television shows offer people a different perspective from the reality they live in, and sometimes they even offer hope. In my first acting roles I came to understand that and I thought, Hmm, COOL!
Though I was always interested in acting, my family and I originally felt singing was my strong suit. Just a few months after my Lion King audition, my mother found out about auditions for a show called American Juniors. It was a new show on FOX that was the children’s version of American Idol. Make a long story short, ya girl got her golden ticket! I was just nine years old. My family and I stayed in California for the duration of the competition, and it was a whole new world out there! They put me in dance classes and singing classes and my mom said watching me handle that process convinced her to really take this seriously, because I sure was!
My mom has always been unafraid to ask questions. I believe that’s also a great lesson that she taught me: “Closed mouths don’t get fed.” She tried to raise me to listen more than I spoke—to listen and never be afraid to ask questions! To always remain humble and willing to learn, which is just what she did!
She got every phone number she could at that competition. She learned anything she could that would help with my future in the industry. And she knew that no matter what happened with this competition, she would come up with ideas and a plan of where we were going next! #MYMOMISSOEPIC.
Anyhow, we got back from the trip to California and I ultimately didn’t get the call to be on the full season of the show. I was sad, but mostly itching to do more. I knew there had to be more opportunities. I just wasn’t sure if my mom knew how to help me.
Lo and behold my mom used any and every resource she had from her college and theater days, her music days, and our time in California during American Juniors to make my dreams happen. She even found me an agent in Chicago! The agent told us there were auditions being held for Barbershop 2, and they needed a little girl to play Queen Latifah’s niece.
I HAD TO AUDITION! Except, they wouldn’t let me!! The word was Queen Latifah (fresh from an Oscar nomination) was only going to be in town for a short while. They didn’t want to waste her time with unseasoned actors, and I had been on only one audition in my short acting “career.” But still, my mom and I weren’t about to take no for an answer.
I wasn’t much of an actor yet, but I was a singer. That was what we felt the key was—to get them to hear me sing!! I learned a huge lesson from my mother that day. She showed me how to be respectfully persistent. I mean, we didn’t run up to the casting director and stalk her outside her house, haha! But we put together a tape of me doing the lines and then me singing “Be a Lion” from The Wiz. We felt in our hearts that if they saw me they would feel me.
Yes, they had told us no, but the point is that we knew something they didn’t know: Not seeing me was a mistake! Haha! So we had to find a way around that mistake. You don’t have to bulldoze, you just have to respectfully disagree when you experience, what I call, an unfair no. Because even if they don’t like it or it isn’t what they’re looking for, people respect well-thought-out effort! And anytime you’re reaching for a goal, I’ve found it helps to create a pattern for yourself of always giving it your all—everything you’ve got. That is a great habit to start with!
My mom and I sent in the tape and heard nothing for months. We didn’t expect to hear back, because again, we’d done something kind of unorthodox. We weren’t even sure when they received the tape, or if they’d actually watch it, ya know?
These were the many thoughts running through our minds, but we sent it off anyway because we felt in our hearts it was worth the shot (it’s gotta always be about what you believe!). We started to lose hope until the casting director called my mom saying they’d still been unable to find the girl! They asked to see me, and they told me that the producers AND ICE CUBE were going to be in the room.
My mom said they were testing me and probably wanted to see if I would get nervous. We wanted to do more than show them I was prepared. We wanted to do something extra to show them that even though I’d never been on a set or met any celebrities, I was fearless!
Fearlessness goes a long way, and it doesn’t mean you feel no fear, it just means you don’t let it drive your decisions or detour you. I was fearless and CAPABLE of doing the job, and I wanted to show them that!
My mother and I quickly hatched a plan. I’d do my lines and then beg them to let me sing! Haha, I know it sounds so silly but I enjoyed this, and singing was my main talent at that time, so I felt more confident knowing I could lean on that in the audition room. Little did I know that this same plan would be my introduction for most of my early career. By the time we moved to California, every room I entered, I would beg the agent, producer, or casting director to let me sing. And when my mother was in the room with me we would really play it up.
Me: I love dancing and acting and singing. I really started out singing with my mom in church! Oh, Mommy, please can I sing for them??
Mom: Oh no Keke, that’s not what these people are here for . . .
Me: Mommy, please!
By that point they had to let me sing!
I know this might sound elaborate, and some people might think my mom and I were pulling a little Heartbreakers con —the 2001 movie with Jennifer Love Hewitt and Sigourney Weaver—but the truth is that this is how we got my story across in less than 10 minutes, how we bonded, and how we showed them that I was more than what they saw on the surface. We had to show where we came from and where we were going, with little to no time! We wanted them to know that it was about the feeling and we couldn’t do that without a performance to find the quickest way to get there. It was about creating the atmosphere to show the feeling I was able to express through my gift. This became our “Thing.”
SHINE YOUR LIGHT AND BE FEARLESS IN YOUR CREATIVE PURSUITS
My mother and I leaned so much on my singing in the beginning, because it was the quickest way to show people my heart and what I was about! Even down to the song choice of “Be a Lion,” it was all about courage—having the courage to shine your light—which I had to have. It was the best song to express that Keke is about hope. She is young, but has found what she is passionate about and can’t help but share it with the world.
We were asking them, in essence, to be a part of my movement! That’s more or less what my mom was trying to display with her game. It’s special to me in retrospect because God was right beside her. He was guiding her and guiding me on my yellow brick road.
Quiet the Noise and Find Your Voice
I Don't Belong to You
Quiet the Noise and Find Your Voice
As a successful music artist, actress, and talk show host, from inner city Chicago, Keke has always used her social media following and platform for real talk about the issues that matter most to her generation, but now she is speaking out candidly and for the first time about the secrets, struggles, and practices that have guided her to succeed. On the surface, it may appear that Keke has it made, but under the success, she has grappled with the same issues all young women wrestle with—identity, pressure, self-worth, love, sexuality, heartbreak, and family.
With this in mind, she created I Don’t Belong To You—an inspirational guide that encourages young people to change their mindset and live with more freedom, confidence, and love as they navigate the rough terrain of the twenty-first century. Full of revealing stories from Keke’s personal and professional life, this book tackles twelve topics—sexuality, race, anxiety, success, bullying, and body image to name a few—with refreshing honesty.
Within each chapter are quotes, texts, song lyrics, and funny memes that have inspired her; and practices that can help you stay on a path of always growing, never grown. With a voice of empathy, tough love, and determination, Keke speaks about the challenges and triumphs she has experienced on her journey to finding her own voice and creating a beautiful life. I Don’t Belong To You is the motivation you need to move past pain and fear to lead a life full of creativity, spirituality, passion, and unlimited success.
- North Star Way |
- 320 pages |
- ISBN 9781501145391 |
- January 2017