I carried Sidney Poitier in my mind for many years. When I was 10, I vividly remember sitting in Milwaukee on the linoleum floor watching that magical moment when he won the Oscar for field lily. I have often told how that moment was a turning point in every way.
I was so inspired by him that I followed his career and watched everything he did as an actor. And then I finally met the man I revered so much when I turned 42.n/a birthday celebration hosted by Quincy Jones. I walked down the stairs, and there he was. He smiled and said, “Oh dear, I’ve been wanting to meet you.” It meant everything.
Years later he came The Oprah Winfrey Show, and I’ll tell you, it was the most nervous I’ve ever been. I didn’t like anything about me that day. I just didn’t feel comfortable, because I wanted to appear the way I wanted him to see me.
We finished the interview and I walked into the control room and sobbed, like the kind of shoulder cry that requires a towel. I thought I hadn’t been smart enough to be the kind of person he would want to know. Then the next day I got a call from Sidney, and he was like, “Honey, I wanted to talk to you because I wasn’t quite myself. I feel like I was absent and therefore contributed to your absence. He continued, “Well, let’s start over, let’s have a real conversation as real friends.” He gave me his number, and that’s how our friendship started.
I chose Sunday for our regular calls. It was like that lazy day you have for yourself. Our discussions were about everything. We talked about what it meant to walk out into the world and have all eyes on you while still being grounded in something bigger than those eyes. There wasn’t a conversation, a moment, or an experience that I shared with him where I didn’t come out expanded. I am so grateful for these calls. Here are some of the invaluable lessons from Sidney that are dear to me:
#1 Stay true to yourself and only yourself.
That night I met Sidney, we found ourselves sitting in the corner talking, talking, talking. I shared with him how hard it was for me to be attacked by black people who thought I wasn’t black enough; didn’t do enough for black people; didn’t do black shows. He said, “It’s always a challenge to make other people’s dreams come true. And that’s what you wear, our dreams. He knew that from experience. He explained that the most important thing you can do is hold on to the dreams you have for yourself, knowing full well who you are, your limits, what you are willing to live and die for. If you can stay with yourself, you will always know what is the best decision for you.
#2 Make others feel seen
Sidney embraced each person as if they were the most important person he had ever met. He was engaging everyone, from the valet to the waiter to the flight attendant, about their background, their family and their aspirations – and he was genuinely interested. When you’re a giant among giants, that’s when you have to be the nicest. It is your responsibility. I felt him in his presence, and I watched him do it. It makes me cry just thinking about it. It goes beyond being a movie star. That’s what it’s like to be a real star on the planet, to shine your light on others to feel the luminosity; so that they feel your light shining on them.
#3 Fill your loved ones
Many Sundays I didn’t go to church, but I went to church with Sidney. I would leave the conversation full. We talked about things that really mattered to us. Now I do the same for my other friends and girl-girls. I try not to spend time talking about trivial things, but to leave everyone with something that will lighten their load or lift it. That’s always the goal.
In 2012 there was a Master class ongoing interview with Sidney for OWN. I just went to support him since someone else was doing the interview. Unusually, I asked to step in and take over. I was so connected to Sidney and knew what to ask because I knew all the stories. The interview lasted eight hours over two days. And believe me, I could have talked to him longer than that.
The pictures for sydney comes from this interview. When director Reginald Hudlin came to me and said, “The family would like you to come as a producer. Would you be interested?” I said, “Yes, and I have the footage!” I said yes because it was about Sidney. I said yes because I wanted to protect his story. J said yes because I wanted the world to experience all it was – the personification of integrity, courage, dignity and possibility I said yes because Sidney Poitier was larger than life and, above all, he was my friend.
The documentary sydney releases Friday, September 23 AppleTV and in theatres.
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