We all remember Hilary Banks from “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” Goofy, charming, disarmingly naïve—the character was lovable, but lightweight. Years later, the actor who played her, Karyn Parsons, has evolved into a leading intellectual, activist and author. Parsons’ debut novel “How High the Moon,” which was released last week, is historical fiction title set in the Jim Crow South. She is also the founder of Sweet Blackberry, a nonprofit that aims to bring little known stories of African-American achievement to children everywhere.
Carroll: You founded Sweet Blackberry as a way to preserve and lift and amplify the achievements of Black Americans throughout history, and now you’ve written a young adult novel about a light-skinned Black girl coming of age in the Jim Crow south. How do you feel these two projects speak to each other?
Parsons: I think what Sweet Blackberry has to offer is knowing about these stories from the past, and how they serve us moving forward, especially young people. It shows children what they’re capable of—it teaches them so much about themselves and who they are and can be.
Carroll: One of the things that I come up against in social justice work, art, or writing, is the difference or the dance between patience and hope. I think that the idea of people learning from history is a good one, but we’ve done this dance for a long time of saying, “If we just showed people history. Things would change.” What is the relationship for you between putting something out there, hoping that it will change things, and the patience for those changes to happen?
Parsons: I guess I have a lot of faith. For one, I think a lot of history hasn’t been told. That’s why I started Sweet Blackberry. It was not out of studying what was out there being taught, it was about what my experience was. Also, just talking to people, and to educators, and hearing that people didn’t know about this person, this story, these stories. Most people didn’t know that these stories were being buried and lost. If all those stories are unearthed, I can’t help but feel that it changes how you feel as a young person. If you come up in a world where there are more stories available, more images available that are empowering, it makes you feel like, “I’m a strong, capable person. I can do whatever I wanna do.”
Read the entire interview on Shondaland.com.