WASHINGTON WATCH: Using Black Hollywood’s Power For Good (VIDEO)

Everyday people rarely have a chance to talk about what matters to them on a national platform the way that stars do. So, when you get the eyes and ears of countless fans, how do you use that power for good?

Roland Martin talks with Elise Neal, one of the stars of the new TV One sitcom, “Belles,” hailing from Memphis. Boris Kodjoe, star of “The Real Husbands of Hollywood” on BET. And Tatyana Ali, star of the “Second Generation Wayans,” also on BET.

MR. MARTIN:  Hey, folks.  Welcome back, folks.

Everyday people rarely have a chance to talk about what matters to them on a national platform the way that stars do.  So, when you get the eyes and ears of countless fans, how do you use that power for good?

We’re talking about that today with Elise Neal, one of the stars of the new TV One sitcom, “Belles,” hailing from Memphis.

Don’t act all Memphis up in here – okay?

MS. ELISE NEAL:  I’ll try not to.

MR. MARTIN:  Boris Kodjoe, star of “The Real Husbands of Hollywood” on BET.

Hey, BET.  I’m not afraid to say y’all[’s] name on TV One.  It’s all good.


MR. MARTIN:  And Tatyana Ali, star of the “Second Generation Wayans,” also on BET.  Again, you know how some folks get there [and] say, “Oh, my God.”

MS. NEAL:  Family.  “Don’t say that!”

MR. MARTIN:  You know, black network.  “Can’t say it.”

Look.  We’re both black networks.  Calm down.  Plus, they my folks.  That’s how we do it.

All right.  Let’s talk about this, because it’s very interesting.  I get personally offended when I look at mainstream cable networks and other news networks.  And whenever Brad Pitt, or Angelina Jolie, or George Clooney do[es] something, the cameras flock there.  And I’m always saying, “You know there are black folks who[’ve] been doing stuff when it comes to children, the homeless, Haiti, Africa for years and simply don’t get the same level of [at]tention.”

Have you also seen that?  Does it also bother you not having that ability to say, “Wait a minute.  We’re kinda doin’ some stuff, too, for our people that should deserve some attention”?

MR. BORIS KODJOE:  Yeah, obviously.  I think it’s the nature of media.  There’re so many people in our communities that do so many beautiful things without anybody ever talking about it – teachers.  You know, a lot of churches do great things.  And then, obviously, you’re talking about the platform that people like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have, that requires them to also display some kind of responsibility in terms of what they need to give back.

MR. MARTIN:  And I’m not –

OFF CAMERA:  I don’t think –

MR. MARTIN:  — hatin’ on what they do.  I just have a problem when it is as if they’re the only folks, because if you look at what Don Cheadle does when it comes –


MR. MARTIN:  — Rwanda, what Jeffrey Wright – we had him on the show a couple of weeks ago – what he’s doing in Sierra Leone, I always say, “I’m sorry.  Those stories are also important and should be told.”

MS. TATYANA ALI:  They are, and I think the remedy for that is Twitter.  It’s Instagram.  It’s all of the social media.

MR. MARTIN:  It’s “Washington Watch.”

MS. ALI:  It’s “Washington Watch.”  It’s –


MR. MARTIN:  [Laughs.]

MS. ALI:  — all of the social media where, you know, celebrities of color can actually talk to their fans one on one and let them know what’s happening and what’s going on.  And if you’re talking about social change and really making social change, then it’s not necessarily about national media.  It’s really about the people who actually care and who’re actually going to do something about it when you do tweet.  You know, they’ll actually donate.

It would help.  I mean national media would help, but still –

MR. MARTIN:  Oh, it always helps.

MS. ALI:  — but the –


MS. ALI:  — work that’s being done is not for the media’s sake –

MS. NEAL:  and it still is being done, and it’s still being effective.

MR. MARTIN:  Do you think about the folks who came before – the Paul Robesons of the world, the Harry Belafontes of the world – in terms of their impact?  Because Harry Belafonte – we talked to him also, and he said, “I actually was an activist who became a[n] entertainer” –

MS. NEAL:  Right.

MR. MARTIN:  — “versus a[n] entertainer who became an activist.”

MS. NEAL:  Well, you know, you and I have had this discussion about the fact that African-Americans don’t get the hoopla that the Angelinas and the Brad Pitts of the world [get].  And, actually, because of you and because of this show, everything that I’ve been able to do with St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital for the last two years was because of me being vocal about the fact that, being from Memphis, I wanted to be a part of it.  We’ve discussed this.  And, you know –

MR. MARTIN:  Elise was on the show, and she said, “Man, I wanna do some stuff.  Don’t nobody call a sistah.”

Then, all of a sudden – they watchin’ –

MS. NEAL:  I got –

MR. MARTIN:  — “Lemme call her!”

MS. NEAL:  — I got a personal letter from –

MR. MARTIN:  [Chuckles.]

MS. NEAL:  — St. Jude’s, and that’s why now I’m a St. Jude’s ambassador.

MR. KODJOE:  Oh, wow.

MS. ALI:  Amazing.

MS. NEAL:  Yeah.  So, you know, your show does a lot of good, and I appreciate that, and I applaud you for that.

But – I hate to say it – you want the bigger platform.  We all –

MR. MARTIN:  Of course.

MS. NEAL:  — want the bigger – that becomes more money for the charity, more money for your cause when everyone gets on board – not just the social media, not just the Twitter, not just the Facebook.  If they acknowledge the great work that –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MS. NEAL:  — we, as African-Americans do for the full community and for whatever charities and things that we support, that would definitely help our cause and their cause as well.

MR. MARTIN:  Now, you’re St. Jude’s.

For Boris, what’s your one thing – the thing that you really care about?

MR. KODJOE:  Well, our mission – Nicole – Nicole and my mission is the Sophie’s Voice Foundation.  We founded that four years ago in honor of Sophie, our daughter.

MR. MARTIN:  You say “we.”

MR. KODJOE:  We – Nicole and I.

MR. MARTIN:  Okay.

MR. KODJOE:  Yes, in honor of –

MR. MARTIN:  Folks at home, Nicole Ari Parker, his wife.

I mean I’m just sayin’, Boris, don’t want you to be on the couch.  Give your wife a shout-out.


MR. KODJOE:  [Laughs.]

MR. MARTIN:  I’m trying.  I was trying –

MR. KODJOE:  I opened my statement with my wife’s name.  I said Nicole and I founded Sophie’s Voice –

MR. MARTIN:  Okay.

MR. KODJOE:  — four years ago –

MS. NEAL:  No, you –

MR. MARTIN:  [Chuckles.]

MS. NEAL:  — gotta say more than that.

MR. MARTIN:  [Laughs.]

MS. NEAL:  You’ve got to say –

MR. KODJOE:  — in – in honor –

MS. NEAL:  “That’s my wife.

MR. KODJOE:  — Nicole, my beautiful, talented wife.

MS. NEAL:  There he goes.

MR. MARTIN:  Boom!  There ya go!


MR. KODJOE:  Nicole Ari Parker, my famous, beautiful, sexy, talented wife –

MS. NEAL:  Boom!

MR. MARTIN:  There ya go.  No – [crosstalk].

MR. KODJOE:  — and I founded Sophie’s Voice Foundation four years ago in honor of Sophie, our daughter, who was born with spina bifida, which is a neural tube defect that affects about eight babies a year.  And it’s actually in the top 10 list of most preventable birth defects, and it’s a winnable battle, which means that within ten years, with the right help, with the right policies around it, we could eradicate all preventable spina bifida.

So, what we’re doing is we’re raising funds, and we’re raising awareness, because a lot of women are not aware that you can protect yourself from spina bifida by taking folic acid, which is a vitamin B, which is sold over the counter in any CVS anywhere – [crosstalk].

MR. MARTIN:  And we know, for African-Americans, unfortunately –

MR. KODJOE:  The numbers are –

MR. MARTIN:  — part of the issue –

MR. KODJOE:  — really high.

MR. MARTIN:  — part of the issue is also that prenatal care.

MR. KODJOE:  Absolutely.

MR. MARTIN:  That’s a huge, huge issue.

MR. KODJOE:  Absolutely.

MR. MARTIN:  Tatyana.

MS. ALI:  Well, my causes are education.  Education has had a huge impact on my life, on my family’s life, and I think it’s a great equalizer.  So, I work with the United Negro College Fund Millennium Momentum Foundation.  I get calls to speak to students all over the place all the time, and I do that because I love it; and I want to support them and help make school, even higher education, more affordable.

But … what you talked about with Paul Robeson and activism – him being an activist before he was an artist – I think a lot of times, especially in politics, or any kind of social issues when celebrities speak out about it, there’s sometimes a backlash.  Like, should celebrities be giving their point of view and should – whatever.

And I think what people don’t understand is most of the time, why we become actors, or why we become singers and artists is because we care.

MR. MARTIN:  And also, you don’t –

MS. ALI:  We are activists in our work.  That’s what we do.

MR. MARTIN:  — but you also don’t give up your voice just because you’re on television or the big screen, or you sing.

MS. ALI:  Exactly – [crosstalk].

MR. MARTIN:  That, to me, is idiotic.

MS. ALI:  What it means is you have a microphone –

MR. MARTIN:  Yeah.

MS. ALI:  — so, you can actually talk louder.

MR. MARTIN:  Yeah.

MS. ALI:  So, it makes perfect sense to me.

MR. KODJOE:  I think it’s our responsibility.  I think, obviously, being an actor or, let’s say, a public person comes with certain perks; but it also comes with a responsibility, and I think a lot of us have shied away from that responsibility in the past/  And I think it’s time for us to realize that we do represent people, like Paul Robeson and Harry Belafonte, because we’re standing on their shoulders.  So –

MS. ALI:  Yeah.

MR. KODJOE:  — we do have a responsibility to represent, and represent them the right way.  And whether people want to call it “giving back,” or “paying forward” – I call it “social consciousness.”  I think everybody has to develop a social consciousness, whether that is a public person or even the media outlets, because when you’re talking about the difference between Brad Pitt and Don Cheadle – yes, there’s a difference in exposure, but that difference in exposure is controlled by media outlets who could change that.

MR. MARTIN:  Precisely.

OFF CAMERA:  Exactly.

MR. KODJOE:  Now, if they develop a social consciousness and realize, “Okay, what Don Cheadle’s doing in Rwanda is unbelievable, and we need to shed a light on that,” it would change everything.

MR. MARTIN:  Precisely.

MR. KODJOE:  So, it’s not just us.  It’s the media outlets.  It’s us.  It’s the public as a whole.  Everybody in their own community can develop a social consciousness –

MR. MARTIN:  Absolutely.

MR. KODJOE:  — and that’s very important, because together we always do better than individually.  Look at the Lakers.

MR. MARTIN:  Absolutely.

MR. KODJOE:  You know?



MR. MARTIN:  Oh.  Oh!

OFF CAMERA:  Uh-oh.  Oh, no.

MR. KODJOE:  Look at how Kobe’s dissin’ – now, Kobe’s setting up other players, and they’re winning.

MR. MARTIN:  Absolutely.

MR. KODJOE:  If you score 60 points and not winning –

MR. MARTIN:  Now my producer’s about to get mad.

It’s okay, Jay.  Get over it.


MR. MARTIN:  Elise Neal, 20 seconds.

MS. NEAL:  Final 20 seconds?  You know, everybody, donate to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. They’re the greatest charity in the world.

MR. MARTIN:  All right.  We appreciate it.

MS. NEAL:  To me.

MR. MARTIN:  Thanks a bunch for all the work that you do, and we’re certainly glad to give you a platform to talk about it.  Elise Neal, Boris Kodjoe, Tatyana Ali, thanks a bunch.

MS. ALI:  Thank you.

MR. KODJOE:  Thank you.

MS. NEAL:  Bye.