Love, Joy and Pain Dominate Talk on New OWN TV Show

Carlos Watson hosts Black Women Own The Conversation with guests from left to right, Winnie Harlow, Angelica Ross and April Parker Jones.

Source Leslie dela Vega/OZY

Why you should care

Panelists and audience members talk about healing on Black Women OWN the Conversation.

Tune in to Black Women OWN the Conversation, an unprecedented “speak easy” TV show produced by OZY and the Oprah Winfrey Network, on OWN every Saturday from Aug. 24 to Sept. 14 at 10 pm EST (9 pm CST), and catch 100 Black women discussing beauty, motherhood, love, and mind, body and soul.

With passion and careful thought — and in a slow cadence — transgender rights advocate Angelica Ross made a plea to Black men and the Black community:

“Expand your definition of what it means to be a woman to include us,” Ross said, “and to Black women, include me as your sister.”

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Angelica Ross arrives on set of BWOTC in Atlanta, Georgia.

Source Leslie dela Vega/OZY

Ross, a trans woman who came out at age 17 to her mother, a staunch evangelical Christian, was one of three female panelists speaking about love and relationships in front of 100 very engaged Black women for the first-ever taping of the Oprah Winfrey Network show Black Women OWN the Conversation. The studio audience included women from all walks of life, and the overarching topic was love. Episode three of four aired on OWN, on Sept. 7.

“The roles have expanded,” continued Ross, who began acting in 2016 in Her Story, a web series about trans women in Los Angeles, “and we’ve created this box — and we have to expand our ideas of what our roles are. We need to revisit the concept of marriage and bring it into the now.”

Some audience members, when pressed to share feelings about love, devotion, even regret, surprised themselves as they opened up in front of strangers.

That’s real talk — talk the LGBTQ community usually has for the Black church, regardless of domination.

But in this setting, Ross made a point to eyeball the whole room, irrespective of class, status or background.

“My religion was very, very strict — we’re not allowed to wear pants, you can’t wear makeup,” admitted Ross’ mother, Marilyn Helm, to host Carlos Watson, OZY’s co-founder and editor in chief. “I was raised Pentecostal, so when Angelica came out to me, it was devastating. I couldn’t work; I ended up seeing a psychologist. I just couldn’t take it, and I did tell her: ‘You need to kill yourself or I’m going to kill myself.’ She often says I put her out. But actually, I gave her a choice: ‘If you gon’ keep dressing like that, you can’t stay here.’”

 

After years of not speaking, Ross and her mother reconciled — eventually allowing themselves to be themselves, unconditionally.

“I wasn’t knowledgeable. I hate that I missed so many years out of her life,” Helm said.

Ross explained how she dealt with the rift. “I had to create some distance between me and mom because we couldn’t be cordial,” Ross said. “Now me and my mom have a very loving, healed relationship, but we needed the time to see each other as women. Me and my mom now are good. She presses my hair and wears my clothes.”

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With her mother looking on, Ross said, “I had to create some distance between me and mom because we couldn’t be cordial … Now me and my mom have a loving, healed relationship…”

When Watson asked the audience whether the institution of marriage was still needed, he had everyone’s attention, including panelist April Parker Jones, best known for her roles as Darcy Hawkins on the CBS post-apocalyptic drama series Jericho and Natalie Henning on the OWN prime-time soap opera If Loving You Is Wrong.

“For many years, I thought I didn’t need a man,” said Parker Jones, who has been married to husband Jay for 12 years.

“I was OK to shack up, but my husband insisted we get married; he felt it was necessary to form that commitment in front of God and our family. In retrospect, it was one of the best things I’ve done because it showed me how to be selfless,” Parker Jones said. ”I’ve evolved in so many ways. Being with a Black man has also taught me a lot about learning how to love myself, so marriage was necessary for me.” 

Parker Jones’ comments were popular but not exclusive.

One audience member — who happens to be divorced — talked about how her views on marriage have changed over the years: “I grew up thinking that marriage was the goal, and I was gonna have 2.5 kids and a career. But marriage is not my goal. My goal is to have a life partner to grow and enhance myself with, and I’m dedicated to finding what makes Crystal happy versus what makes somebody else happy.”

Roodgine Bray, a married mother of two daughters, cautioned the room about downplaying the importance of marriage, especially to an impressionable female audience whose ideals are formed on social media.

“Some of us out there want to be married,” she said. “I’m married nine years this month. I love being married. He shows me the love I need. We grow. We support each other; we know there will be change. We understand that. The husband I have today might be different tomorrow. The problem is people are afraid of changing and being fearful.”

Canadian model and actress Winnie Harlow — a spokesperson on the skin condition vitiligo — who hit the scene in 2014 as a contestant on America’s Next Top Model, shared portions of her own story: of dating Black men and White men; of being in an abusive relationship and of being in a healthy relationship that has brought fulfillment and satisfaction.

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Canadian model and actress Winnie Harlow — a spokesperson on the skin condition vitiligo — who hit the scene in 2014 as a contestant on America’s Next Top Model, shared portions of her own story.

“We all have our own decisions and our own journeys,” Harlow, 25, said. “I’m the product of divorced parents. Mom dated Black and White guys. I don’t think those aspects of them altered what went right or wrong in our relationships. I think everything is an education.”

Topics discussed were hardly eye-opening to this aggregate; these, after all, are conversations that happen every weekend at Black beauty salons and in group texts. But this particular platform — among strangers, with a male facilitator and celebrity panelists — made Black Women OWN the Conversation something unique.

Some audience members, when pressed to share feelings about love, devotion, even regret, surprised themselves as they opened up in front of strangers.

“It’s beautiful,” murmured an audience member, who identified herself as Chica, while holding back tears. “I’m first-generation Nigerian. I used to [wonder]: ‘How are you a church and you turn someone away?’ To find love, who am I supposed to look up to? But the universe works so crazy: I’m 28; my mom is 58. I’ve taught her to love herself, and as you love yourself, it just appears to you.” 

This sentiment of self-acceptance as the foundation of love was a common thread throughout the evening. 

Another woman, who identified herself as Black and Mexican, talked about longing to be accepted by her family. “Growing up, it was hard because both sides made like I wasn’t [good] enough,” she said, crying. “I didn’t fit into that category of what a Black woman was supposed to be, or the exact category of what a Mexican woman looks like. It took a lot for me to get to a point where I can say, ’I’m not half — I’m whole. I’m Black and I’m Mexican too.’ ”

There were so many moments for a collective deep sigh, with women understanding that they’re perhaps carrying too much individually and not using one another as emotional resources.

Parker Jones would add the perfect commentary to a night full of them. 

“Sometimes we look for affection when we should be looking for connection.”

This episode brought both.

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