Vanessa Baden-Kelly is an Emmy winning actress and nominated writer who has written a book called, Far Away from Close to Home: A Black Millennial Woman in Progress. In the book, she examines what the idea of “home” means to a Black millennial woman. The book will be released on May 4th, published by Three Rooms Press and will be sold in major bookstores and Amazon/Kindle. The Knockturnal spoke with Vanessa about her new book.
The Knockturnal: Can you tell us about your new book “Far Away from Close to Home: A Black Millennial Woman in Progress? How has your role in Nickelodeon’s Gullah Gullah Island and Kenan and Kel shaped your career?
Vanessa Baden-Kelly: My book is about my adult life and the things that have shaped my experiences and ideas of what “home” is. From becoming a mother to divorce, to last summer’s racial uprising, I have had to contend with the idea that as a black woman, what I have been led to believe identifies home – safety, the ability to thrive and love yourself, to be loved – was not exactly true and in many ways, I would have to create that reality for myself.
I think growing up on TV, especially on iconic shows for diversity, helped me realize that I can create my own reality and how we have come to imagine things can be different and still work and people will still understand it, identify it, and embrace it.
The Knockturnal: It was before my time but over the years my uncle would listen to Luther Vandross. Luther is known for the romantic love songs that would put you in your feelings or make you want to dance your heart away. As an author of your new book “Far Away from Close to Home: A Black Millennial Woman in Progress” What does it truly mean to make a house a home?
Vanessa Baden-Kelly: This makes me laugh out loud. I think something I discovered through writing this book was that home is whatever you make it. To Luther’s credit, your whole family and all the people you love can live in a house and if you don’t feel loved back or feel lonely or isolated for a variety of other reasons, it will not feel like home. I think to truly make a house a home, is to do the very hard work of figuring out what you absolutely need to feel “at home”. For me, it’s my son and safety – physical and emotional. I need to feel safe from harm and safe enough to feel all my feelings freely. That could be in a mansion, in an apartment, or a very safe tent in a serene forest. That’s home to me.
The Knockturnal: What experiences in your life made you want to write this book?
Vanessa Baden-Kelly: I wrote this book because I feel as though there are a lot of people who feel like I do – that they are adults and did everything they were “supposed” to do and it didn’t end up exactly as they were promised – and are trying to now figure out what we really want. I don’t think my book offers a lot of answers, lol, but rather my own personal insight and what has worked for me…and also what I’m still figuring out.
The Knockturnal: Do you think that in the Black Community we carry childhood trauma into relationships and in particular raising a family? If, so how do we begin the healing process?
Vanessa Baden-Kelly: I totally do. My essay The Miracle of Black Love goes into depth about it through the lens of my own divorce. I think everyone heals differently, but the only way to start the process is to name it. Identify the things that hurt us and hindered us and why. Some of it is just human stuff that happens irrespective of race. But a lot of it is the remnants of being an enslaved people and the byproduct of being an oppressed people and it’s extremely important that we know the difference.
The Knockturnal: What do you do when you are experiencing writer’s block?
Vanessa Baden-Kelly: Keep writing. Even if it’s bad. Even it’s stupid and makes no sense. The only way through it is through it.
The Knockturnal: My mom always tells me that there is not a handbook on how to parent. What tips would you give to Millennial Women on how to be the best version of themselves? and when desiring a family?
Vanessa Baden-Kelly: My only tip is to figure out who yourself is! I think so many of us have learned to subscribe to a version of ourselves that we think we should be what we learned through our families, our community, who we admire on social media – and we tirelessly work to emulate that. I think what I am learning is that it is totally possible to greatly admire something or someone and not want to be like that or at least not all parts of it. I love watching women, especially mothers, who seem to get up every day and do their hair and wear some makeup and look great while juggling career and parenting. I really tried to do that. I failed. What I had to realize is that I liked it because it looked good. It looked like those women took care of themselves. What I actually wanted was to take better care of myself.
What that actually looked like for me was doing less not more. Adding a makeup routine and a hair day stressed me out more. So, I gave myself full weekends off. I don’t work (mostly) on weekends anymore. And I loc’d my hair to make one less thing for me to do. Now I have the energy to do more for myself and I feel more put together. That’s what I ultimately found so attractive.
When a woman desires a family, I think that lesson also applies. Figure out what you need to be the version of yourself you love and never abandon her. It will help you choose a partner (you’ll be looking for someone who supports who you are not who you present) and it helps you have clear boundaries when you are raising kids. You always have a north star when parenthood feels overwhelming. It also helps teach them how to figure out who they are, too.
The Knockturnal: How important is identity? And When someone feels as though there’s a disconnect/ segregation is occurring in their community how must these challenges be handled?
Vanessa Baden-Kelly: Who you are is your greatest gift. Your unique perspective, background, outlook, and way of living are a commodity. Like any commodity, it should not be hoarded but it should be protected. When disconnect occurs, my belief is that it is happening because someone is hoarding, or someone is stealing your identity. Fight them. It’s yours.
Photographer: Raen Badua | IG: @raenbadua
Styling: Dillon Powell | IG: @dillonapowell
Hair: Erinn Thornton | IG: @e_scizorhands
Makeup: Alia McGee | IG:@liamonet