“I have a passion for this. And I want to keep sharing what [is] given [to] me with other people, and hopefully move them or encourage them to follow their own passions.” —Teyonah Parris
The late, great Maya Angelou once said, “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” Safe to say Angelou had her Hustle Formula mapped out from jump. The same can be said for actress Teyonah Parris, who like the legendary poet mentioned, exhibits a style and an unwavering passion that thrives in an industry that is traditionally none too kind to woman of color. “I think the biggest risk I’ve taken in life would be choosing this career,” Parris says of her choices, in retrospect. “This is a career where, I’m constantly being told no. You’re not this enough, you’re not that enough. And finding a way to receive what someone is saying but also knowing that, that doesn’t define who I am. That can be their truth, but it doesn’t have to be mine.”
Long before her silver screen breakout role in 2014’s Dear White People, acting and entertaining was Parris’ truth—birthed when she was a young Southern Belle in the small town of Hopkins, South Carolina. With a childhood peppered with styling and profiling in beauty pageants and modeling opportunities throughout her hometown, the center stage was calling her all along. “As I got older, I was encouraged to study [acting],” remembers Parris, who credits her family for the extra push to hone her talent. “From elementary school to middle school to a boarding school for the arts. I lived away from home the last two years of high school studying acting, which was basically a mini-Julliard.” Kismet, considering not long after, Parris enrolled in the actual Julliard School, a renowned New York City institution that “has a less than one percent acceptance rate” of aspiring thespians per year.
After graduating, the actress embarked on a career where she would work alongside legends such as George C. Wolfe, Debbie Allen, Jack Nicholson, and Spike Lee. In 2010, Parris made her small screen debut in the drama The Good Wife. Two years later, she landed a recurring part in the acclaimed series, Mad Men. Then came the aforementioned, Dear White People and her character Colandrea “Coco” Conners, which put more eyes on Parris’ talent. One of them being legendary director Spike Lee who tabbed Parris as his leading lady in the acclaimed Chi-Raq, a part that earned her an NAACP Image Award nomination for Outstanding Actress. “The magic I find in acting comes from being able to put myself into someone else’s shoes and tell their story, having to feel whatever it is they may feel and express their anxieties, their excitement, whatever that is, in a way that they would do,” Parris explains. “When you find that spot, and you get to live in that place for a little bit, it’s magic.”
And Teyonah Parris continues to walk her blessed journey with her continued starring role in the LeBron James produced Starz sitcom, Survivor’s Remorse, portraying the 90’s R&B star Miki Howard in TV One’s Love Under New Management: The Miki Howard Story. Though different in definition and how they’re perceived, the words “purpose” and “passion” are more cousins to one another. Living her purpose while following her passion is a way of life for Parris that has proved very successful for her. “I think I’m very blessed with those two things. The two work together,” she says. “I know there are a lot of people who are talented than I am. But! I have put in the work. I have put action towards preserving something. I have perseverance, I can take notes, I can learn, I want to learn. And that, and the sheer will of keeping going, is what sets me a part.”
To see the full video on Teyonah and learn more about her hustle formula, visit The Formula.
PHOTO CREDIT: Christine Jean Chambers