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Actress aims to keep ‘Dream’ alive

By: Linda Shepard | Rochester Post | Published January 21, 2015

 Actress Jurnee Smollett-Bell speaks at the Keeper of the Dream scholarship award celebration honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. Jan. 19 at Oakland University.

Actress Jurnee Smollett-Bell speaks at the Keeper of the Dream scholarship award celebration honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. Jan. 19 at Oakland University.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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ROCHESTER HILLS — Television and film actress Jurnee Smollett-Bell said the world is quick to typecast.

“I see a world that is more complex than black and white,” Smollett-Bell said Dec. 19 at Oakland University. “At the end of the day, we all want to feel validated and we all want to be heard.”

Smollett-Bell was the keynote speaker at the Keeper of the Dream scholarship award celebration honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. Five scholarships were awarded to students who demonstrated exceptional leadership qualities through their involvement on campus and in the community by breaking down racial and cultural stereotypes and promoting unity.

Oakland University students Chanel Daniels, Aukury Cowart, Zienab Fahs, Joseph Kirma and Taylor Moore received Keeper of the Dream scholarships.

“These students make positive impacts on campus and in the community,” said Omar Brown-El, director of the OU Center for Multicultural Incentives.

“What you are doing is truly amazing,” Smollett-Bell said. “We celebrate young people like yourselves.”

Smollett-Bell said she is the daughter of two social activists — a Russian Jewish father and an African-American mother. She experienced stereotyping in her own family.

“My father attended the March on Washington with his mother,” she said. “My grandmother was on a blacklist as a Communist American. But she was surprised when my dad married my very black mother. It put a wedge between my father and his mother. She was a passionate Jewish liberal. How could she be a racist? It is one of the great mysteries of my childhood.”

Smollet-Bell said she has been working since she was 10 months old, starting with modeling for diapers.

“I was Michelle’s best friend on ‘Full House,’” she said. She appeared in the film “Eve’s Bayou” and the television show “Friday Night Lights,” among other projects.

But her career has not always been smooth sailing.

“I live in the business of rejection,” she said. “It is called show business.”

A call from her agent about a part often includes a message that producers love her for a part but “they are not willing to go ethnic on that role.”

“I reject that,” she said.

Smollet-Bell also talked about her work as an HIV/AIDS activist, a cause she has been involved with since she was 11 years old.

“It is a silent killer because we are not talking about it,” she said. “AIDS can be prevented and treated. There is a lack of informative dialogue in communities, and the silence is killing us.”

Denise Caldwell, from Grosse Pointe Park, said she attended the Keeper of the Dream ceremony for the first time this year, mainly to hear Smollet-Bell speak.

“I have a 12-year old, and she loves Jurnee,” Caldwell said. “She is a role model and perfect for my daughter to see. She is so well-rounded. Her speech was awesome. She talked about activism and AIDS — it is inspiring for young girls.”

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