Blackman Auditorium was filled with anticipation on Monday night as students rushed in to get good seats. Who wants to be all the way in the back when “bae” is going to be on stage?
As everyone waited, the Twitterfeed on the screen kept students occupied as audience members took pictures and searched for the perfect graphics for their tweets.
When you’re getting ready to meet the love of your life #GabrielleUnionNU pic.twitter.com/KqFUdp6Uz6
— The NBSA (@TheNBSA) October 19, 2015
Actress Gabrielle Union walked out in white wide-legged pants and black heels. The cheering was deafening.
After the noise died down, Union set the tone of the night, sitting down as she said “Let’s keep it real causal.”
Kappa Delta Sorority, Sigma Kappa Sorority and the Northeastern University Black Student Association brought Union to Northeastern to speak about confidence and sexual abuse. Union has acted in countless productions from “Bring It On” to “Think Like a Man” and “Being Mary Jane.” She struggled with self-esteem issues and was raped in college, leading her to advocate for survivors and those struggling with such problems. After going through a divorce, Union is now married to NBA player, Dwayne Wade.
From the minute she sat down on stage, Union showed a candid self, sharing intimate stories about her own struggle with confidence and sexual abuse. Union jumped right into the discussion beginning by asking the audience questions such as, “How many of us have parents who are divorced? Parents who are present, but not present? Parents who might have had addiction issues?” Even though her talk concerned serious topics, Union didn’t lose her humor. “I play one on one with [Dwayne Wade] often, but one on one basketball? Never,” she joked.
Union identified the root of low self-esteem as internalizing rejection from anyone, including love interests. “You go down around the rabbit hole of, ‘but why don’t you like me,’ and then ‘who do you like?’ Cut to, you’re insta stalking their cousin’s brother’s dog like why them and not me,” Union said. “The rejection feels like a rejection that is shouted from the rooftops…We internalize that.”
Union then discussed the effect rejection has on people. “We’ll start to become the lies that we tell ourselves,” she said. “The lies are robbing you of the possibility because you’re too afraid to try because the lies are loud, and they’re constant.”
As a child in a predominately white neighborhood, Union was aware of her race at a young age. “Anytime in the month of February, they would be like, ‘Tell us how it feels to be black,’” Union paused with a confused stare. “Uh..I’m ten. I have three teeth. I don’t even know what this means,” she said.
She shared personal stories from her childhood from an awkward reading of Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” to racist comments at a bonfire with her friends. “Don’t nigger lip it,” Union remembered one of her friends saying. “I hear the laughter, and insert racist comment here, and my friends were silent. They were silent then. They’re silent today,” she said.
To conclude, Union shared her insight about Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), which replaces negative thoughts with positive ones. “For every, ‘I’m not good enough’… you are good enough. You are capable of learning anything. You are worthy. You are valuable. You are loved,” she said. “Take the negative thoughts, the lies we’ve been telling ourselves, and replace them. Identify what that fear is. Identify that thing that brings you rage when certain people walk in the room,” Union advised before taking questions.
First year behavioral neuroscience major Rachel Domond’s favorite part was when Union spoke about the importance of being confident as a female. “As a woman, you don’t have the option but to be strong. As a black woman, it’s a necessity by birthright,” Domond said.
Union continued discussing strength as she spoke about the word ‘bitch.’ “I actually love the word ‘bitch.’ I take power from that word…when people say bitch, it’s ‘you are challenging me in a way I do not like.’ I’m fine with that. Call it what you want; just make sure you spell my name right on the check,” Union said to a room full of excitement.
“It was really inspirational. It made me feel warm and fuzzy inside, and it made me feel like I could do anything,” said Domond.
Union addressed her experience with sexual abuse thoroughly, giving an account of her rape, and the effect it had on her. After being raped, Union struggled to come to terms with the race of the rapist. “I had worked my whole life to not be that black person, and here I was, in an all white community, being raped by that black guy. Aside from being humiliated and a complete violation to feeling powerless, I wanted to protect this man to protect myself,” Union remembered.
Second year behavioral neuroscience major, Alexandra Belzie, and first year international business major, Braden Bell, both valued Union’s story. “That made her really relatable,” said Bell. “Hearing her response, I could see where she got her thought process from, and I could totally understand where she was coming from,” Belzie added.
Union hopes to combat the issue of rape and make sure that less people go through what she did. “You’re not alone. I hate that you’re not alone. I hate hearing ‘me too.’ I hear it so much it makes my stomach turn. When my work is done, you’ll stop hearing ‘me too.’ We’re not there yet, but brick by brick and book by book we’ll get there.”
Once it was time for the final question, many hands rose and students stood up, hoping to be the chosen one. The lucky student asked a question about how to avoid being a bystander, tying into Union’s warning to not fall into a trap of telling yourself the worst lie possible: “It’s not my place.”
“F**k anybody who has a problem with you speaking your truth and speaking out for what’s right and being a voice for voiceless people,” Union said bluntly. “If you choose to use your voice, use it. If you want to write it down, write it. The truth needs to be told, and I don’t care how it’s told, and f**k ‘em whoever has a problem with that,” she advised.
And with that, Gabrielle Union left the stage, leaving inspired students cheering for her in Blackman Auditorium.