Vanessa William’s and mother celebrate Mother’s Day with new book
by Kimberly Bailey-Tureaud
Mother’s Day is a time to reflect on how our lives have been positively impacted by our mothers and other special women who took on the responsibility of providing us with motherly guidance and care.
This special relationship is one of the dominant themes in “You Have No Idea,” a newly published memoir by Hollywood star Vanessa Williams. It is co-written with her mother, Helen.
Having sustained a successful Hollywood career since the mid-1980s, Williams is no stranger to controversy. Her first tell-all is a candid chronicle of all of the ups and downs in her eventful life.
“The title of my book, ‘You Have No Idea,’ refers to how people make assumptions,” said Williams. “You never know what the real story is, or who the real person is. This is a phrase that my mother and I share. The book is about recollections of my life, and my mother discusses the experiences as well. It is not a back-and-forth dialogue between my mother and I, but it gives insight into my life, and my mother’s response to it, in different chapters and sections. The more we got into writing the book, the more we realized how similar we are as women.”
After being crowned the first black Miss America in 1984, Williams was forced to relinquish the title after a collection of controversial photographs of her found their way into the public square. Since then, rather than slink away into obscurity, Williams became a major force in the entertainment industry. She is a Grammy-winning singer, sensation on Broadway, star of the television series “Ugly Betty” and “Desperate Housewives” and an accomplished film actress.
“I overcome challenges in my life by being flexible and challenging myself,” said Williams, who is twice divorced. “It is also important to have a great work ethic, and to be prepared when opportunities come your way. I strive to be a good person, and a person others want to work with, in order to maintain a long and successful career. Being valued in whatever you do, continuing to learn, and developing a skill set for whatever you love will keep you moving in a positive and progressive career direction.”
Helen Williams says that her daughter has always exhibited uncommon discipline when setting goals.
“We (herself and Vanessa’s father, who died unexpectedly six years ago) didn’t necessarily have a career plan for our two children,” she said, referring to Vanessa and her brother, Christopher. “We wanted our children to make their own life plans and establish goals for what they wanted to do and be in their lives. We never ever focused on how Vanessa looked. She was a very pretty little girl, and now an attractive woman — but that was never a focus. In our family, education was the priority — and it was also a requirement that our children selected a musical instrument to play by fourth grade. My husband and I were both music teachers. We took notice of Vanessa’s talent when we went to her school play, ‘Little Mary Sunshine,’ during her seventh year in school — and saw her vast talent in acting, dancing and singing.”
Added Vanessa: “My mother would tell me that I have to be better than everyone else just to be considered equal, because of growing up black in a predominately white school system. I adapted to that very early in elementary school, knowing that I had to overachieve just to be seen. That was one of the most important things I learned very early on.”
A native of Buffalo, N.Y., Helen is a strong believer that parents must be firm and remember to first be parents — not friends — to their children while raising them. These convictions, she says, have caused her relationship with Vanessa to evolve over time.
“We understand each other more now as adults,” said the elder Williams, who wasn’t raised by her own biological mother but nonetheless formed a bond with her while in college. “I will always be a parent, but I think I have become more of a friend with her now that she is an adult. The friendship has developed a lot, and I can relate to her more as a parent now that she has four children of her own. I will always be an adviser and her friend. Both of my children know that if they ask me a question — even today — I will give them my honest opinion.”
Today, Vanessa is enjoying her family and maintaining an active career. She is working on several projects, including a television pilot and a new album.
“People ask me sometimes, ‘How do you balance everything?’ I think if you try to balance everything in your life, you will be disappointed by the expectations,” she said. “You work when you work, and when you are off, you enjoy. My children grew up knowing that I am very passionate about my career. The children become extremely adaptable. I do an album every three years. I hope to continue acting … and produce and direct in years to come. When I am asked to give advice to other young women desiring to get into this business, I say that you must find your passion and get educated. There is no ‘n’ in success. You might receive notoriety overnight, but if you don’t have talent or skills to back it up, it’s worthless. If you want to be an actor, start taking acting classes and participate in productions. If you want to be a singer, take singing lessons and learn how to use your voice properly so you don’t destroy it. I hope that mothers and daughters read the book that me and my mother wrote, and understand the sacrifices that mothers make for their children and the amount of protection that goes into being a mom. One should never take a mother’s love for granted and should cherish (this) special bond.”
Helen says she wants readers to know that her daughter “is a very, very dedicated parent who is very kind and trusting. While writing the book together — I wrote my segments of the book separately from Vanessa — there were parts that were very amusing, heartfelt, emotional and shocking. I was unaware of a lot of things that Vanessa decided to put into the book and I said, ‘No, she didn’t. I don’t believe she did that. She did what?’ My response was, ‘Oh, boy!’ So, really, you have no idea.”