Sunday, July 14, 2024



Tichina Arnold

Determined to WIN

Tichina Arnold is a successful actress and dedicated philanthropist, but let us never overlook her rather substantial contribution to the American pop culture lexicon. The phrase “You go, girl!” (and its variants) made its way into the firmament of motivational messaging by way of the five years she spent on the 1990s sitcom “Martin.” That role, as the acerbic Pam, catapulted her into starring roles on series such as “Everybody Hates Chris” and “Happily Divorced.” The Queens native has certainly made her mark, and recently sat down for an interview, alongside her sister Zenay, to discuss her career and a cause close to both their hearts.

What are some of your most recent acting projects?

I just finished a movie for Lifetime with Whoopi Goldberg, called “A Day Late and a Dollar Short,” which is scheduled to debut in January 2014. It is an adaptation of a Terry McMillan book, and it was a great experience for me to work with Whoopi again. She was a recurring character on “Everybody Hates Chris.” In the movie, I play Whoopi’s daughter. The story line is impactful, and deals with issues in the black family.

I have also been putting a lot of time into my music. I sing all genres of music every Saturday night at one of Los Angeles’ finest hotels with my band, KNOW Pressure. My live performances allow me to perform all of my original music. I have been classically trained, raised on gospel music and enjoy writing rock music. I’m inspired by artists like Gladys Knight, Pat Benatar and Michael Jackson.

Many people are unaware that I can sing in different languages such as Hebrew and Italian — and I am trying to learn French, because I would love to do a Nina Simone song. Also, for the last few years, I have been compiling material on my life’s journey, so I can eventually perform my one-woman stage production.

Tichina Arnold (left) with her sister Zenay

Out of all the television series you have been a part of, which did you enjoy working on the most?

I really enjoyed doing “Martin,” because it was such a wonderful time and I joined the cast after four years of doing soap operas. It was an iconic show, and we never really knew what we had on our hands because we were just having so much fun. Working on the series, “Everybody Hates Chris,” was a great feat and challenge for me because I was no longer a best friend character. I was the matriarch. It was a different kind of comedy — and a stretch for me, which I also enjoyed.

How is Martin Lawrence now?

He is great, and we keep in touch. Martin is a dad now, and it was funny when we first started to work together on the show, we would push him into his place because he was unfamiliar with working in television — and all of us were experienced television actors. He came from doing stand-up comedy, and he had no idea how television worked — but I think that is why “Martin” was so authentic and a lot of fun. We would laugh at each other all the time, and all the really funny stuff happened off-camera. Nonetheless, I always give Martin Lawrence credit for keeping me on my comedic toes during the show — you never knew what he was going to do exactly. You just had to go with it. He also made my improvisation skills better by keeping me on my toes and keeping me up with my comedic timing. We didn’t want “Martin”  to end — but it did, and then we moved on.

Tell us about the WE WIN Foundation.

Well, our WE WIN Foundation came about as a result of my sister’s lupus illness. We were unaware of what it was when we were growing up, and when she complained that she was feeling pain, as children, we would just brush it off and say, “Oh, here’s Zenay being dramatic again.” She was later diagnosed with lupus. The turning point for me in realizing that my sister was really sick was when we were traveling and going through airport security. I was rushing, because I am a professional traveler and I travel at least four times a month. I was rushing through the security checkpoint, going through the scanner, and I looked back and my sister was moving very slowly. I said, “Zenay, come on, hurry up.” She put her hands up and said, “I can’t untie my shoe.” Everything hit me at that moment in time. I thought, “My God.” A few months later, my sister told me that God put it on her heart that she had to get the information out about the lupus disease.

(From left) Aunt Gaynelle Dawson, Zenay Burton, and Tichina Arnold

What is lupus?

Zenay: Lupus is an autoimmune disease and basically your body is attacking itself. In a nutshell you are killing off your good cells and your cells in your body are not replenishing. They are attacking each other. So, your body can’t differentiate when you are sick … Your immune system is completely compromised. So, you can’t fight off diseases such as a common cold. For me the common cold is tragic and can turn deadly. You deal with the symptoms as they come, because unfortunately there are no cures for any of the autoimmune diseases and there are about a hundred of them … [and] the top four most common are lupus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and sarcoidosis [the disease that afflicted the late comic actor Bernie Mac]. You don’t necessarily die from lupus itself; you die from not being able to fight off infection. We are passionate about getting the information out, and providing resources, because so many people are suffering. I walked around for two years and didn’t know I had lupus.

What were some of your symptoms of lupus?

Zenay: Everybody experiences different symptoms, which makes the disease hard to diagnose. I want readers to understand that your family doctor usually can’t diagnose lupus; you must be seen by a rheumatologist for a proper lupus diagnosis. For me, my symptoms included chronic fatigue, butterfly rashes — and basically, stress brings on symptoms.

Is it just black women who get lupus?

Tichina: That is why I am so happy Zenay decided to speak up about lupus. Men get the disease as well, and so many are walking around with the disease and don’t know it. Basically, in a nutshell, what we have walked away with is realizing that lupus is very prevalent in African-American and Latino women and … also, Asians in America have an increased incidence of lupus, but it is more prevalent in the African-American community. I tell people all the time, to not be afraid to go see the doctor.

As black women, we tend to put the “S” on our chest and keep being superwomen when we are tired — and trying to keep everything going. If you are getting headaches for a whole month, your body is telling you something is wrong. If your feet are swelling for longer than three days, your body is telling you something is wrong. We have to condition ourselves to listen to our bodies.

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