Almost fifty years ago, on May 3, 1968, more than 100 undergraduate and graduate students occupied the Bursar’s Office in the first major sit-in at Chicago’s Northwestern University. This peaceful 36-hour occupation ended with University leaders negotiating with students and committing to enhance services and support for Black students related to admissions, scholarships, housing, curriculum, counseling and facilities, with the latter resulting in the designation of The Black House. I was aware of this event because I lived in Evanston and was associated with Northwestern University at that time.
Among those students, there was a young woman, Daphne Maxwell, at that time but now Daphne Maxwell Reid, who went on to break barriers and create a life that is inspiring. She was the TV mom of the 1990s, with three seasons as Aunt Vivian on “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.” Early in her career she became the first African-American homecoming queen at Northwestern University and soon after that, the first woman of color to appear on the cover of Glamour magazine.
Her roles on TV are well know but she also has published five books and 5 annual calendars specializing in fine art photography that features doors and doorways from around the world, including Cuba, Venice, France, China, Germany, and Belgium. Her first cookbook, “Grace + Soul & Motherwit,” offers her favorite recipes spiced with personal memories and reflections from her life and travels. And to top all of this, Reid has who has created many of her own outfits and costumes as a young actress and model, and has now developed those skills into an exclusive, custom clothing line called Daphne Style, making Chinese silk brocade jackets that are wearable works of art. She also keeps busy as the Host of Virginia Currents (PBS), and as a spokesperson for Virginia State University, a historically black college/university (HBCU), doing outreach, public relations, and speaking engagements that allow her to preach the importance of education and career prep for students of color.
An interview with Reid follows:
B.K Since this is February and Black History Month, I am interested your “Herstory”.
What were the circumstances that brought you to Northwestern University?
D.M.R. I was a national scholarship recipient, the president of my graduating class of 948 students at The Bronx High School of Science, and was only allowed to apply to three colleges. Northwestern had sent a recruiter and was one of the schools to which I chose to apply. I was accepted at all three, but had never been to Chicago, so I picked Northwestern.
B. K. How did you happen to be part of the group that took over the Northwestern University’s Bursar’s Office on May 3, 1968? What was it like to be there?
D.M.R. I was among the very small number of black students at Northwestern at the time and was roommates with three other black women. We were all involved in “waking up “ the University to its lack of resources for our community. I was not part of the leadership of the takeover, but a willing participant to any non-violent action that was to take place. I followed our leadership with my parents’ blessings. We had an impactful experience of solidarity, friendship, courage and commitment…a very fulfilling experience.
B. K. You have broken new barriers including becoming the first African-American homecoming queen at Northwestern University and shortly thereafter the first woman of color to appear on the cover of Glamour magazine. What does it feel like to be opening new opportunities?
D.M.R. When one is the first at something, it generally happens in the quiet flow of everyday life. It is only after it happens that one experiences the satisfaction and kudos of having been the first. Keep in mind that the pioneers out front get shot in the back more often than those that follow. I have been blessed.
B. K. You began you career modeling and then moved to TV. Was this your goal?
D.M.R My goal initially was to be a Spanish teacher. When I decided I didn’t want to do that, I was aiming for a career in Interior Design and Architecture. Modeling was a happy accident that I continued to embrace, and acting was a fun way of expressing some of the bold gifts that God had given me. I was striving toward neither. I made the best of the opportunities that were presented to me, learned all I could about how to do them well, and lived a life of grace.
B.K. Photography is an interest, being influenced by your father and you have five books and 5 annual calendars already published, specializing in fine art photography that features doors and doorways from around the world, including Cuba, Venice, France, China, Germany, and Belgium.
How would you compare being behind the camera and in front of the camera?
D.M.R Behind the camera gives you control of what you share with the world, things that are captured in your lens. Acting in front of the camera usually involves being chosen, and doing things that express a writer or director’s point of view. They are vastly different in how one is able to express oneself.
B. K. You have been described as a Renaissance woman, respected artist and designer, and education activist. Do you have one role that you favor over the others?
D.M.R Absolutely not. I love them all as well as my role as Mother, wife, and friend.
B. K. I understand that you are living in Virginia, and still happily married to pioneering television actor/producer/writer/director Tim Reid. I am curious about how you met your husband and if you have any advice on sustaining a length marriage.
D.M.R I met Tim in Chicago when we were both working and living there with our respective families. I re-met him after we had both been divorced and living in Los Angeles. We have been together since the Winter Olympics of 1980, and married since 1982. The only advice I would give is to maintain a respect for each other as individual people and maintain a sense of humor. Forever is a long, long time. 🙂
Photos: Courtesy of Daphne Maxwell Reid
More information is on the Daphne Maxwell Reid website