Daphne Maxwell Reid may be best known for playing Vivian “Aunt Viv" Banks on the beloved '90s sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel Air—and for gracefully taking over the role during the end of the show's third season. But, there's so much more to Reid's story and career—that starts before Fresh Prince ever aired and goes long after the show ended in 1996.
Passionate about photography, cooking, and design, Reid considers Daphne Style, her custom line of Chinese silk brocade jackets, to be wearable works of art. She's published five fine art photography books that feature doors and doorways from around the world, and recently released her first cookbook, Grace + Soul & Motherwit: A Cookbook Spiced with Personal Memories.
To give all her projects the time and energy needed to thrive, Reid is a master at the delicate art of prioritizing. “I was given the God-given blessings of gifts," Reid explains. "And gifts are the talents that I need to express to the world. I just take each one as it inspires me and see where I can go with it and learn what I can through the process of developing it. The learning process is my favorite part. Learning how to do something, market something and express something in the most fulfilling way."
With so much success and personal gratification to relish in, Reid is determined to influence and inspire the younger generation of African-American men and women to find, follow and execute their passions too. “I found that all of these threads of experiences weave the tapestry that makes my life fulfilled. I want to make sure that kids don't get jaded and unfocused," she explains. “I want them to realize that they can achieve whatever they desire if they have the willpower, if they get up when they fall down, if they make sure that there are joy and compassion in their life. It just all rounds out beautifully."
While Reid has found success as an actress, model, artist and more—she didn't follow a set path to check off all those boxes on her resume. Instead, as she went along for the ride, she remained open to where the twists and turns might lead.
“When you set your goals, you decide, 'Oh, this is what I want to do. This is what I want to be,'" says Reid. “But, life has its own playbook. If you're living your life fully, you may be guided toward something else, but you'll eventually get back to what you're dreaming about. The sidetrack is to gain additional knowledge that you'll need to help that dream along."
Reid was the first black woman to grace the cover of Glamour. This 1969 cover would go on to change her life
Reid knows a little something about getting sidetracked. As a teenager, she started modeling in the pages of Seventeen magazine's “Real Girl" issue. A merit scholar with plans to attend Northwestern University in Chicago, modeling was not in Reid's big picture plans. “I was looking for a career first as a science teacher and then as an interior designer and architect. That's where I was focused." So, Reid framed the chance to model as a “blessing" and decided to pursue it while in college. She flew back and forth between Chicago and New York City for just $25 a round trip.
For one shoot, her agent instructed her to arrive with clean hair, minimal make-up and wear just a simple red turtleneck and jacket.
“My agent said, 'Put some mascara and some lip gloss on. Pull your hair over to the side and sit on the window,'" recalls Reid. “I shot for maybe fifteen minutes—the photographer didn't take more than twenty shots." Reid got back on the plane and headed back to school not knowing how drastically her career was about to change. That “simple" photo shoot was the future cover of Glamour magazine."
With an acting career that started in the '70s, Reid has witnessed a great shift in the entertainment industry, especially within the African American community. Photo Courtesy of Daphne Maxwell Reid
And, it wasn't any cover. It was the first cover of Glamour featuring an African American woman. Being the “first" wasn't Reid's intention. “You grow up living your life, and you go on to the next opportunity," she says. “If you're graced, you're guided to places that fulfill you and opportunities that can help you be fulfilled."
While acting is a natural progression from a career in modeling, Reid didn't imagine she'd follow that path either—even though she did some theater in high school and commercials and voice-over work in Chicago. Through her modeling agency, Reid got cast on a TV series called The Duke. She enjoyed the experience so much, she decided to see what would happen if she pursued acting in the “big pond" of Los Angeles. “My career just bloomed. It was a blessing. It was manna from heaven," she says. “I was trying to do my best at it and learn everything that made it tick. That's how my career progressed. I was not the woman who had the desire to be a high fashion model or TV star. I didn't think about any of that. I went along for the ride and what a wonderful ride it has been."
With an acting career that started in the '70s, Reid has witnessed a great shift in the entertainment industry, especially within the African American community. She's especially impressed and proud because today, African Americans are making themselves heard in ways the past generations could not. “There's a long history of blacks in this business but because there's social media now, you hear more about them," she says. “When say Lena Horne was acting, when a whole plethora of black actors and actors were acting, you didn't hear about them because they didn't spread the word. But they were there, and everybody built on everybody else's career. Everybody has to move the ball when it's their time to move the ball."
Reid, however, still thinks there's much work to be done. “I'm very proud and very happy for all that I see," she says. “But, I would love to have more African Americans in decision-making roles, so that they can decide how our community is represented on television and include stories that our culture knows about, but other cultures don't, that need to be expressed on television." True to form, she is an avid TV watcher—mainly scripted shows, however, because she believes the second you stick a camera in someone's face on a reality show—the reality is over. “I like the things that Oprah is developing and of course, I love Shonda Rhimes projects, because they just show so many varied types of black people. Then, there's Empire that shows a whole 'nother canvas of wonderful characters," she says.
“I think there's too much of the BS television out there but that needs its space, too. I'm saddened by the fact that advertising drives production more than creativity does but that's just my overall, general 'TV ain't what it used to be.'"
And, because show business isn't what it used to be either, Reid has very specific advice for those just starting out. “I suggest that new actors and actresses also love something besides acting that will earn them a living," she comments. "As an actor, you're waiting to be chosen. You don't have control over where your next job is coming from. You need to be able to eat while you're waiting to be chosen and working on your craft and learning all you can about the business." And, Reid wants young people to know that being a celebrity is not the end goal. “Being a celebrity is a nice perk," she says. "I'm not going to knock it—but it's not the goal. The kids now need to focus more on quality rather than quantity."
Quality work is what Reid built her career on. And she knows that an opportunity to work on something a trailblazing project like The Fresh Prince of Bel Air is rare.
“The show is timeless. It's an example of a black family that was not seen like that before," she recalls. “The talent of Will Smith is iconic, and the show had such a wonderful array of characters. It was written so well and so truthfully."
Reid says that the cast was instrumental in helping the writers nail those cultural notes the show so famously hit on. “I remember sitting at the table read one time, and they had Ashley talking back to her father," she remarks. “We all said, 'Excuse me? If Ashley did that in our house, she wouldn't have teeth because she'd have been knocked to the other side of the room. We don't have that kind of disrespect for our parents.' The writers understood that it was cultural, and they made it work."
To be sure, Reid believes a big reason the Fresh Prince was so successful is because Will Smith, the show's fearless leader and star, was the hardest working man in show business back then—and continues to be today. “He's a brilliant man," she says. "We knew this working with him. He worked harder than anybody on that show—and we all worked hard. He was a serious businessman and knew what a performance meant to the rest of the show. He brought it every time. He's a great leader and a great learner."
One of her standout memories is sitting with Smith and the rest of the cast between takes and talking about everything from philosophy to religion to literature. “All things where we would all grow from it," Reid reminisces. But while the cast still keeps in touch—don't expect them to follow the lead of other huge '90s sitcoms and reunite with a reboot. “No, no, no—it's time to move on! The times are different, things are different, people are different," she says. “Let's talk about what's happening now and the relationships in families now. Let's not try to recreate that was magic. Besides, it replays well. We're on our third generation of watchers!"
And, Reid is inspiring all generations to keep on following their dreams and live their best lives. “I'm trying to show that no matter where you are, who you are, how much money you have, or what your circumstances are—you can dream something into being," Reid says. “You can make it happen—if you try. If you don't try?" It's why Reid has yet to retire and has no plans on stopping anytime soon. “It'll never happen. I want to encourage my generation—the older folks— not retire. Instead, I want them to move to the next chapter and find something that they can grow with. Don't stop growing just because you've reached 65 or 70. It's a wonderful time for learning something new. Follow a path and see where it leads you."
And with Reid leading the way, we'll take any path she sets on.
Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.
When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.
2016: What rules?
Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.
Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.
And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.
And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?
Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.
Digital policies for 2020 and beyond
While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.
Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy
Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:
- If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
- While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
- If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
- Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
- Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?
Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.
Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply
The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:
- Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
- Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
- Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
- Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
- Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
- Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
- Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
- Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.
Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles
Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.