By D’Shonda Brown
REVOLT.TV is home to exclusive interviews from rising stars to the biggest entertainers and public figures of today. Here is where you get the never-before-heard stories about what’s really happening in the culture from the people who are pushing it forward.
Whether it’s acting or photography, Lance Gross has been actively pursuing his passions since graduating from the esteemed Howard University back in 2004 and manages to successfully balance his career while being a devoted husband and father to his children, Berkeley and Lennon Gross. The Oakland native has acquired a lot of roles in his acting career, but for this REVOLT chat, he’s portraying an advocate for HBCUs who’s against colorism in the entertainment industry. Actually, no, he truly is that.
REVOLT caught up with Gross about the revival of Tyler Perry’s “House of Payne,” fatherhood, and how his experience at an HBCU made him the man he is today. Check out our conversation below!
How will we see your character Calvin’s growth with the return of “House of Payne?”
A lot of time has passed. He deals with some of the same issues that he dealt with before, but when you have kids and you’re dealing with relationships, you’re forced to grow. He has grown in that way and he’s dealing with a lot of stuff with Miranda (Keshia Knight-Pulliam); they’re going through a divorce. There’s a lot of drama there, but Tyler Perry is great at pulling the comedy out of that, so we had fun. Calvin definitely has grown a lot, but he’s still the same old Calvin that you know and love.
Due to your experience working with him, how would you say Tyler Perry is successfully creating positive Black narratives on screen?
What Tyler has done for our community and the industry is just amazing. He’s a billionaire now and he’s inspiring so many who come after him. Just being around him and watching him work, his work ethic is unreal. He deserves everything and all of the honors he receives. Just watching him is a thing in itself. His blueprint is absolutely amazing. He built a mountain of “nos” and turned it into his own “yes.” He went to Atlanta, built his studio, which is amazing and bigger than a lot of studios here in Los Angeles, but the opportunities he’s giving African-Americans for work and everything — he’s telling these positive stories that we need, especially at a time like this. I applaud him, my hat’s off to him and I’ll forever respect Tyler.
Now that he’s reached billionaire status and giving back to his community, what would you say that it means for the Black community?
He’s holding the door wide open for us. He built his studio just for that; it’s not just for his productions. Everybody is going down there and utilizing what he has built. I know Coming To America shot on his studio lot. He’s creating this opportunity for us and it’s just awesome to see because he’s so giving. I just think Tyler is the perfect example of somebody who is sharing the information. He’s been through it, he’s walked through it and now he’s providing that for us to look at it and take note of. I think he’s doing a great thing.
How has Hollywood demonstrated racial bias, sexism or colorism against Black people? Have you personally experienced any?
As far as me, I’ve been a little lucky. I know that it all exists, especially colorism. I saw that a lot more early on in my career when I was doing music videos, especially for women where you would have the most attractive dark-skinned woman, but for some reason, they would look over her and put the light-skinned African-American girl in the video just because they thought it would sell and that was popular. As far as myself, I haven’t experienced that, but it is real and those are very important issues that need to be tackled.
How are those conversations now being had?
I mean, it’s gotten a lot better because it’s all about diversity these days. You want to see all shapes, sizes, and tones on the screen because that’s what life is, but our fight still continues. They give us a little bit, but we can get more, you know what I’m saying? I think we do that by just showcasing what we got [and] showcasing our talent. I always tell actors [that] the role may not be written for a Black man or a Black woman, but as long as you get the material, you break it down, you do the work, you go in those rooms and you change their thoughts on the character — You just do the work, work hard and it’s gonna pay off. If you showcase your talent, there’s no way they’re going to be able to tell you “no.”
As a father, how has your mental health been impacted by the pandemic? How are you protecting the mental health of your children and wife?
Myself and my wife, we take the blessings out of what this pandemic has been. It’s kind of God’s way of forcing you to be still and reset. It’s allowed more time for family, and that’s the most important thing to me because I’m always on-the-go, on a plane, in different cities shooting for six months at a time. The time with my family was limited, [but] now I wake up every day and get to hug my kids, spend time with my kids, watch my daughter at school on Zoom. For me, that’s the blessing. It’s just a lot of time with my family. Luckily, we’re in a position where it doesn’t really hurt us financially.
How will you teach your kids about racial bias? Do you believe it’ll be a difficult conversation to have?
We’ve already started having those conversations with my daughter, who’s five [years old]. In this day-in-age, you have the aid of great books. One of her favorite books is about Rosa Parks and even her school [has] been teaching her a lot of stuff before COVID. That was a great introduction and icebreaker to start having these conversations. I remember when they were rioting and protesting in Los Angeles, and we live in Hollywood, so a lot of that was around us.
We heard helicopters, she started asking questions and we just started breaking down to her exactly what Black Lives Matter means, why it’s being talked about so much, what’s happening with police brutality, and how there are good cops and not-so-good cops. She took to it well and she understands it, and it’s a constant conversation that we’re gonna have with her because it’s changing. It gets worse before it gets better, but it’s an ongoing thing. It’s a tough conversation, but luckily my parents weren’t afraid to have those conversations with me. So, I feel like I brought that down to my children.
I grew up in Oakland, California and so I was very familiar with the [Black] Panthers and all that. I applaud my parents because I was raised in a way where they didn’t wanna shelter me from or keep that behind closed doors. They wanted to share all that information with me, so they could prepare me for the real world. They had those types of talks with me back then that we’re having with our kids now about getting pulled over by the police and there are certain things that you just can’t do as a Black man if you want to protect yourself. Now, it blew up into, “You can get shot for doing nothing,” but those conversations are important. As soon as my son is old enough to understand, he’s going to get the same conversation and he’s gonna get it more so than my daughter because he’s a Black man. I don’t know, it’s scary how this world works and what’s going on, but you gotta just give them the tools, and hopefully, they work the right way with them.
How has your experience attending an HBCU molded you into the man you are today?
I think it was everything. I think I really became a man when I went off and attended Howard University. I always say, “An HBCU is an extension of the village.” You have professors and faculty that really care about the knowledge that you’re receiving and they push you. It’s just different. As you said, you learned so much that wasn’t filtered at an HBCU that you wouldn’t necessarily get at a PWI. I miss Howard every day just because that experience shaped me into the man I am today. It gave me my drive, my willpower, hope, and it gave me everything, especially going to Howard University. I mean, there are some greats who came out of that institution, so it kind of gives you that pressure to succeed and I work very well under pressure. I love it. I’m proud to say I attended an HBCU and I think they are very important, they’re still relevant, and I hope that my children choose an HBCU.
I would just encourage people to take tours. I was fortunate enough to go on an HBCU tour when I was in high school and I considered all the big-name universities and ivy leagues. Once I stepped on these campuses, I just knew there was something different and I knew that I belonged to an HBCU.
I just wish there were more programs like “A Different World” because that was one of the reasons why and it sparked my interest. It kind of educated me a little bit like, “Oh, this does exist where I can be around people who look like me, care for me, and teaching me my real history.” I would definitely encourage high school students to take advantage of the college tours that are being offered even in this pandemic. I’ve seen a lot of virtual college tours, so you don’t even have to leave home to get the information that’s out there. I’m a big advocate for HBCUs.
A lot of attention is given to schools like Harvard, Yale, NYU and Columbia. How do you think that we can do a better job at supporting HBCUs and giving them the recognition they deserve?
Just talk about them. Open the conversation up. Even though I went to Howard, I have so much love for Spelman [and] for Morehouse because I have colleagues who attended those universities, I know that they’re great people and I know they’re educated. It’s just about opening up the conversation and educating everybody about what they have to offer. The education is just different. It’s an extension of the village; it’s like a second home.
What do you have to say to those who are opposed to the relevance of HBCUs and believe that they’re limiting the growth of the Black community?
I would say do the research because they’re missing something. On all ends of the spectrum, there are CEOs that graduated from Morehouse. I would keep it short and simple and tell them that because they obviously haven’t done the research.