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Up close & personal with Vanessa Williams

caines | 7/4/2012, 5:30 a.m.

Actress has come a long way since New Jack City

At first glance, actress Vanessa A. Williams not to be confused with former Miss America Vanessa Williams who also acts and sings is a svelte, beautiful sister best known for her role as Maxine Chadway in the TV series Soul Food. But Williams, 49, has a long list of television and film appearances to her credit. And she says shes just getting started. The Charlotte native who has long called New York City her home, first hit the scene in 1988 in the music video Parents Just Dont Understand, sung by a then-young Will Smith [aka The Fresh Prince] and Jazzy Jeff. But it was her iconic line Rock-a-bye-baby, spoken in the 1991 film New Jack City and her subsequent performance that brought her to our attention. Williams was in Miami a few weeks ago to promote her latest film, Raising Izzy a Christian-themed movie about a Black couple that comes to the aid of two orphaned white children that will warm your heart. Her onscreen pal Rockmond Dunbar co-stars while Tyler Perry protg Roger Bobb directs and produces the film. She talked about her life, career and future plans after fans viewed the movie during the recent American Black Film Festival. Blacks have been taking care of other folks children forever but the movie tells a rarely-told story of a Black couple taking in two white children usually its the other way around, she said. The films message is simple: Dont block your blessings by asking God for a ready-made prayer. And it shows us that we can be blessed by being receptive to openings and opportunities that are around us. Williams lost her own mother when she was just 10-years-old and was raised by her grandmother along with other women from her neighborhood and church. She drew on feelings from the past to prepare for her role in the film. I had a lot of mothers in my church that loved and mentored me, she said. And many of my prayers were eventually answered. I was raised in New York City and was lucky to be there because ever since I saw Shirley Temple I wanted to know what I needed to do to get inside that TV screen. Williams attended the performing arts high school made popular in the 80s film Fame and originally studied opera. Shes been acting for most of her life and says she continues to press on towards greater accomplishments. No matter how successful you are, there are always those voices in your head that make you doubt yourself, but you have to believe that what youre doing is your destiny and birthright. I remain open to the Spirit to direct me and know that I was born to be an actress. Williams continues to give back to her community, serving as a board member and activist for the Black AIDS Institute as well as an organization that is committed to ending violence against women and girls A Call to Men. She is also directing several projects and has a one-woman show that she calls her own Vagina Monologue. Ive been able to get my acting friends to join me in PSAs for the Greater Than AIDS campaign and believe that the Black community is hampered because we still cant have honest, open dialogues about being gay, straight or sex. But if we work together Im convinced that we can end AIDS in our lifetime. By D. Kevin McNeirkmcneir@miamitimesonline.com