Fifteen years ago, Gabrielle Union was already an icon to her fans thanks to her breakout role as Ivy in the cult cheerleading hit Bring It On, but she had yet to land a leading part in a major movie. In 2002, the then-29-year-old was still on the cusp of some of her most massive successes when she spent her first six months in Miami filming Bad Boys II. Immediately, something clicked.
"The level of support I've gotten from the very beginning of my career here, it's my home," she says, "and it feels like home."
Union was raised in Nebraska and California, but South Florida has been her spiritual center — whenever she can find the time to land here. Her ongoing hit BET series, Being Mary Jane, is filmed in Atlanta, and her husband — a guy Miami sports fans might remember, Dwyane Wade — now plays in Cleveland. But the two are still raising their children, Zaire and Zion, in South Florida.
Union has never shied away from being outspoken about everything from sexual assault to breast health to Hollywood's systemic problems. Her New York Times best-selling book, We're Going to Need More Wine, takes a deeply personal look at those questions, as well as the terror of raising black boys in a stand-your-ground state such as Florida.
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"It produces a level of anxiety when you're raising black and brown children in this country no matter where you are," she says before referencing recent police misconduct cases such as the Charles Kinsey shooting in North Miami. "When you see a teacher of an autistic man shot down... When you have law enforcement using black mug shots as target practice, and the type of text messages that have been released by law enforcement in South Florida... that increases the fear and the anxiety and the terror that black and brown citizens face."
Union describes in her book what she dubs "black truth bombs," which she uses to convey to her sons the danger of seemingly innocent activities such as participating in the drive-by dunk challenge or visiting a white friend's house. It's a task that's both maddening and necessary, part of a balance she strikes between providing stability for them and exposing them to what Miami offers.
"This is such a rich city with such a rich culture and history. I love that there's a lot more inclusion. There's still a long way to go, but it's not just one of the most diverse cities in the world. You see black and brown people actively participating in the political landscape and business and every facet of life here," she says.
"I just love being here."