Tracee Ellis Ross is my best, best friend — in my head, anyway.
And thanks to this week’s B. PHL Innovation Fest — a three-day series of more than 250 workshops that showcase some of Philadelphia’s most influential innovators — I was able to meet and greet Ross, and soak up all the knowledge the star of ABC’s hit sitcom Black-ish had to offer.
I’ve been a fan of Ross — you all know, right, that she’s the daughter of the Diana Ross? — since 2001 and her days as Joan Carol Clayton on the long-running sitcom, Girlfriends. Joan was an L.A. lawyer who had a fab house, fab friends, fab hair, and even a more fab wardrobe — but always drama in love. Will Maya (Golden Brooks), Lynn (Persia White), and Toni (Jill Marie Jones), reunite anytime soon?
“We are working on it," Ross told an audience of about 300, all of whom, I’m guessing, also consider her a bestie in their heads. “We are trying to get people to do a #Girlfriendsnow hashtag.” (The Girlfriends actresses did just reunite on Black-ish. “It was like no time had passed,” she said of the experience. “It was seamless. The giggles were just nonstop.”)
Ross talked about how, during the past few years, she’s planted seeds that she’s now getting a chance to harvest. In addition to playing Rainbow on Black-ish, she’s the voice of Rainbow’s younger self in the Black-ish spin-off, Mixed-ish. She’s all set to voice the animated character in Jodie, a spin-off of the MTV cartoon, Daria. Next, Ross will join Dakota Johnson in the big-screen comedy, Covers.
But at the moment, she’s most proud of her new hair-care line, Pattern Beauty. Pattern debuted online and in Ulta Beauty in September. (I’ve already bought the jojoba hair serum.) Developed by Ross, it is for all women who have curly hair, but especially black women — everything from loose waves to tight curls.
“Your hair, my hair, our hair has helped me see the beauty in myself,” Ross said to the audience. “My journey with my hair is a chronicle of my journey to self-acceptance.”
Dressed in a pair of light pink trousers, a flowing blouse, and a pair of perfectly matching over-the-knee boots that pulled her look together in a very equestrian-meets-lady-who-lunches kind of way, Ross was frank, and as bubbly as her outfit. She chatted it up with Good Day Philadelphia co-anchor Alex Holley, dropping wisdom on the importance of trusting your gut, daydreaming while hand-washing dishes (she doesn’t have a dishwasher!), and what it really means to be innovative.
ON INNOVATION: “Innovation to me means thinking outside the box. Having the courage to have a vision and then figuring out how to make it happen. The courage part, that’s interesting. All of us have ideas. But the actual execution of that — that’s where the innovation comes in.”
ON BIRTHDAYS: “I love a birthday. I feel good in my skin. I’m 46, I’m going to be 47 on Oct. 29 … It took me a long time to figure out who I was. Once I figured it out, I knew who I was but I didn’t have the courage to be that person. Now I’m like This is me. Take it or leave it. I may not be your cup of tea. But this is me.”
ON TITLES: “Black and brown people in this world have not historically had the equity in what we built … or have a stake in what we’ve worked for. These titles mean something. They tell the world our power and our importance. As an executive producer, as a creator, as a CEO, as a co-founder, I have equity in what I’ve been building and I’m part of telling that story. That was intentional.”
ON CREATIVITY: “I have to allow space for wandering, pondering, and being. I need space. Instagram will rob you of your creativity. There is so much doing this [scrolling]. There is no place for your mind to play and wander. Whenever I’m writing a speech or working on a new idea, I take Instagram off my phone.”
ON FINDING BEAUTY: Black women “have not seen images that support your beautiful, natural, authentic self. Create another space where we can see ourselves, our beauty, and our glory in all of their moments. Their discomfort is about them, not about you. Find yourself a community of people who supports and loves and sees you and your beauty so that you have it mirrored back to you.”
ON DARING TO LIVE: "So much of the good stuff of life comes out of the comfort zone. But I personally have learned, from experience, there is no point in pushing myself so far outside of the comfort zone so that it creates another wound.”