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Gabrielle Union, Essence, November 2016 Issue

Dennis Leupold

In a time of violent racial divide in America, Gabrielle Union is just like any other concerned stepmother trying to keep her boys safe. 

Having married basketball star Dwyane Wade in 2014, the 42-year-old actress earned a new role as stepmother to the athlete's three sons, Zaire, 14, Zion, 9, and Xavier, 2. However, as she said in the November issue of Essence, Union finds herself constantly worrying about them when they're not with her. 

"Teens get teen-y. It's harder. I never understood that. 'You won't sleep.' I always associated that phrase with babies. Crying, teething babies. No. Until they walk through the door, I'm terrified," she said. "Sometimes I just want to stay off my timeline, because it makes those waits until they walk through the door a thousand times worse. Just envisioning them as a hashtag…"

She has spoken publicly about raising growing young men, particularly when she published an emotional op-ed in the Los Angeles Times about her co-star and director Nate Parker's 1999 rape accusations, for which he was ultimately acquitted, and ongoing controversy surrounding his film, Birth of a Nation. "As a black woman raising brilliant, handsome, talented young black men, I am cognizant of my responsibility to them and their future," she wrote in the editorial.

"We are making an effort to teach our sons about affirmative consent. We explain that the onus is on them to explicitly ask if their partner consents. And we tell them that a shrug or a smile or a sigh won't suffice. They have to hear 'yes.'"

Gabrielle Union, Essence, November 2016 Issue

Dennis Leupold

While they raise their sons privately, Union continues to speak publicly in support of fellow rape survivors, particularly now in light of discussion around the new film.

"As a rape survivor and as an advocate, I cannot shy away from this responsibility because the conversation got difficult. I don't want to put myself above anyone's pain or triggers. Every victim or survivor, I believe you. I support you. I support you if you don't want to see the film," she said.

"I absolutely understand and respect that. I can't sell the film. This movie has always been about more than one person, and for the outspoken feminist advocates and allies who risked a lot to be a part of this project—Aja Naomi KingAunjanue ElllisPenelope Ann Miller—we are okay if you have to sit this one out, and we're okay if you don't, and we understand."