You adore her as Shirley on Community. You’ve seen her standout cameos on so many of television’s biggest hits. You’ve watched commercial after commercial become something great because Yvette’s in it. Let’s face it, you look at that face and you just can’t help but want to hug her.
And yet, to hear Yvette tell it, it’s her mom who deserves the credit.
My mom didn’t raise kids that felt sorry for themselves,” she says with obvious pride. “Our circumstances never felt like poverty to me. It just felt like, you know, we’re responsible. We had an understanding that we were all in this together.”
By any measure it was a tough situation. Cleveland, the 70s. Single mom, two kids, raising them on the salary of a secretary at General Electric. To put it into perspective, after 35 years, Yvette’s mom was making $28,000 a year.
Even Yvette has to pause. “I’m like, how? How did she do it?”
But Yvette’s environment was never grim. Instead, her mom filled her children with a sense of hope and optimism and discipline.
“She always said, regardless of where you start in life, even if it doesn’t feel like it’s an even playing field, if you work hard and study hard, you can attain everything you want,” Yvette says. Her mom made it clear that education was everything.
Clearly, Yvette was a determined young girl. High school choir led to local talent shows, and thanks to not taking no for an answer, Yvette signed up with New Edition’s Michael Bivins. Yet, though she made appearances with Boyz II Men and recorded an album, Yvette made the difficult decision to leave the label to go back to school and earn her degree.
Upon Graduation, Yvette hightailed it to Hollywood with nothing but a duffle bag. In a sea of unemployed talent, Yvette stood out, all because of that college education. She scored a job at Motown, then Showtime, working full-time while using her breaks to go on auditions – on the bus.
It happened fast. From the moment Yvette started auditioning, the bookings came. About 45 commercials in four years. Then the TV shows. And then, of course, our beloved Community.
Massive success. With which Yvette bought a place big enough so she and her mom could live together.
Community also brought Yvette to First Entertainment, where she switched from SAG/AFTRA’s credit union. “First Entertainment’s branch is right on the lot down the driveway from stage 32 where we shoot. It’s perfect! There’s a lot of times like you get to set and it’ll be someone’s birthday and you didn’t know. I like that you can just go down to the branch and get a twenty spot to put in someone’s card. I also like being able to check on my accounts with a person. I love it.”
We wanted to wrap our conversation by asking Yvette to sum it all up. What was it that her mom gave her that enabled her to survive, to stay positive, and to believe in herself?
“She taught us – and every black person of color that I know has heard this – that you have to be twice as good to get half of what others have. You can have whatever you want, but you have to shine. You know you’re capable, but you have to let them know every gift you have – and let them have it. Like, seriously, let them have it.” Yvette makes it a point to add, “And you cannot do it from a place of ego.”
Yvette continues, clearly welcoming the chance to explain her higher purpose.
“I feel like, acting and talk shows are my ministry and it’s just a way to show God’s love and to remind people that they’re okay. If people leave my presence and they feel encouraged and supported and loved, then I’ve done all that I’m supposed to do.”
With that, Yvette pauses and speaks almost in a whisper, underscoring the importance of her point.
“What my mom taught me was this: The moment I forget where I come from, meaning Cleveland, Ohio, the moment I start to think that there’s something magically delicious about me, I believe that will be the moment the universe says, well, your time has been fun, but you’ll no longer advance in this career because, guess what, we can’t use you then.”
Yvette, you and that mother of ours, all 4 feet and 11 inches of her, are incredible role models for us all. We’re thrilled to have you be a part of our community.