By Charreah Jackson
Yes, Hill Harper has a law degree and a masters from Harvard and remains close with his classmate President Barack Obama. And we’ve discovered the leading man also knows a thing or two about Black love. As Hill promotes his new Showtime film “This Is Not a Test,” the actor and author of “Letters to a Young Brother,” “Letters to a Young Sister” and his upcoming fall release, “The Conversation,” shares with ESSENCE.com the secret to strong relationships in the Black community and whether men and women can really just be friends.
ESSENCE.COM: You have traveled the country during President Obama’s and your own book tours. What’s the biggest thing sisters aren’t clued into about men?
HILL HARPER: I’ve gotten a firsthand view at the destruction that Black men and Black women not being able to stay and build healthy relationships has had on the Black family and Black children. I couldn’t sit by silently. My whole next book is about relationships. I’m not saying I have all the answers, I just hope to start the conversation. The biggest issue I have learned is when it comes to Black men and Black women, we are not communicating.
ESSENCE.COM: So what will it take for us to open the dialogue?
HARPER: It takes really opening up and being willing to be vulnerable. We have to ask the questions we really want answers to, instead of manipulating. For the most part, we see Black women talking to Black women and Black men talking to Black men. Are we really even friends anymore? Obviously, we as men have a lot of cover we put on are very resistant. At the same time, sisters put on a lot of cover, but act as if they are knowledgable in relationships because they talk about them all the time. But they talk amongst themselves and not to men, so it’s not cross gender.
ESSENCE.COM: This is true. But can men and women really just be friends?
HARPER: Yes! Gabrielle Union is one of my best friends. People have always said we’ve hooked up. We’ve shared great memories and very difficult times together, but we’ve never crossed the line of friendship. Men and women can absolutely be friends and that’s what we need to be. Part of the problem is that we aren’t friends enough. Our relationships are negotiations and that is not friendship.
ESSENCE.COM: In your new film “This Is Not a Test” your character is having trouble in his marriage and life when he believes a nuclear attack will hit. What can people learn from him?
HARPER: We can learn to be prepared for the future, but to not let it consume us. The movie is about fear. My character’s outside fear of terrorism is covering his underlying fear of connection and family. By the end he learns it doesn’t matter what happens, and what matters is that you are connected. There will always be crazy things that happen in our lives, but love is the central connector. If we commit to love and partnership, the other stuff doesn’t matter.
ESSENCE.COM: And you’ve witnessed that up close with your friend and classmate President Barack Obama and his wife, First Lady Michelle Obama.
HARPER: Absolutely. Their relationship is really the type I learned about through both sets of my grandparents, who were married for more than 50 years. The Obamas represent that and it’s a call to all of us to look at what our own legacy will be. Having known him so long, it’s wonderful for me to see him and others build strong families. I want that type of relationship in my life.
ESSENCE.COM: So what are you looking for in a woman to build that lasting relationship?
HARPER: That’s a really long answer. At the end of the day the real important things are kindness and a sense of humor. I’ve been fortunate to have dated and could have easily married women who have those qualities and time and circumstances didn’t work out. Timing plays a big part. I’ll recognize her when it’s right.