If “making your haters your motivators” and “truly living in your purpose” was a person, it would look like Jerrie Johnson. Most known as “Tye” on Amazon Prime’s hit show Harlem, Jerrie has become a household name. She’s been seen walking across red carpets and stages, sitting front row at fashion shows and runways, and dropping gems on panels and luncheons nationwide. And slaying while doing it.
All at the age of 29.
However, Jerrie’s not surprised by her early accomplishments. A native of Philadelphia – and one of seven children – she is no stranger to hard work and determination.
“I just knew I was going to be a star,” Jerrie told HelloBeautiful during a video interview. And it was this assertion that kept her going despite doubt in various forms from some around her.
During our conversation, she also recanted a story of a former classmate she talked to early on in her career. The classmate, a Black male, advised her that she should lose 15 pounds if she wanted to be famous.
She didn’t ask for his opinion on her body. Nor did Jerrie let his unsolicited comment deter her. This wouldn’t be the first – or the only – time the actress refused to let others define or dictate her future.
Another time happened in San Francisco – the city she credits for nurturing her style and acting career – as she was graduating from the Masters of Fine Art program at the American Conservatory Theater. Jerrie traveled to the west coast after attending Philadelphia’s Performing Arts School and Penn State University.
“I kept telling people I was going to land a role 6 months after I graduated school, and people kept telling me it was not going to happen,” Jerrie shared with HB. “People said I wasn’t in the industry long enough. Even some of my friends said things, you know, to manage expectations.”
Motivated by the naysayers
The actress – 25 years old at the time – thrived in the face of doubt. She went on audition after audition. When she didn’t get the desired results, she centered herself by doing what she described as a “24-hour surrendering meditation,” focusing on what she wanted and who she was to be.
Jerrie also sat down and wrote “how she wanted to feel on set and described the type of people” she wanted to work with. Inspired by powerful women like Grace Jones, Eartha Kitt, Rihanna, and Erykah Badu, to name a few, each step of Jerrie’s career has been intentional.
Days later, she booked Good Trouble and Tracy Oliver’s untiled work at the time, Harlem. She was the first actress out of the main cast of four to sign a contract.
“I was excited,” Jerrie exclaimed, describing how she felt when she first heard the news. Her eyes smiled across the computer screen as she recalled the conversation with her agent.
“But I was also in my knowing. I knew it was mine, so it just kind of felt like divine, like the pieces were settling in. I was ready to talk about what’s next.”
There’s power in knowing who you are
Jerrie continues to live and breathe her divine purpose as she navigates life and career. As a Black Queer woman with what she describes as an “edgy, risky, fluid, unpredictable, yet sexy” style, Jerrie is unapologetic about who she is, what she wears, and who she embodies.
“I am the leader of the ‘how does Jerrie’s body look’ committee, and everybody else falls in line. If I’m not, then I’m looking for people to tell me that, and when I’m looking for what people have to say, I’m going to get what they have to say, not how it is or not how I feel … there’s nothing that anybody can tell me about the way I look.”
As we close Women’s History Month and elevate the voices and contributions of Black women, we look at Jerrie Johnson as a shining example of self-love, admiration, and empowerment. Just shy of 30, Jerrie inspires women of all ages who may be unsure of their future goals – or are surrounded by those who speak uncertainty into their lives.
“I truly feel like we have to have the audacity to [affirm ourselves],” said Jerrie when speaking about how to take control of our vision for our lives. “We have to know that not doing it is not the thing that’s going to get us the partner of our dreams or the job of our dreams. If I’m working somewhere and I can’t tell myself how beautiful I am because it makes somebody else uncomfortable, I’m not meant to work there. If I’m with a partner and they don’t want me to affirm myself, I don’t need to be with that person. But it takes practice – it’s not easy work, you know.”
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