Robin Givens: Grace Will Lead me Home (Book Review + More)



Use your smile to change the world, don’t let the world change your smile!
- Robin Simone Givens

“Amazing Grace” is the theme of Robin Given’s compelling memoir, Grace Will Lead Me Home.  Her maternal grandmother, Grace Turner Newby Scott, was amazing grace personified and a true phenomenal woman.  She had deep faith and strength of character which she instilled in her daughter, Ruth Newby Givens Roper.

Ms. Roper is an ambitious and highly successful entrepreneur who had big dreams for her daughters Robin and Stephanie.  She was an early helicopter mom and a bit of a narcissist.  Her incessant demands for perfection exhausted Robin and significantly undermined her self-esteem.  For three generations, the Turner-Newby-Givens women chose to be single mothers rather than tolerate abuse and infidelity.

All three generations experienced abandonment.  Grace’s mother died when she was small.  Ruth experienced PTSD episodes from witnessing her mother’s abuse and didn’t connect the man in her nightmares with her absent father until he finally came for a visit.  Robin’s father missed her birth (we’re both Thanksgiving babies ~ she was born the day after my sixteenth birthday), and he forgot he was her father until he extorted her for money when the tabloids came calling.  The book’s dedication gave me chills:

I would like to dedicate this book to all of the fatherless daughters who grow up feeling abandoned and unworthy of “good” love. . .For all of the abandoned little girls searching to fill the emptiness, all of the lonely little girls desperate to be made worthy, I want you to know the fault does not rest with you.

Robin Givens at Marshall's "Shop til It Stops" event in NYC

The matriarchs in Ms. Givens’ family gave her a solid foundation of wit and wisdom ~ some of which she didn’t timely comprehend.  Three of my favorite nuggets from her great-aunts:

You can walk into a blessing just as soon as you can walk into some shit.  [Liza]

Mama always said if you find a man with character, you’ve found a man worth his weight in gold.  [Cindy]

Some men have a way of just sucking the life right out of you. . .Take your heart and suck the love out of it too.  ‘Cause, baby, truth be told, that’s where a woman’s beauty comes from. . .Comes right from her heart. . .I don’t know what it is about some women hell bent on loving the wrong man, on trying to fix something that only God can fix.  [Ruth]

Ms. Givens had loving relationships with her maternal grandfather Louis Newby, Jr., and with her grandmother’s second husband Harry (“Poppy”) Scott.  She admits that she intentionally sabotaged her mother’s second marriage to Frank Roper.  Her extended family all lived in the same New York apartment building.  Her mother’s assistant Olga was part surrogate mother and part spiritual sister.  A romantic at heart, Olga played a major role in introducing Mike Tyson to Ms. Givens.  My sense is that these people gave Ms. Givens the skills she would need to form enduring, supportive relationships.

Writing was therapeutic.
We have to deal with our own hurt, our own pain, and get as healed and whole as we can
before we can have healthy relationships with other people.
- Robin Givens
 
Robin Givens is brilliant and driven.  She graduated from the prestigious Sarah Lawrence College when she was just nineteen years old.  She wanted to be an actress, but her uber-controlling mother insisted that she become a physician.  Ms. Givens briefly attended graduate school at Harvard before dropping out to be on The Cosby Show.
 
Bill Cosby became her mentor, champion, and father-figure.  He reminded her of Poppy.  Over an “exquisite” dinner, he forcefully persuaded Ms. Roper to allow Robin an opportunity to live her own dreams.  He suggested giving Robin six months to find success in Hollywood.  If she failed, Dr. Cosby generously offered to fund Robin’s medical education.   It was a deal Ms. Roper, who owned a computer consulting firm, couldn’t pass up.
 

Robin Givens and Eddie Murphy in Boomerang

My mother had never acknowledged my strength.
I always wondered, could I ever be enough.
I had no love for myself.
- Robin Givens
 
Ms. Given’s other enduring champion has been comedian Eddie Murphy.  They met while Ms. Givens was in college and before Mr. Murphy was well-known.  Ms. Givens had a huge crush on him, but he was a bit of a player.  His cavalier dating style was a primary factor in Mike Tyson’s success in winning Ms. Givens’ heart.  Mr. Tyson pursued her relentlessly, showered her with gifts and affection, and called when he said he would call.  They were the Rihanna/Chris Brown duo of their generation. 
 

Robin Givens and Mike Tyson

I was a little girl.  I wasn’t ready to marry anybody.

I knew before I said “I do” that I shouldn’t.

- Robin Givens 
 
Ms. Givens is a petite 105 pounds.  Mr. Tyson was the heavyweight boxing champion.  Boxing metaphors have often been used to describe abusive relationships, but this was the real deal.  The boxing world wouldn’t let him in the ring with her, but this didn’t stop Mr. Tyson from using his incredible talent to intimidate Ms. Givens in the bedroom:

I could kill you and get away with it.  People love me.  I could kill you and no one would care.  Don’t worry, it won’t hurt.  You’ll never see it coming. 

Success came early for both, and neither had the emotional foundation to deal with the dark side of fame and fortune.  They both had significant abandonment issues and were perpetually seeking a substitute father-figure.  Ms. Givens found one in Dr. Cosby, and Mr. Tyson found one in Cus D’Amato and Jim Jacobs.  Unfortunately, both men died suddenly and left a vacuum which Don King pounced upon with the help of a manipulative priest.

Head of the Class

You don’t have to work.
- Mike Tyson

Ms. Givens’ Ivy League education, success on Head of the Class, and role in Oprah Winfrey’s Women of Brewster Place were minimized by men who wanted their own piece of the exceedingly lucrative Mike Tyson pie.  After Mr. Jacobs’ sudden death, his brother Bill and Don King battled over who would be the head of Team Tyson.  Ms. Givens suggested Donald Trump:

If hell had been quaking, it threatened to break loose then.  I had no ties to the man, and I hardly even knew him. . .The very thought of this Don having a foothold in boxing must have ruffled the feathers of some mighty big birds.  The stage was set for all-out war. . .I was caught. . .in the cross fire. . .so was Michael.  Oh, he thought he was in control and he hoped to use this war to control me. . .we were both casualties of war.  I was seriously wounded but he would be taken hostage and held as a prisoner of war.

. . .it was that simple.  By introducing another option, another Don, I became the enemy of powerful people.

Norman Brokaw, who was friends with Barbara Walters, envisioned an acting career for Mr. Tyson and set up the infamous interview on 20/20.  It was scheduled to be taped in their $4.5 million, 30-room mansion in Bernardsville, NJ on the day after the couple returned from Russia.

On the last night of their Russian trip, Mr. Tyson got drunk while visiting American troops.  He raped [Ms. Givens’ refuses to use this word] her before attempting suicide twice and going on a drunken rampage in the hotel that terrified everyone in their entourage.

We have to get the perpetrators to really own up to it.
- Robin Givens

Oprah Winfrey witnessed Mr. Tyson’s bizarre behavior.  She had been a frequent guest at parties and was with the couple at the NBA All-Star game in Chicago on February 7, 1988.  Later that night, Mr. Tyson surprised Ms. Givens by taking her to a Catholic rectory to get married.

Ms. Givens’ must have felt a powerful betrayal when Oprah didn’t call Mr. Tyson out during an interview on her show for making a joke of his brutal spousal abuse.  I was shocked that Ms. Winfrey apologized profusely:

I felt that I should have said, “Audience, that isn’t funny” or, “Audience, this is really serious.”  So I regretted even in that moment. . .I would say to you and to every woman who’s ever been hit, I feel that I did not handle that as well as I should have. . .I apologize to you and to every woman who has ever been in that situation.

Chaos is just a way to distract yourself.
- Robin Givens

 Ms. Givens left Mr. Tyson several times after abusive episodes.  The final straw came shortly after the Barbara Walters interview.  Ms. Givens, her mother, her sister, and Olga barricaded themselves in the laundry room with the couple’s puppies during one of Mr. Tyson’s violent tirades.  Contrary to the “gold digger” vilification, Ms. Givens left the marriage with the clothes on her back.  When I read this moving reflection in her book, I thought it would make a powerful soliloquy in a Tyler Perry or Lee Daniels movie:

I drew on the strength of all the strong women who had come before me, women of vision and courage, women of pride and purpose, women striving for perfection.  No, these women are not perfect by any means, but in striving to be the best they could be, they found the courage to go on.  Standing on the shoulders of these women, I was being lifted beyond my circumstance and above what I could see in front of me.  It must have been my heart that glimpsed a better future, the very thing that had inspired and motivated them, the very thing they wanted and believed in for me.

I’d been in such survival mode for so long that
I hadn’t given myself time to heal.
- Robin Givens

Ms. Givens returned to Hollywood.  The failure of her marriage caused her to slip into a deep depression:

When the adrenaline left my body and I saw everything for the first time, I felt shame and embarrassment and overwhelming guilt. . .I became very sad.  I mean, very, very sad. . .I was immobilized.  And I could not get out of bed. . .clinically depressed.  It took me awhile. . .to get help and to get over the shame of what had just robbed me of so much time.  I was unable to participate in life.

She met Brad Pitt, who helped her start the healing process.  He put her on a plane to Paris, and she traveled to escape.  She immersed herself in work.  Eventually, she bought a cottage near Hilton Head, SC.  Mr. Tyson continued to call and escalated his chilling threat:

Remember I said I was gonna kill you?  Don’t worry, I’ve changed my mind.  I’m not going to kill you.  I’m going to make your life so miserable, you’re going to cut your own throat.  I’m gonna love every minute watching you go down.

I was very bonded [to Mike Tyson].
It’s hard to be bonded and save yourself at the same time.
You just want to fix it.
It became a game.  It became a sick little game for him.
- Robin Givens on CNN
 
Ms. Givens is the spokesperson for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.  She speaks frequently on the issues of domestic violence and healing from abuse.  She was interviewed extensively about Rihanna’s experiences with Chris Brown.  Joy Behar, who was sitting in for Larry King on CNN, asked her about the Barbara Walters interviewMs. Givens recalled:
 
I was so numb. . .Barbara knew what was going on in our lives and encouraged me to be honest. . .I had traveled back from Russia.  We had traveled back the night before.  And on a plane, he told me he was going to kill me. . .he could kill me and get away with it. . .he said it very calm.
 
. . .he had done an interview somewhere. . .saying the best punch he ever threw was against me and that he punched me in the head and I bounced from one wall to the other. . .he remembered it specifically.
 
A psychologist who was on the panel made a distinction between aggression and abuse:
 
Women can be aggressive with men, but they’re not abusive.  Here is the difference:  abuse contains intimidation, control, and coercion. . .it’s the power and control and coercion that really classifies as abuse.  We have to make a distinction.
 
Ms. Givens’ memoir is packed with wisdom, humor, insights, and candid revelations.  As she has often said, her story is our story.  She has worked very hard to recover from the abandonment and abuse she has experienced in her life.  I found that reading her book was empowering as well as informative.  I recommend it highly.
 
Miles College Acting Class
I know the power of miracles and God’s grace.
- Robin Givens

Earlier this year, Ms. Givens launched The Art of Acting. . .For Life, a national tour of acting workshops for adults and children, in Detroit, MI.  In the above photo, she is coaching Amina Johnson at Miles College in Birmingham, AL on the role of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.  Her life has come full circle.  The role of Dorothy in a school play was Ms. Givens’ first acting gig.

She lives in Florida and New York with her sons Michael (“Buddy”) and Billy.  Ms. Givens is determined to “give good husbands and good fathers to the world.”  The boys are avid tennis players like their aunt Stephanie, who followed her dream to become a tennis professional rather than the lawyer her mother wanted her to be.

Mr. Tyson declared bankruptcy in 2003.  Ms. Givens told People:

We loved each other once. . .He has a place in my heart, but he’s really not a part of my life.

 

She survived.  She’s thriving and has found joy.  She’s speaking out and making a difference.

 October is Domestic Violence Awareness month.  Please join me in wearing your purple and celebrating survivors.

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One response to “Robin Givens: Grace Will Lead me Home (Book Review + More)

  1. Anne Caroline Drake, you are absolutely right! I have read my girl Robin Givens’s book “Grace Will Lead Me Home” and it is indeed a frequently sensitive, often moving, always incisive tome. I too was and continue to be mightily impressed with the strength and the clarity with which Robin lays out the hard times she and other female members of her family have experienced. Her book is genuinely one of the greatest literary encounters of my reading life. Robin has triumphed on TV (“The Penthouse,” “Jackie Collins’s Hollywood Wives: The New Generation”), in films (“Boomerang,” “Head of State”), and on the stage (“The Vagina Monologues,” the Broadway revival of “Chicago” where she was the first black woman to enact the role of Roxie Hart), and now she has shown her chops as an author. She is really and truly a Renaissance woman when it comes to creativity and, in point of fact is, along with Lorenzo Lamas-Jere Burns ex Kathleen Kinmont, daytime/nighttime-soap actress Michelle Stafford, and daytime-soap-performer-turned-singer Teri Ann Linn, my leading fantasy lover. She is, in truth, the Bionic Woman of the black celebrity/entertainment area.

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