She breaks stereotypes

What happens when you want to stretch, but the “box” you have been placed into restricts your movement? Do you knock the walls down and face a world seemingly unknown, or do you remain in the confines of suffocating entrapment?

Meet Carol Diahann Johnson, better known as Diahann Carroll. Carroll, at the height of her career, was an actress, singer and model. In 1962, she became the first African-American woman to win the Tony Award for Best Actress for the role of Barbara Woodruff in the musical “No Strings.” Carroll was born on July 17, 1935.

When Carroll was 18 years old, she got her big break. She was a contestant on a television show called “Chance of a Lifetime” in which she sang her rendition of a song entitled “Why Was I Born?” She won the singing contest that night, as well as, the following four weeks. Afterwards numerous opportunities followed.

Carroll acted in a number of the earliest major studio films, as well as on Broadway, that featured black casts. In 1968, she starred in a weekly television series called “Julia,” which was one of the first television shows to star a black woman in a non-stereotypical role.

In it, Carroll played a widowed single mother who was a nurse in a doctor’s office at a large aerospace company. The show was well-received. In 1969, Caroll’s role won her the Golden Globe Award for “Best Actress In A Television Series.”

Before “Julia,” the majority of African-American characters were usually servants.

After “Julia,” Carroll played Dominique Deveraux, a successful and wealthy singer in the primetime soap opera “Dynasty.” Would we have seen Dominique Deveraux so soon if Carroll turned down the opportunity to play Julia — if she remained in the box?

As a child, Carroll’s parents encouraged and supported her desire to reach her fullest potential. In the midst of racial and gender injustice, and before the Civil Rights Act Of 1964, Caroll’s parents enrolled her in dance, singing and modeling classes. By the age of 15, she was modeling for “Ebony” magazine. In the midst of “you can’t,” she did.

Keisha Bell

Keisha Bell

Carroll is the recipient of numerous stage and screen nominations and awards. On the way towards possibility, when external messages screamed “impossible,” she knocks down walls. She breaks stereotypes.

Keisha Bell is an attorney, author, and public servant.

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