The story of Phaedra Parks doesn’t read like your typical fairytale. Sure, within this narrative, readers find a heroine who defies the odds to eventually come out on top. But, Parks’ path to dénouement, unlike most triumphant tales, is not a linear one that tracks directly from tragedy to testimony. No, Parks’ journey is muddled with peaks and valleys:
There is success.
There is failure.
There is love.
There is loss.
The multifaceted mega-attorney and “Real Housewives of Atlanta” star shared all facets of her personal journey in a revealing cover interview. Below is a snippet of Phaedra uncensored.
I’m glad you could set aside some time for this interview. I know you’re quite busy, as your sons are starting school right now. I’m curious as to why we don’t see more of them.
A lot of people always ask me why I don’t post pictures of my kids. I don’t believe in kids being on social media, so I never post pictures of them. I just think that the lifestyle that I chose is my choice, not my children’s. I have a duty as a mom to protect them from the dangers that they may not see. People are always like, “Oh, are you going to let your children be expressive?” No, I’m old school. You don’t let your child cross the street without walking with them. As parents, it’s our job to guide them.
Do you think your old-school mindset came from the way you were raised?
Growing up in Athens, [Georgia], coming from a political family, a family of preachers, we were the quintessential old school, middle class black family. Both of my parents are pastors and educators. I went to the school that my parents taught in, so people expected more of me.
So, you grew up in a lot of structure. Being in the entertainment world as an attorney and as a reality star can be a very demanding and even chaotic. How do you make those two things fit?
I never had any intentions on being an entertainment attorney. I think this was truly my calling. My main goal was always to help someone, and I’ve always been very connected with Black men. When you look at the structure of the entertainment world and its leadership, there are not a lot of people that look like us. When I first got into the industry, that’s what resonated with most of my clients. They were the people that no one wanted. People didn’t understand them. They had issues that the majority of attorneys did not want to deal with. So, I found out what my niche was: helping people who most thought could not be rehabilitated. And I really made it my duty to show that just because someone has an issue doesn’t mean that they can’t be successful.
That’s an emotional undertaking. How do you handle cases when it seems like you want success more than the person you’re fighting for?
When people see that you believe in them, and that you have their best at heart, sometimes that’s enough to turn that around. A lot of these people get in these positions because they’ve been rejected. But now they’re coming into contact with someone who’s giving them a clean slate. When you speak life into a dead situation, things grow.
You’re on a show where you can get pulled into situations and it’s not always about “speaking life.” How do you deal with that?
I’m on a show where they speak death all the time. But the way I have conducted myself has set me apart because I really try to think before I speak. I try not to say things that I can’t come back from. I’m always very careful, and just because you’re thinking something doesn’t mean that you should say it. But there’ve been a lot of times where I wanted to rip somebody’s wig off.
And that’s often what the public wants, right?
Oh definitely. And a lot of times people will say, “You’re not a role model.” But when you’re on a platform like “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” where millions of people around the world watch you, you have a duty to conduct yourself in a way that you edify the whole race. If my children are watching this show 10 years from now, I don’t ever want there to be a moment where they’re disappointed or embarrassed, because at the end of the day, you are your children’s role model.
You always seem to be thinking two or three steps ahead. Have you ever considered that maybe you overthink things?
No. I think anyone that’s smart is always thinking forward. The smart person is always thinking about the next phase of their life. At the end of the day, my legacy won’t be that I was on a reality show. I want my legacy to be that I’ve made a change for many people, opened doors for women, that I was a great mother juggling a family and a career. Not that I was a fool on a reality show. There’s no honor in that.
Do you ever find yourself wanting to distance yourself from people who want that to be their legacy?
I don’t think people who have that goal have anything in common with me. I’ve built my life on things that are more solid. Fame is fleeting. Wealth is what’s real. Who cares about being famous? Making strides that will go into history is what’s important to me.
On your social media pages, you share a long list of jobs and responsibilities you undertake. Is the list long because you’re still evolving as a person and finding out who Phaedra is?
Everything that I do comes from a place of passion and experience. I’m very multi-faceted, so I’m always thinking about the next frontier. My love for funerals came from experiences with death. It came from a place of pain, and I turned my pain into passion. I saw a lack of people in that business who genuinely wanted to help people and understood the grieving process. It came from some of my best friends committing suicide and getting killed. So, I really saw it as a ministry. I still do funerals for free, and haven’t made a penny off of any funeral I’ve ever done.
You’ve been speaking around the country. What is that thing that you’re really able to dig down and share with people that resonates with them?
In this past year, people have seen how I’ve dealt with my husband being incarcerated, and I became a single mom in front of the world. But I think that on the flip side, people saw me as a pregnant woman, going to school and getting my degree. I had both of my children on the show. And I was still able to come out of all of that unscathed. People have seen me at the best and at the worst of times. They’ve seen me in heated situations where I handled myself respectably. I can speak to the students because I know what it’s like to stay up all night studying. I know what it’s like to be pregnant and go to school. I can speak to the person who is in a marriage with issues; I’ve been that person. I’ve been in many adverse situations where I’ve succeeded and didn’t compromise my morals. I think a lot of these things resonate with people because these are things that we all deal with. Tests build testimonies. As long as you’re questioning, “God, why am I here?” and not accepting defeat, that’s when you know you have the option to get out.
During this age of social media, common, everyday occurrences are amplified and given great attention from the public, especially for someone like you. When the attention turns negative, how do you deal with it?
To be honest, I think if everyone’s agreeing with you, you’re doing something wrong. If you’re doing something right, that’s when everyone is criticizing you. Social media has made people so rude. But I really try not to open myself up to that kind of negativity. I don’t read the blogs because they are not news. I get my news from people who have been certified to do so.
In 2013, you published Secrets of a Southern Belle. Are we going to see another book from you?
Absolutely. I am playing with the idea of writing a book about parenting, and about Black boys. I want to talk about how you prepare a Black boy for this society that we’re in. I’m active with the Black Lives Matter movement, because although it’s 2015, the social and racial climate makes it feel like 1960.
Do you think “Black lives matter” in this country?
No. I don’t. I think Black lives have been devalued by the United States merely because of legislation and acts of people in power that say, especially to our Black boys, that they don’t matter. I see it all too often. I think that, socioeconomically, people that sit in my tax bracket are not putting money back into our community. This year, I participated in Bloody Sunday’s 50th anniversary, and I could count the number of celebrities on one hand. I saw more politicians than people who influence the culture. They haven’t taken their platform to really use it in a way that is influential in our community.