- Category: Spotlight
- Created on 05 March 2014
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Bernadette Stanis has come a long way from playing the feisty teenage daughter, Thelma, on the hit series Good Times.
We all remember how she and JJ battled it out to see who would get into the one bathroom shared by the family of five, first. Although the Evans family did not have a lot of money and lived in the projects, they still had love and integrity.
Born Bernadette Stanislaus and raised in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, New York in the projects, Bernadette’s story was ironically similar to Thelma’s character on Good Times. She is one of five children and her mother and father worked hard to ensure that they all received a good education. Bernadette says they were taught that education and determination to be someone in life was key to being successful. She remembers her father always saying, ‘Now I can go and buy a big old house – I can do that, but I’m gonna take my money and invest it in my children’s education and talent.’ It was an investment that he and his wife made without a second thought!
As a young girl, Bernadette was exposed to the arts, mainly music and dance, enabling her to enroll in Julliard’s School of the Arts. Her talent was evident and while in her sophomore year she was selected for the part of Thelma on Good Times. She describes it as an “incredible” experience. “Being the rookie, I was watching them. I learned everything just by watching them and how professional they were. Esther Rolle was like my mom away from home. I loved her so much; she was such a brilliant woman. She fought for the right thing for us.” Initially Bernadette only had a few lines like, ‘Hi Mom, Hi Dad, and Shut up JJ.’ She started to get bored and commented to Esther Rolle one day that she wanted more lines. Ms. Rolle’s response was ‘You do, huh? Well, let me handle that.’ After that conversation, things changed, and Thelma had a voice on the show. She attributes that change to Esther Rolle. Although Bernadette was successful early in life, she remembered what her parents stressed about getting an education, and went back to school to get her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Drama.
Along with acting, another gift began to emerge – writing. Her first book was Situations 101 – Relationships, the Good, the Bad, the Ugly followed by a book of poetry for men, which is a tribute to the men who supported and encouraged her throughout her life, called For Men Only. On the heels of those books she also published Situations 101 – Finances. Bernadette viewed her role on Good Times as a job, not as being a star, but as doing good work. In 2006, when she started traveling with her mother to promote her book, she realized for the first time how much her fans appreciated her and what an impact she had on them. Both she and her mom were touched by the outpouring of love and support from the fans. Her mother remarked, ‘Oh Bern, they love you; your fans love you.’
Bernadette is penning a new book in which she opens her heart - The Last Night – A Caregiver’s Journey. In it she pays tribute to her parents and talks about her relationship with them, who they were, and how they contributed to her success as well as the success of her brothers and sisters. She speaks lovingly of her parents. “They were very, very wonderful parents.” Bernadette laughs as she recalls how good they were together even though they were opposites. “Mommy was from Louisiana – ‘a Southern little doll’ and Daddy was from the West Indies and he had that fire going!” She wants to share that with the world as well as the unfortunate things that happened in her life like how they dealt with her father’s murder, and her mother’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease. Both of those events weighed heavily on Bernadette and her family.
When her mom was in the later stages of Alzheimer’s she was watching Good Times with Bernadette one day, a show she loved to watch. Thelma and JJ were having one of their usual spats when Ms. Stanis turned to Bernadette and said, ‘That’s a cute little old girl.’ It was a devastating blow that made all too clear the progression of the disease. “It hit me so hard that my mother did not know that was really me, and it was her that put me on that show and she gave me the face of Thelma. So I said right then and there, I am going to use the same face to put on Alzheimer’s and fight with that! I’m going to fight and hopefully educate and make aware of what it is and what this thing has going on, the characteristics of it, and hopefully we can find an answer to slow it down and stop it eventually.”
Alzheimer’s Disease affects African American s twice as much as any other disease, and is the sixth leading cause of death among African American women. Bernadette is now a national spokesperson for Alzheimer’s and has established her own Foundation (RememberingtheGoodTimes.org) in honor of her mother who passed away in 2011. The Foundation will host a gala in Atlanta, Georgia in April 2014 to promote Alzheimer’s Disease awareness.
Bernadette has not given up on acting, but she is careful about selecting roles. Her advice to young women pursuing an acting career – “Learn your craft because it’s a skill. Understand what acting is about. You don’t have to compromise yourself. All the parts don’t fit you; don’t get discouraged; just hang in there….and you’ll get your spot.” These days Bernadette focuses on her Foundation, speaking across the country, and yet another emerging talent – painting!! “We all have talent; we all have many talents; we don’t just have one. What we have to do is go deep down and if one talent is not working for us at that particular time we have to learn to develop our other talents so that we can survive in the world.”
If you would like to support Bernadette in her fight against Alzheimer’s Disease go to: Rememberingthegoodtimes.com