Erika Alexander is probably best remembered as attorney-at-law Maxine Shaw from the 1990s classic television series, “Living Single” (Fox) and as cousin Pam on the groundbreaking sitcom, “The Cosby Show” (NBC). The beloved actress has gone on to star in a number of television shows including “Bosch” (Showtime), “Black Lightening” (CW) , “Wu-Tang: An American Saga” (HULU) and Last Man Standing (ABC/Fox). Alexander, who is widely known as an actress is starring in one of her greatest roles to date as producer of the highly anticipated documentary film Good Trouble, which explores the life of revered civil rights giant John Lewis.
Alexander is no stranger to politics having campaigned for Rep. Ayanna Pressley and former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. In fact, Alexander, who refers to herself as a “Clintonista,” was a Hillary Clinton surrogate and has attended a number of Democratic National Conventions. Alexander happened upon the role of producer of this film in what can only be called kismet.
“I went to an all-girls high school in Philly. We were always told we should find mentors. She [Hillary] is a Scorpio like me and I was very curious about her life in politics,” says the activist, who says her greatest influences are her parents. “My father was a preacher and my mother was a teacher. My whole life I’ve been in and around politics. To be asked to be in and around it as a surrogate and I would have the opportunity to use my skill set as a communicator? I was more than blown away,” offers Alexander who became a surrogate in 2007-2008.
Moving in those political circles, it is not surprising that Alexander would end up spending time with storied civil rights legend and politician Rep. John Lewis (GA) while campaigning for Abrams and Pressley. “The Congressman took great care of us. We of course knew we were traveling with an icon,” says Alexander who had been humbled by Lewis’ autobiography, Walking With the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement.
“The part about the Freedom Riders really stuck with me,” Alexander says quietly. “I think if those students can be spit on, beat and beat by real rocks and real bats and shot with real guns and go to real jail with real blood, I have no problem with speaking up, which is exactly what John Lewis did” she says.
Alexander who calls her mother her “greatest hero” for teaching her to advocate for women and children, understood she was in the company of greatness and spending time with a courageous man who continues fighting to this day. “Spending time with him, it was clear I had more to learn. What he did with his life – that is the definition of good trouble. It is my pleasure to be next to him. I’m trying to do what he taught me to do,” she adds.
What he taught her to do is to utilize her resources, energy and platform to create change. In a Tweet heard around the world, Alexander challenged David Schwimmer on his erasure of “Living Single“ while calling for a multicultural cast of the classic television show “Friends.” Alexander gently reminded him of “Living Single,” a sitcom set in New York with a group of friends living and loving in a Brooklyn brownstone which pre-dated the wildly popular “Friends” and many believe is the blueprint for what would become the “Friends” juggernaut.
Alexander says she didn’t mean to cause a Twitterstorm; she merely was stating the obvious as she sat on a tarmac chatting with her business partner Ben Arnon. “I knew that David was trying to be an ally, so I didn’t intend to be disrespectful, “ says the activist. When she arrived at her destination, Alexander realized the Tweet had gone viral and the rest is pop cultural history. “When the plane landed, the Twitter warriors went to work so I was inside of a river that was already flowing. I was surprised and a little taken aback to see the vehemence and passion it created in people,” prompting her to write the famous op-ed for Zora, explaining her intentions and position on the matter.
If Alexander didn’t know then, she now knows the power of her voice on social media platforms and how words can be used to create change, willingly or unwillingly.
Alexander recently started Color Farm Media with her business partner Ben Arnon. Arnon, a media and tech entrepreneur, was an organizer for then Sen. Barack Obama. Arnon and Alexander met at the 2008 DNC Convention as delegates for their respective candidates.
In the words of Alexander, one could say the planets aligned, leading Arnon and Alexander to one another in order to create a company that develops and produces “premium-quality” scripted and unscripted content for motion pictures, television, streaming and podcast platforms. The planets aligned once again when a fellow Clintonista introduced Alexander to documentary filmmaker Dawn Porter. “Speaking with Dawn about this project, I thought our planets aligned to create this documentary Good Trouble,” says the activist. Porter, whose documentaries (Gideon’s Army, Trapped, Spies of Mississippi) brilliantly explore social justice issues coupled with Alexander and Arnon, who have been intricately involved in politics, and telling the story of civil rights legend John Lewis is the stuff that dreams are made of. Alexander understands the power and significance of what is happening.
The actress/activist knows she stands on the shoulders of other performers like Harry Belafonte, Paul Robeson and Josephine Baker who played integral off-screen roles in the pursuit of social justice as activists. “I’m doing exactly what all of these people before me. I don’t know anyone that didn’t put their careers on the line. I feel like I’m exactly where I should be and need to be,” says Alexander matter-of-factly. Alexander and company understand the importance and necessity of getting into good trouble in order to create a better world for everyone and hope after watching this documentary, audiences will too.
John Lewis: Good Trouble debuts Friday, July 3, 2020 on ON DEMAND. Check with your cable carrier. Watch or pre-order at HBCU Heroes.