Inspiring Lessons from Janet Jackson on Abuse and Survival
Too often Black girls are targets of child abuse………
Violence and abuse can happen anywhere and to anyone.
Good Times was a 1970’s sitcom with great characters who have never been forgotten, classic one-liners, great fashion, great hairstyles, and great writing. It was about a family trying to “keep their head above water” in the Chicago projects of Cabrini Green.
“When I first came here, it reminded me of Vietnam.” -resident of Cabrini-Green housing project
Placing already traumatized descendants of tortured Black American slaves and Jim Crow into projects was another American sin. The mostly inner-city high rises were a festering zone of poverty, drugs, blocked opportunities, rape, domestic violence, and abuse. Poor Black Americans had every right to be angry about the country’s treatment of them. The concrete-walled buildings were designed to assure that that righteous rage was inflicted upon the weary residents.
Janet Jackson played Penny a curious and delightful neighbor who had an innocent crush on “JJ”, the oldest child of the Evans family. Janet Jackson did some serious acting to be so convincing as a poor child when everyone knew that she was one of the youngest siblings of The Jacksons.
AND, being a member of a globally known and loved family, she could have taken on the role of a Black girl having fun, hanging with friends, living and loving the wealthy life. But, for whatever reason, as a little girl she portrayed an abused Black girl from living in the projects. As Penny, her voice definitely carried.
NOTE: Penny had a crush on grown adult male JJ. The show handled it well. But, people still and buy use the excuse that a young, confused, and emotionally needy girl can seduce a grown adult male.
That famous smile, witty charm, and adorableness was always a scene-stealer. Talk about cuteness overload? Her playmate was played by Kim Fields.
Even the children who don’t appear depressed, angry, hopeless, and detached might be victims of child abuse.
At that time, the prevailing public service announcement material mostly featured very sad looking children. Because of course, as many still believe that they would always be able to tell if they were in the company of a child who was being abused.
Penny helped to challenge that notion for some. You would never have known by just looking at her or being around her that she was being so horrifically abused by her extremely troubled, angry, and abusive mother. This was a good lesson for all, including abused children, professionals, and concerned adults.
Sometimes, you never know.
R.I.P.🙏🏾 Ja’Net Dubois 😢u will be missed, but not forgotten 🙌🏾💕
Even in the midst of hardship and violence, there is always hope, especially when good people come together.
The Evans family and close family friend/neighbor called child protective services to intervene and protect Penny. This came after they made an attempt to lovingly, but sternly, intervene directly with Penny’s mother. They even offered to assist and support.
When Penny’s mother angrily resisted, they had no choice but to make the call. Especially after they found Penny in the hallway with a broken arm.
I will never forget the sound of Penny screaming out in pain like a wounded animal in that final scene.
When Penny was removed from the home, it was the foxy, single, and always fabulously styled Willona Woods who stepped up to be her foster mother.
Willona Woods loved opening doors. Here is every entrance she made in the six seasons of “Good Times”.
When Penny’s mother just couldn’t seem to get it together, Willona adopted her.
The writers of this story arc did an amazing job of writing Penny’s mother not necessarily as a one-dimensional heartless monster, but as a complicated human being up against layers of demons.
Played expertly by the legendary Chip Fields, the audience could at once loathe Penny’s mother and love Penny’s mother. Chip Fields’ brilliant portrayal allowed the audience to feel empathy for someone incapable of feeling empathy for her own child. The scenes where the two mothers of Penny face-off are ingenious. A tightrope balance of rage, love, envy, pain, longing, and desperate need for basic humanity.
A clip of Willona versus Ms. Gordon (Penny’s natural mother), from the season 6 episode “A Matter of Mothers” (original air date: 18 July 1979). (Ja’Net DuB…
18 July 1979 .PENNY: Janet Jackson WILLONA: Ja’Net DuBois
While I still hear people say that children who were abused are “damaged goods”, just one of the lessons here was that Penny, as she always had been, was beautiful, lovable, and precious.
How poorly people chose to treat her was not a testament to her value. She was always valuable and special.
When the community came to her rescue, Penny was loved and protected.
Black girls are valuable. Black girls, like all girls, are worth fighting for.
Several episodes were dedicated to Willona and the Evans’ family struggle and fight to save her from further abuse. In fact, after Willona adopted Penny, she turned down a marriage proposal because she believed that she needed to devote all of her love and attention to helping Penny to heal.
Up until then we had seen Willona date and get her hopes up about a future with a guy, only to get her heart broken again.
Then, a finnnne old flame comes back into her life with a ring, financial stability, and a new adjusted attitude. But Willona realizes that even though Penny seems to be doing better now, she will need dedicated time, patience, love, and tenderness.
She will prioritize Penny’s healing above all else, something that no one had ever done for her birth mother.
Penny’s healing is worth prioritizing.
A little girl’s healing is worth prioritizing.
A little Black girls’ healing is worth prioritizing.
If you see something, do something.
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“One monkey don’t stop no show”
That’s Old Skool wisdom I used to hear as a little girl. The young people refer to folks as “haters”, others may refer to them as “chaos agents” “abusers”, etc…..Whatever you refer to them as, people know just what you are talking about. People in your life who are just intent on tearing you down, ruining your reputation, killing your dreams, taking you down to the miniature size that they feel inside.
It turns out that you can be from one of the most famously talented families of all time, win awards times more awards, beat records, and become one of the best to ever do it; and there will always be someone who wants to tear you down.
One of the things I have always admired about Janet Jackson is she doesn’t do a lot of talking to the public. She just does her thing. Often better than anyone, man or woman, has ever done it before.
The lessons she taught about the incident around the Superbowl wardrobe malfunction were that way. When some doors were blocked she proceeded to access other windows and doors.
Love. Family. Hope. Healing. Health. Growth.
Her career- the tours, the videos, the stage, the fans, the applause- aren’t her sole source of joy.
Even when people have wronged us, continue to wrong us, there is so much more joy yet to be experienced and lived.