September 2, 2021

Terri J. Vaughn: Doing It Her Way

Editor- In-Chief Musa Jackson @iammusajackson goes one on one with actress, director, producer Terri J. Vaughn. From growing up in San Francisco to becoming the reluctant star of the hit series The Steve Harvey Show which would earn her three NAACP Image Awards for her comical and indelible portrayal of Lovita Alizay Jenkins. She’s starred in many TV series amongst them Will Smith executive produced comedy All of Us, Showtime’s hit drama Soulfood, Tyler Perry’s Meet The Browns, Oprah Winfrey’s Greenleaf, Bounce TV’s Mann & Wife. Recently recurred on HBO’s Insecure and BET’s First Wives Club.  Terri has starred in numerous films including Daddy’s Little Girls. Terri started her own independent production company Nina Holiday Entertainment producing 16 projects including Hamlet & Hutch starring acting legend Burt Reynolds, Girlfriends Getaway and its sequel Girlfriends Getaway 2.


She’s directed an episode of BET’s TALES, Merry Switchmas, Viacom and Rueben Cannon Entertainment Soul Christmas, A Christmas Surprise, Angrily Everafter, ‘Twas The Chaos Before Christmas for Viacom, the hilarious female buddy flick Christmas Belles. Terri followed her passion by creating Take Wings Foundation in the San Francisco Bay Area. An organization that mentors young women growing up in at risk communities.

I just knew that I wanted to do more. I wanted to create stuff. I wanted to be in a position where I could call the shots.


MUSA Where are you from?
TERRI San Francisco. Bayview- Hunters point area.
MUSA Who were some of your earliest influencers?
TERRI My Mom definitely. She’s a beautiful stunning woman. She was single mother working a couple of jobs to provide for me and my sister. But she was always so fly. You think about Diahann Carroll, Diana Ross, Phylicia Rashaad. I put my Mom on that level of beauty. She took care of business.
MUSA How did you get into entertainment?
TERRI I was in college. I went to Cal State in Hayward, California. I did not know what I wanted to do but I did know I wanted to be a successful business woman. Seeing my Mom working in the apartment complexes we lived in I said I wanted to be a boss. I knew I had to go to school but I didn’t know what I was going for. I was introduced to advertising. So that’s what I thought I was going to do. In San Francisco I had an internship at Grey Advertising, a very popular advertising agency. Being welcomed into that world I felt like I was on my way to becoming a successful business woman. One of the things I had to do was interview people in the office. And I found out that most of people I interviewed had a theater background. At the same time a friend asked me to compete in the Miss Black California Pageant. So when it came to the Talent portion I didn’t know what to do. So my mom came up with idea of me doing a monologue from For Colored Girls. So I did the monologue and one of the judges was producing a play. He asked me to audition. I didn’t know anything about acting or auditions. He was like come to Repertory Theater in Berkeley, California bring a picture and resume. Not being a thespian, I came with my working resume. I was working at the Marriott Hotel at the time. I had on the resume Avis Rent a Car, even McDonalds. For a headshot, I handed him a Polaroid picture of me with way too much makeup on because I didn’t know what the hell I was doing ( laughs). I get to the theater and there are all these actors warming up doing these vocal exercises, humming, stretching. Which I thought was weird. So they call me in gave me sides. They told me to give it some sass which was very easy for me. I used get in trouble all the time at home for being way too sassy. Which would get me a pop in the mouth from my Mom. So I brought it all to the audition. That day the director Paul Roach changed my life. He offered me the part, told me we were going to be touring the country, all my expenses covered and they were going to pay me four hundred dollars a week. I was like what?! I took the part and that’s how I got into acting. This was David E. Talbot’s first play he ever wrote.
MUSA Amazing. What did you learn from that experience?
TERRI Paul Roach, the director started rehearsing with us on the show. But he also taught us the craft of acting. And the blessing is that he traveled with us throughout the entirety of the show. We were being trained by him. He introduced us to Uta Hagen, Stanislavsky, Chekhov and all the theater greats. I fell in love. After that I just studied and read. I watched movies differently. Everything I did became about my training and learning. That’s how I got into the business. We toured with that show for two years and then I moved to L.A.

Lovita Alizay Jenkins spoke to me. She was me, and my girlfriends. The girls I grew up with in the hood on Deadman Court. When I first picked up the script I was like I know her.

MUSA You were so fantastic as Lovita Alizay Jenkins in the Steve Harvey Show for which you won three NAACP Image Awards. How did you come up with that memorable character?
TERRI She spoke to me. She was me, and my girlfriends. The girls I grew up with in the hood on Deadman Court. When I first picked up the script I was like I know her. It was like the easiest audition I ever had. I just took some characteristics of my girlfriends in my neighborhood. My friend Annette used to slap you on the arm when she was talking to you. And then there was Lachelle everything she did was just so loud. So I just kind of mixed them together and came up with Lovita.

MUSA You’ve worked on many tv and film projects; All of Us, Meet the Browns, Daddy’s Little Girls to name a few. Did working on the projects inform you that you wanted to produce and direct?
TERRI When I was on the Steve Harvey Show I was always asking our executive producer things like. “How can I write a script? I was always following her around. Following Stan Lathan the director around. They were just very welcoming. They answered all my questions. I was always shadowing them. I would sit in the writers room. I did wind up writing a terrible script for the show. I just knew that I wanted to do more. I wanted to create stuff. I wanted to be in a position where I could call the shots.
MUSA Under Nina Holiday Entertainment, your production company you’ve been really busy. How do you decide which projects you want to produce?
TERRI I partnered with Cas Sigers- Beedles. When we first met she had just written her first novel. She asked me would I be interested in reading her book. When I was traveling back home to LA I read her book. I fell in love with her book. I said to her have you ever thought of turning this into a tv series? She said No. I was like I think it’s great and would be a great vehicle for myself and other actors. So we shopped it around and the feedback was it doesn’t sound like a Black woman. That rubbed us the wrong way because she’s obviously Black she’s sitting right here in front of you and she wrote it. So that pissed us off but also gave us fire. We were like we’re going to create our own shows. We’re not going ask anyone for permission. We naively started doing stuff. The first thing we did was a documentary called Angels Can’t Help But Laugh. It was about the journey and challenges facing black actresses. We interviewed 25 prominent black actresses. It was a great documentary. We had Meagan Good, Regina King, Tasha Smith, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Jasmine Guy, Tisha Campbell, Tichina Arnold. So many of my beautiful friends said yes to the project. That was our first one. That’s really how we started and became our calling card. That has been our mission ever since creating content for these type of women.
MUSA You’ve also directed several projects now. Is directing your next career move?
TERRI It’s definitely a part of it. I’m hyphenated now. ( laughs) I still love acting. I’m currently in a project. It hasn’t been announced yet. ( Since this interview it was announced officially) As an actress I’m working on Cherish The Day. Ava DuVernay’s show on OWN. But I’m super passionate about directing. I love it just as much as I love acting. Producing for me is out of a necessity. I feel it’s necessary for us to have as many people as possible looking for this particular kind of content from these voices. So I will always look for projects to do and champion them. But my love and my passion is definitely acting and directing.
MUSA Tell us about Take Wings Foundation and how that came about?
TERRI So the neighborhood I was grew up in I would constantly get jumped by girls. There was a lot drug dealers, boosters. My Mom was really adamant about me and my sister doing really good in school. There was no ifs, ands or buts about that. I think because we had that focus and that was poured into us that gave us a different perspective on what we wanted in life. A lot of the girls in our neighborhood didn’t have that poured into them. So I felt that those girls who were approaching me they really had low self esteem. They didn’t have guidance. I remember one time I was surrounded by these girls who wanted to fight me. I got the courage to ask them why they wanted to fight me. They couldn’t answer. That stuck with me my whole life. Women as girls if they have motivation to do better things this would never be an issue. So I always knew I wanted to do something for girls growing up in my neighborhood because I knew what they were up against. It’s not that I was an angel or anything. But I made it through. I went to college so I had a different perspective now.
TERRI So once I got on the Steve Harvey Show I was like I’m going to go back to the neighborhood and invite forty girls out to dinner to just talk. So that’s what I did. I called some of the school programs and put out an invitation for these girls to have dinner with me. I flew out two friends with me. One was Kelly Williams, who was on the sitcom Family Matters at the time and the other was the late Suzanne Douglas who was on Parenthood. The three of us flew to San Francisco and met with these girls. I had rented out a private dining room at the Downtown Marriott and we had dinner with them and answered all of their questions they had. We also asked them questions. We laughed, we cried it was just amazing. So I started doing that every year and it turned into a foundation. I didn’t know anything about a foundation. I wasn’t even thinking about that. But people wanted to give money to donate to the cause. So that’s how it turned into a foundation. That’s how it started. Most of these these girls had never got off the block. The whole idea was to introduce these girls to bigger things. To expose them to other things by showing them how big the world is. To inspire, motivate, and excite them. And it has worked. Some of the girls has become mentors in different areas, one wants to be an attorney, another a firefighter.
MUSA What advice would you give to young women of color just starting out in this business?
TERRI First of all I think it’s super important to study the craft. You want to create longevity. You don’t want to have a fly by night career. It has to matter. If you’re not passionate about what the gift of acting is, what directing is, and know their is a purpose. It’s something we’re giving to the world. Something we’re giving to people. And that’s what keeps you going. It’s a tough business. It doesn’t go your way easily. You get way more no’s before you ever hear a yes. Something else has to drive you other than I just want to be famous. You have to know why you’re doing this. That will sustain you. Having a purpose, a passion for using this gift, this craft to give something special to people.


TALENT: TERRI J. VAUGHN @terrijvaughn
Photography by James L. Hicks @james_l_hicksphotography
Styling by Quincy Hartsfield @qtipsstyleinc
Styling assistant Bre Hartsfield @btheinevitable
Hair/ Makeup Kishina Covington @kishinacovington
Wardrobe by Thomas Lavone thomaslavone
Coordinator John Wesley @john_r_wesley
Shot on location at the Thomas Lavone Boutique


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Musa Jackson @iammusajackson

Creative Director: Paul Morejón @Paulmorejon


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