Ten Minutes with Kimberly Hébert Gregory
On screen, Gregory is helping Kevin (Probably) Save the World. Off-screen, her role is way more important. The actress and philanthropist gets real about raising a teen on the spectrum and what she wants others to know about autism.
Tell me about your character as Yvette on Kevin (Probably) Saves the World?
Yvette is a self-described “warrior for God,” who is on a mission to help Kevin save humanity. She interestingly has decided to convince God to let 35 other God warriors go down to Earth and find the lost souls with her. When you think about it, that’s pretty gutsy.
Why do you love playing the role?
I am always interested in strong, humanly flawed characters. Yvette definitely fits that description. She is so well meaning and confident that she doesn’t always see her blind spots. I love how passionate she is about what she perceives to be her mission. I mean, she tells God that she can basically save the world without ever having been on the Earth. You can see how this kind of hubris, coupled with a lack of real experience, can be a set up for some real obstacles.
What other projects do you have coming up in the winter/New Year?
At this time, Kevin (Probably) Saves the World is a full-time endeavor as we are working diligently to flesh out the characters and the larger mythology of the story. I am, however, finding time to continue working on writing projects that I have had coming down the pike for some time now.
You’re a big advocate for autism awareness. Why is this issue important to you?
I am a huge advocate for autism awareness because my son is on the spectrum. There are so many things to learn when he was diagnosed. I became keenly aware that had my then husband and I not been in a position to provide our son with services and interventions at an early age, his progress would have been even more halted. It made me wonder how marginalized families, for whom making rent and putting food on the table are the main concerns, are managing. There is a great deal more work that needs to be done for poor families of colour in underserved communities who are lovingly trying to usher their children into independence.
What do you want others to know and understand about autism?
Autism is a complex spectrum disorder, so individuals with autism are as varied as anyone else. It is a challenge for all of us to be more mindful as we encounter people who are different (i.e. race, gender identity, religion, etc.) to not treat them like prescribed checked boxes. Beyond all of those things, diagnosis included, is a human being who really only wants to be treated like he/she sees himself.
How does having a son on the autism spectrum affect your parenting experience?
I think there are commonalities among all parents. We tend to obsess about our children’s well-being and futures. Parenting my child and supporting him in his social and academic learning have provided me with more insight about who I am and the many things I need to unlearn about parenting and building human character. From observation, media, images and a troubled public school system, parenting can sometimes look like a competition, and parents scramble to aggressively push their child ahead of the pack. That pushing can sometimes create an unawareness of the human being developing, because it focuses on the outcome. Parenting a child on the spectrum has helped me slow my thinking and projecting to see the human being in front of me, and love and respect him right where he is.
Another important role you play is mom to your 17-year-old son. What are some lessons you’ve learned as a parent about raising a teen through your experiences with your son?
My son, Chester Moore Gregory III, is a constant teacher of flexibility and awareness. Ushering another human being into independence is tricky and scary. As much as I want to be protective and protecting, I understand that he has to be given a measure of freedom to fully explore who he will be independently. I think many parents are warring with themselves in this way. With this and the previous generation, we have been ever-present parents and oftentimes stepping in as problem-solvers for our children. I am learning in these teen years that I do my son a great disservice if I do not allow him to understand from a benign mistake, if I don’t move out of the way so he can actually see HIS way.
What would you say are some of the challenges of raising a teen boy on the spectrum?
My understanding is that raising ANY teen boy is a challenge, and THAT has been the challenge. Much of the behaviour that I am experiencing with my son is developmentally appropriate, which is a great reminder. Some things are true for everyone as they find themselves. The things that have been interesting to observe are his self-awareness and desires for his future self. It is a joy to get glimpses of the independent thinker and creative that he will be.
What would you say are some of the biggest rewards of raising a teen son on the spectrum?
I have said this many times, but my son is my master teacher. He has taught me to see everyone and welcome them as they are. His capacity for kindness and forgiveness are so huge it makes me expand my own.
What is the biggest lesson you want your son to remember that you taught him as he grows into a healthy, happy adult?
He is enough and there is nothing lacking within him. He has everything he needs inside him to achieve his goals. His place in this world is secure and his purpose is great.