At home with actress Suzzanne Douglas
by Ramona Cramer Tucker
It’s 6:10 pm, and Hollywood actress Suzzanne Douglas whisks into the lobby of a Chicago hotel with hertwo-year-old daughter, Jordan, perched on one hip. Both are dressed in bright orange, and when comment on their matching clothing, Suzzanne flashes me a warm smile. “I love dressing Jordan in similar colors. That way, people can see this Sweet Pea belongs to me!” As soon as Suzzanne reaches the check-in counter, hotel staff greet her like an old friend, asking how her flight went and commenting on how much Jordan has grown. The camaraderie reminds me of a typical scene in The Parent ‘Hood, Suzzanne’s current family-oriented sitcom where she plays spunky wife and mother Jerri Peterson. 

Suzzanne’s in town to be honored for her educational work with children by the Boys and Girls Club of America—and to have dinner with her mother, grandparents, and siblings who still live in Chicago, her hometown. As she stops to greet more hotel staff (and a few teen fans), its obvious that Suzzanne is more than a beautiful, award-winning actress with twenty-something years of silver-screen credits (i.e., The Inkwell, Into the Woods, and Tap), starring roles in Broadway theater (Threepenny Opera and The Tap Dance Kid), and a one-woman show, Harriet Tubman. She’s also authentically warm and real. Once settled in her room, Suzzanne calls her husband, Jono, a neurological radiologist in New Jersey, to let him know they arrived safely. She then energetically unpacks, keeping an eye on Jordan while we chat. I half-expect show biz talk and Hollywood hype—but what I hear instead are refreshingly honest revelations about the challenges of being a Christian in Hollywood (married to a non-Christian), her childhood in the Chicago projects, and her joy at becoming an adoptive mom. Suzzanne, is Hollywood as rough an environment for a Christian as it appears to be? 

Years ago, I read a book that described Hollywood as the glamorous but wicked Old Testament city of Babylon, and it’s an apt description. Hollywood’s all about glamour, beauty, having the right car, the right zip code. What’s easy to forget is that as glitzy as Babylon looked, it fell—hard. There are many outwardly beautiful women in Hollywood, but few who are inwardly beautiful—and that’s far more important. I’ve discovered that true beauty only comes when I know and love God, and let him work through me. As Christians, God calls us to be in the world and yet apart from it. That’s a difficult balance, because the world can be very seductive. But with God’s help, we can be discerning. For instance, in Hollywood, I’m surrounded by people who drive all sorts of exotic cars. But my red Plymouth Voyager runs well, and it’s paid for. That’s good enough for me. 

Every day I have to put on the armor of Christ. Reading Gods Word helps—it protects me, guides me, 
and gives me wisdom and strength. When you put Christ first, you experience real beauty, great joy, and 
abundant life. But the minute you fall into the trap of thinking all that glitters is gold, you’ll be out of sync with Gods will for you—and that affects every area of your life, including work. 
How did you get interested in singing and acting? 

Even though my three siblings and I grew up in a lower-income housing project, my mother took us to museums and the theater, and surrounded us with good music. When I was nine, she took us to see Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music. After that show, I knew I wanted to be an actress. Although Julie 
Andrews wasn’t a “chocolate” person like me, she sang about confidence, about the constraints of a particular type of society, and about escaping the Nazis. I could identify. I longed to break the barrier of the projects, to be seen for who I was, instead of just for the color of my skin. But in the sixties, when I 
crossed the color barrier to perform in such plays as The Nutcracker, I was hit, kicked, and slapped by people in my all-black neighborhood. To them, participating in “white” events and educating myself 
meant I was selling out and becoming “vanilla.” I was seen as uppity—and frequently beat up. During this time, I had few friends. But my mom always told me, “Honey, they’re afraid of you because you’re different. But being different isn’t bad. Its only important what God thinks—and he 
thinks you’re special.” Remembering my mom’s words has helped me throughout life and in my career. 

Does being a Christian make a difference in the roles you choose? 

Definitely. There’s so much that’s evil in the entertainment industry. I’m drawn to play positive roles of 
tough and tender women who work to protect their children and keep their families together, yet come 
through difficult situations with a sense of growth and victory in the end. 

A long time ago, someone told me never to work for someone with whom I didn’t feel comfortable. I used to work with some producers who were nasty and rude, who cut down children, and gave young actors inappropriate lines to say. Because I’m a Christian, God called me to respond, “No, this child will 
not say that. You’ll have to fire me first.” When they’d say, “You’re not this child’s mother,” I’d saykindly but firmly, “I play her mother on TV.” 

I’m grateful that many of my coworkers on The Parent ‘Hood are Christians, and that we even attend church together! This happens so rarely in Hollywood that we’re all convinced God brought us together not only to help us hold each other accountable for godly living, but to make an impact on the 
entertainment industry. As a Christian, I’m very aware that everything I do—that we all do— comes under scrutiny. 
After playing “mom” roles on TV and in movies, did you have any surprises when you became a real life mom? 

I found out how hard it really is! On a TV set, you can walk away after the filming. You don’t have to handle those kids when they get the flu or misbehave. But when you become a real-life mom, your life is no longer your own. It can be a shock to realize you have to take the focus off your own needs and focus on your family’s needs. 

God gave Jordan her personality, energy, and talents. But it’s up to me to nurture them, and to teach her to love God and others. Children are our future, our hope, our dreams. We need to instill in all children, whether they’re ours through birth or not, that they’re God’s children first. That’s why I take Jordan to Sunday school where she hears the name of Jesus used in a spiritual 
context, instead of as a cuss word, as many today use it. I pray with her, encourage her to thank God when good things happen, and role model for her how God’s light can shine forth in her, even at her 
young age. 
And when I return home after a long work day and Jordan wants me to read her a story, I put aside 
my own fatigue to read to her—just as my mom did for me. I want her to love reading, like I do, so 
she’ll be less likely to flip on the TV and watch junky shows. Today, reports show that children watch 
more TV than ever before, which means there are less family conversations going on at home. 
How do you handle television watching in your own home? 
Jono and I don’t turn the TV on, except for fifteen minutes of news at night (while we’re flossing our 
teeth!). We sit down together for dinner and talk. To us, sharing our thoughts and feelings as a family is 
far more important than spending time watching a television show. Children are looking for role models, 
for people to lead them. And they’re also looking for love. Will they find it in all the wrong places, or 
with family values and in Christ? 
Families should decide together what they’ll watch—or not watch. They also can write to those in 
charge of network programming. One letter is viewed as a thousand opinions, so even one opinion counts greatly. 

How did The Parent ‘Hood come about? 

I’d just turned down a TV series because it would have taken me away from home. Then I got a phone 
call from my agent about The Parent ‘Hood. Robert Townsend, the producer, and I had both attended 
Illinois State University (we later found out we’d also grown up in the same housing project), and he 
remembered me and thought I’d be perfect for the part. But because it again involved taking me away 
from home, I said no. 
The next day, Jono came home from work and told me his hospital was being bought out and that he 
might be out of a job. So he asked me to call back about The Parent ‘Hood. I did, and I was hired. 
Although it’s the first comedy I’ve ever done, it’s true to what I believe in. It upholds traditional 
family values, shows African-Americans in a positive, two-parent environment, addresses hot topics such 
as racism, discipline, and honesty, and portrays parents who love, support, and guide their children. And 
since we only tape four days a week, it’s a great job for me as a mom, too. 
How do you balance motherhood with your busy career? 
Mothering comes first. There’s no option. My daughter is with me all the time, whether I’m on the job 
or off. I get a ten-day vacation every third show, then have five or six months off. Although I’ve said no 
to some incredible projects because of my commitment to my family, God has always honored me when 
I’ve made the right choice. 
Before Jordan came into our lives, I was very career-oriented. At times, I wondered when it would be 
convenient to have a child. But six years ago, my husband said, “You know, there’s never a ‘right 
time.”’ And he was right. A short while later we began adoption procedures. Jordan Victoria is now part 
of our lives. Although parenting is hard at times, I wouldn’t trade my Sweet Pea for anything! I learned 
from my mother’s example how to serve my family even when it’s not convenient for me. 
How did your mom act as a role model of servanthood? 
I grew up in two worlds—the one outside in the projects, with the guns and rough life, and the one in my 
home, where my mom constantly affirmed us, educated us about the arts, and taught us about God. 
The projects were a tough place to live. I dodged bullets coming home from school and got mugged 
on my way home from the grocery store. And one Christmas, when I was about seven, someone broke 
into our apartment, stole our presents, and wrecked our tree. But thanks to my moms creativity, we had a 
good Christmas anyway. Although we were poor, I never felt poor. Mom taught us self-reliance and 
gave us a passion for living, along with just the right amount of love and discipline. As a single parent, 
she had to stay strong in a tough place, and she wasn’t afraid to practice tough love on me when I needed it as a teen. 

Were you hard to handle as a teen? 

Well, lets just say that at seventeen, my mother got very frustrated with me because I was promiscuous. So one day she said to me, “This is my house, and I pay the mortgage. You’re behaving like a grown but irresponsible woman, so you have to go.” Asking me to leave was the best thing she could have done. I began to realize I was accountable for my own life. 
Although I ended up living with an abusive guy for a while and we didn’t have enough to eat, my mother’s Christian morals stuck with me. I refused to steal. Instead, I went to a local hamburger stand and asked the owner if he would feed me. He did—until I finished my senior year in high school! Years 
later, I went back to thank him, but his stand was gone. I’m convinced God used that man to visibly touch my life with grace, even when I wasn’t choosing to live for the Lord. 
Being on my own also helped me realize how much my mother loved me—and why she set boundaries for me. My mom had taken me to church and read me Scripture as a child. At a young age, I chose to become God’s child. Even though I strayed away in my teen and young adult years, I did come back to the truth—two years after I was married. 

When and how did you come back to God? 
Six years ago, I invited God to come into every area of my life. I’d accepted Christ as a child, and I’d grown up in the church where my mother was very involved. But ever since I left home as a teenager, I’d looked for God in every place except for in his Word. 

I went to an astrologer to find out about my future, then became part of Reverend Moon’s church for 
a while. Then I switched from denomination to denomination for several years. During that time, I attended a lot of “Christian” churches where people didn’t praise God, where people were racist. I was looking, desperately, for a relationship with God. I knew he loved me, but I didn’t know how to find him. Then one of my girl friends invited me to her church. When she couldn’t go at the last minute, I argued with myself, Suzzanne, you know Gods calling you. 

Are you going to be a coward or are you going to go and meet him? So I went. This church taught the importance of seeking God through reading his Word. So I began studying the Bible again. And what I saw scared me. In Matthew 10:34-39, I read that being a Christian can tear you apart from your family. 
That’s when I realized what being a follower of Christ really means. It means not just saying you’re Gods child, but really accepting his Son’s sacrifice for you and then following God’s ways instead of 
your own. Sometimes that means I’ll be the “odd woman” out and people won’t like me or agree with me. It also means accepting the consequences of the decisions I made before I got my life straight with God. That’s why every day I pray for my husband, Jono—that someday he, too, will turn to Christ. 

When and how did you meet your husband? 

I was thirty-two, and I hadn’t dated anyone for three years. I’d “given up” on men. But when I was acting in South Pacific in Denver, I decided to give men one last try. So I posted a note on the acting bulletin board that said, “Wanted. Professional man. Must live in the New York area. Must be well-read, 
funny, entertaining, educated, sophisticated, eloquent.” Jono’s best friend from high school saw the “ad” and set us up on a blind date. I was an hour late. But over the next few months, I fell in love with Roy “Jono” Cobb because he had integrity, vision, focus, and purpose. Six months later, on Christmas Eve, 
he surprised me with an engagement ring. We were married February 11, 1989. 

But there was one important phrase I’d forgotten to list “Must be a Christian.” That was before I’d committed my life to God, when I’d become saturated in worldly thinking. Even when God told me through his Word, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers” (2 Cor. 6:14), I didn’t listen. I was in love. 

What’s it been like handling an “unequally yoked” marriage? 

When I came back to Christ six years ago, I never tried to change Jono, to get him to believe in the Lord. I wasn’t pushy with my faith. Instead, I just lived my life showing him the Christ in me. I went to church even when Jono didn’t go with me. I praised God in all circumstances and got on my knees and prayed for him. And I prayed over every meal in front of him. And you know what? Now he prays at dinnertime, and I get an occasional “Amen!” 

I love my husband dearly, but at times I long for us to think the same way spiritually. I ask the Lord to open up Jono’s heart and make him receptive to his Word. 

While you were dating, did any friends warn you against marrying a non-Christian? 

No. They all thought he was great for me—and he is! Jono’s spontaneous and romantic. But as wonderful as my husband is, he still isn’t a Christian, and that causes division between us. 
Some years back, I stood up for a girlfriend at her wedding. There were issues surrounding that union I felt uncomfortable with, but I said nothing. To this day I wish I had. Now they’re no longer married. 

It takes a lot of courage, as a friend, to tell someone, “Wait. Think about the fact this person isn’t a Christian.” Speaking up can be hard. But you may save your friend a lifetime of hurt. 
Who has supported and encouraged you in your Christian walk? 
My mother, Lois, my grandmother, Dora, and my great-grandmother, Georgia—three praying women. 
My mother, who’s been in a prayer group for ten years, constantly prays for us and holds me accountable 
to be Christ-like in my behavior. 

Every morning, I read God’s Word and then play praise and worship tapes as I work on my garden, do household duties, or drive to the television studio. 

I’m also very involved with a Bible believing church and a Bible study. 

When I first arrived in Los Angeles six years ago, I prayed, Lord, I had a great church home out east and NOW you’ve taken me away. Show me where to go. To my surprise, I opened a praise and worship tape, saw the address of a local church, and decided to attend a service. I waand vanilla people in that church, because for most people, the most segregated hour of every week is 
church. And that’s unfortunate, because it’s not going to be that way in heaven. 

What can churches do to promote racial integration? 

Really teach the Word. The reason so many people in church don’t know how to follow Christ is because 
they don’t understand the power behind God’s words. And if we don’t study the Bible, we can’t grow as 
Christians—and we can’t learn what loving someone else really means. 

When I was filming with a predominantly black cast in Texas and was asking questions about a nearby 
church, I was told, “Girl, don’t go to that church. Its in a white neighborhood.” I responded, “God 
doesn’t see color,” then got in a cab and went there. And you know what? It was one of the best services 
I’ve ever gone to. None of those people noticed the color of my skin; they saw a sister in Christ. The 
minister and his wife invited me to their home for dinner, then drove me back to my hotel—even though 
they had to go way out of their way! 
Because we want our daughter, Jordan, to be surrounded by people of every nationality, Jono and I 
have made a concerted effort to stay in our community in New Jersey so she’ll grow up with friends of 
every race. I have Polish, Jewish, and Asian friends; and to me, they’re all beautiful and unique! 
What do you most want to be known for? 
For loving others and doing Gods will—without question. There’ve been times in my life where I’ve laid 
my worries at the foot of the cross, then picked them up again. That means I’m not really trusting God to 
take care of me. 
But the fabulous thing about God is that he loves us in spite of ourselves! In many ways, I m like 
Moses. I’m hard-headed. Stubborn. Impulsive. Even argumentative. When the Lord told Moses to lead 
his people out of Egypt, Moses said, “Send somebody else.” So many times in my life I’ve looked for 
that somebody else. And I’ve discovered that when I’m not willing to do God’s will—immediately—I get 
myself into trouble because I do things my way instead. 
But even with all my faults, God still chose me to minister to my daughter and to the children who 
work with me, who watch The parent ‘Hood, and who listen to me speak in schools. I don’t feel worthy of being their role model, but I wouldn’t want to do anything else. 

I want to live each day so every person I’m in contact with sees the love of Christ. Fame is fleeting. 

Hollywood is filled with people who judge you by your outward success. But the true measure of success isn’t what you do, but who you are in Gods eyes. Faith in Jesus is the only thing that’s eternal. And that’s worth building your life on. 

Reprinted by permission, Today’s Christian Woman