'Twenties' on BET Proves Everyone Starts From Somewhere
Entertainment

'Twenties' on BET Proves Everyone Starts From Somewhere

Story by Daric L. Cottingham / Photography by Bukunmi Grace / Styling by Ade Samuel / Hair by Nakia Rachon / Makeup by Jacinda Pender

This article is a sponsored collaboration between BET and PAPER

The twenties are a decade in life when everything feels like an existential crisis as you claw your way toward dreams, and every win — no matter how small — is a euphoric sign of reassurance to keep going. You find yourself constantly trading off your needs to get where you want to be in life, because everyone has to start somewhere and every opportunity is a step closer to your goal.

This humbling experience makes you appreciate the good that flickers in a seemingly never-ending wave of bad. It all sounds depressing and, quite honestly, it can be, but the journey of falling on your face and figuring things out is needed. You learn along the way to play to your strengths and grow in the areas that need improvement.

Lena Waithe's comedy series Twenties on BET captures the constant tug of war during this period. Set in Los Angeles, the half-hour series follows the lives of a queer Black woman, Hattie (Jojo T. Gibbs), and her two straight best friends, Marie (Christina Elmore) and Nia (Gabrielle Graham). The three navigate the most exciting and terrifying 10 years of life while trying to make it in Hollywood.

Hattie, whose goal is a career in screenwriting, is working her way up as a writing production assistant. While she is building her foundation, she's living with Marie and her boyfriend, Chuck. Marie is the friend who seemingly has it all together and is one of the few young Black studio executives in town. But while her career is going well, she's dealing with family drama and relationship problems. Nia is a former child actor who stepped away from the fast-paced life and wants to make a comeback by doing meaningful work. However, she's learning that Hollywood is just as cutthroat, and it's even harder for dark-skinned Black women no matter how good you may be.

Twenties uses comedy to massage the heaviness of challenging storylines that highlight the reality of adulting in your twenties. The humor is also a reminder to enjoy the present. Because while the world feels like it's crashing down, your twenties are some of the best moments of your life — especially with the connections you make along the way.

During Season Two of Twenties, these questions get even more complicated: What is the price of success in Hollywood for a Black woman? And what price are they willing to pay? So PAPER collaborated with BET to photograph Jojo, Christina and Gabrielle, and paired the cast with some of our favorite creatives to highlight their journey toward a dream career.

Jojo T. Gibbs, Jacinda Pender

Jojo T. Gibbs

Christina Elmore (Marie)

Do you remember your first job? What was it?

My first job was at a gas station McDonalds. They made everyone start out on the grill, which was the worst, but I quickly moved up to the more cushy drive thru window post. I hated working there because my boss was mean and I smelled of burgers, so I often got my shifts covered and therefore made no money.

Do you have a wild memory or lesson you learned from your first job?

Once we were having a pretty slow night at the gas station McDonalds, so my coworkers and I were all goofing around. Finally, we got a drive thru customer who made a pretty big order. Somehow, despite all our shenanigans we managed to get this woman's order in and accept her payment. But what we failed to do was actually make and bag her order. She waited at the window for about 15 minutes before she got fed up and parked and entered the store, only to find us playing a full-fledged game of "catch the nuggets." Thankfully, our manager was playing too, so none of us got in much trouble.

"There's no template and there's no timetable"

What's the best part of your twenties?

Getting to take risks and try out the things you may end up doing for the rest of your life. It still feels so new and exciting in your twenties.

What's one thing you've learned about the journey to your dream career?

There's no template and there's no timetable.

Jojo T. Gibbs (Hattie)

Do you remember your first job? What was it?

My first job was at McDonalds. My first day working there was on a Saturday, and all I did was stand in the back and drop buns in the toaster for eight hours. They were selling hamburgers for 25 cents each that day, something that McDonalds did once a month, and the line was non-stop. My feet were killing me by the time I got off and that's when I knew I had to go to college.

Do you have a wild memory or lesson you learned from your first job?

I learned not to run over tile floors that are moisturized in french fry grease, because you might slip and split your pants, then have to go home and change, then come back to work.

"I've learned to stay focused and tenacious, and to keep my eyes in my lane"

What's the best part of your twenties?

Being able to drink shots of tequila and not waking up with a hangover.

What's one thing you've learned about the journey to your dream career?

I've learned to stay focused and tenacious, and to keep my eyes in my lane.

Gabrielle Graham, Bukunmi Grace

Gabrielle Graham

Gabrielle Graham (Nia)

Do you remember your first job? What was it?

I was 16 years old. Both me and my twin brother started our first job at Wendy's. I worked as a cashier and a dishwasher doing weekend and night shifts. I remember being super excited to start making my own money rather than having to rely on my mom for it. I think I was pretty good at my job, too. The best part though was being able to take home the free left-over food at the end of the night. Burgers, fries, nuggets, frosty's... you name it, I ate it.

Do you have a wild memory or lesson you learned from your first job?

Don't have a wild memory per se, but the worst part about working as a cashier was having to clean the bathrooms at the end of the night. There were some pretty interesting surprises left in the bathroom that I had to clean up... use your imagination.

"I'm starting to see failure as a gift"

What's the best part of your twenties?

Having that time to navigate through my career, make the mistakes I made and have the setbacks because it only helped me to become the person I am today. I think the setbacks feed my acting too.

What's one thing you've learned about the journey to your dream career?

I've learned to change my relationship with failure. That includes rejection, expectations not being met, so many things. It used to be something I thought I could avoid. I thought getting my dream career would be super easy for me, but obviously that was not the case. I'm starting to see failure as a gift. Being an artist first makes it easier for me to move on from whatever the failure is. I grow from it and use it as motivation to get me closer to where I want to go.

Jacinda (Makeup) 

Do you remember your first job? What was it?

I actually got my first job at 20 working at a Ross. I was just a retail associate, so I would work on the floor or the dressing room. I knew it wasn't a job I was going to be at forever, which is why I look at it now as just the building block to the start of my career.

Do you have a wild memory or lesson you learned from your first job?

No wild memory, but if there's anything I've learned from my first job it's that just because they don't appreciate you there doesn't mean you can't find appreciation elsewhere because there's always going to be a space out there that is going to adore your work.

"You're in control of all of it"

What's the best part of your twenties?

Being able to evolve and learn from your mistakes. Being able to grow despite the little inconveniences you come across in life. Your twenties should be about being present and not trying to control every outcome in your life, but allowing some things to come as they are because the best part about being in your twenties is taking a casual approach to positive experiences you've never gone through before.

What's one thing you've learned about the journey to your dream career?

That everything requires patience. Just because your career hasn't taken off yet doesn't mean you're a failure. Everyone's journey looks different. Someone else's success doesn't determine your worth. You're going to experience setbacks and challenges, but that's just part of the process of building and working towards the end goal you have set for yourself. No one else should influence how you perform and improve at the end of the day. You're in control of all of it.

Nakia Rachon, Christina Elmore, Ade Samuel

Christina Elmore

Nakia Rachon (Hair)

Do you remember your first job? What was it?

My first job was working at King of Curls in Sacramento. I was 12 years old when I got started, although the legal age to work was 16. I remember coming in on the weekends and smelling hot stoves, press and curls, and cold waves. The salon was my favorite place to be. I spent my money on ice cream and the freshest retro Jordans.

Do you have a wild memory or lesson you learned from your first job?

The one lesson I took from my first job that I still apply today is to be honest with my clients on what I can and cannot do. However, I'm always willing to experiment and challenge myself to create new styles.

"I learned to never forget where I've come from"

What's the best part of your twenties?

Becoming a freelance hairstylist and traveling the world with some of the industry's biggest entertainers. I never thought I would see my name at the end of movie credits or editorial magazines. I look forward to creating a platform that helps aspiring creatives who want to work in the beauty industry.

What's one thing you've learned about the journey to your dream career?

It's only hair. Remembering to have fun and be yourself no matter who is around is key. Using the old school tricks that my grandmother and GG passed to me when I would sit at the salon all day — cleaning brushes and getting gems — still apply to my life today. I learned to never forget where I've come from.

Bukunmi Grace (Photography) 

Do you remember your first job? What was it?

My first job post-college was with Ameri Corps as an inner city teacher aid. Super random, but it got me to LA at a time I wasn't entirely sure where I was headed. It also allowed me to build up leadership skills and unravel childhood anxieties. Having the opportunity to teach teens how to read and enjoy art museums was one of the biggest highlights of that job, although living in a major city on a stipend was not. Prior to that, in college, I worked as an artist manager, a shop girl, designer, photographer and whatever other creative output I could lay my hands on. If we're taking this all the way back, my first job ever was as a textbook library assistant in high school followed by being hostess at a steakhouse, called Bogarts Charhouse.

Do you have a wild memory or lesson you learned from your first job?

Trust is invaluable and not to be taken for granted. I also learned that I had anxiety disorder, which is something I was forced to reckon with throughout a series of events. The program provided therapy classes, which were highly helpful. Through that I was able to work out a lot of important life lessons, one being to not sit within spaces that are harmful and unnecessarily uncomfortable. That was a major cause of my anxiety as was the job itself because I knew I wanted to work in the creative field.

"I've learned that self-reflection is key"

What's the best part of your twenties?

The adventure, the thrill, and the responsibility of being fully and legally free. Our twenties are heralded as the time of exploration and thrill seeking and I think it just inadvertently plays out as such. It's a beautiful time to make new discoveries and really shape the life you want to live.

What's one thing you've learned about the journey to your dream career?

I've learned that self-reflection is key, but also that others around you should be reflective of your inherent goals and morals. I've also learned that creativity is truly a muscle and if all surrounding tissue is weak, the muscle cannot expand. Creating and exploring new pathways, stories, ideas and vision have helped ensure that my dream career can be a reality.

Ade Samuel (Styling) 

Do you remember your first job? What was it?

I was 15 years old and worked at McDonalds in the Bronx on 167th street. At the time, it was a dream come true. I was finally able to make my own money and not depend on my parents. Since then, I've learned the importance of financial responsibility.

Do you have a wild memory or lesson you learned from your first job?

Recognizing the importance of style within the fashion industry. You must dress to impress. I remember landing an internship at Fern Mallis because the booking director at New York Fashion Week loved my outfit and thought I was a great representation for the position. I landed one of the most influential internships because of this.

"I've had to learn not to take things personally"

What's the best part of your twenties?

Being able to experiment in different areas of my life without the reservation of commitments, bills and adulting. The beautiful part of your twenties is the ability to have fun, explore and make mistakes.

What's one thing you've learned about the journey to your dream career?

It takes persistence, as well as emotional control. I've had to learn not to take things personally in the pursuit of my career and learn how to adjust in new business ventures.

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