If you ask Queen Latifah how she got to where she is today, it won’t be long before she mentions her parents. She is the daughter of a police officer and an art teacher, the latter of whom went back to school to earn a bachelor’s degree when Latifah — whose real name is Dana Owens — was young. Education was huge in the Owens household, and Latifah considers herself a constant student.
“I love to learn, I love to explore new things, and I really wish I had gotten my degree,” she told us. “It’s one of the things where I’m like, ugh! But life presented itself in a different way.”
The 48-year-old entertainer delivered a commencement speech Saturday at Capital One Arena for Strayer University, an institution she has partnered with to produce an 11-week online course that focuses on building confidence and perseverance. We spoke with Latifah about this endeavor and creative work she has lined up. (This interview has been edited and condensed.)
Reliable Source: Not many people get the opportunity to give a commencement speech, and you also did so earlier this year at Rutgers. What is that experience like?
Queen Latifah: For me, these speeches mean something. They meant something to me when I was an eighth grader, when I was graduating high school. It means something for someone to inspire you to get ready to go out in the world. You’ve done the work. You just need that one little extra kick from somebody who’s out there to really let you know you can do it.
RS: Let’s talk about the Essence Festival. It’s coming up in July, right?
QL: I just know I’m about to perform. I’m going on, and then Mary [J. Blige] is closing the show. . . . I’m right before Mary. I’m definitely bringing out some very special guests — that’s going to be a nice surprise.
RS: I read Missy Elliot?
QL: I can’t — some people could be coming out on Queen Latifah’s set that’s going to shut the game down. And then Janet [Jackson] is closing on Sunday, so it’s going to be a good festival. It’s going to be worth every inch of that 98-degree, 99 percent humidity weather that we’re going to get in New Orleans.
RS: Of course, Essence plays a part in “Girls Trip” as well. Any plans for a sequel?
QL: We’re actually working it all out. I know they’re writing it and we’re all down, so it’s just a matter of time. We’re just waiting for a script, script, script, script, script, script. We all still talk all the time. We love each other to death. I can’t wait to get together and cut up in some location. We’re not sure where we’re going to do the dirt this time, but who knows? It could be Essence all over again.
That movie inspired a lot of women to reconnect with their friends, and I’m just happy about what it was able to do for women, period. Not only to be just this huge female-driven comedy, but to really reconnect people to their buddies, their college friends and their family members. I saw so many drunk people going through airports: “Yeah! We just came from our girls trip!” And they just wouldn’t stop.
RS: I’d like to discuss your Lifetime project “Flint” as well. There’s so much happening all the time, and we don’t hear people continuing to talk about Flint as much as you think they should be or would be. What was it like to work on that?
QL: We have one chaotic government right now, you know? This is just me speaking for myself, but it’s hard to zero in on certain things that are just important and deal with those things. There’s so much craziness going on, and unnecessary craziness that distracts from real things that we’ve been dealing with for years [that] have still needed our attention. Like water! How can you have a whole town where water is poison? And it’s still not fixed.
We made this film, and hopefully it’ll continue to run and get some attention because the people in Flint are still suffering. I hope we do continue to talk about it, because it’s something that hasn’t been repaired, and it hasn’t gone away, and it can happen again. And it will happen again, if we don’t get to the root of the problem. And that’s why I’m running for president of these states of New Jersey.
RS: I mean, this always seems to be a question nowadays, but do you have an interest in politics?
QL: I love politics, the idea of it. I’m such an idealist and wanted to fix the world, and I guess life took me in a direction where I get to do it my way. But no, not at this point. I wouldn’t rule it out because I do care about my community, so if I was called, if my heart compelled me, if it was on my spirit to do that, I would do that. I would work as hard as I could to educate myself enough to be worthy of that job of service.
RS: Your résumé is already incredibly long, but is there something you haven’t done that you’d like to?
QL: Hang-gliding champ. I still have dreams of it, but I think I’m going to finally sell that hang glider that I got as a gift.