Now, this is a story all about how one life got flipped, turned upside down...life after The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, that is. For many of us, Karyn Parsons is best known as the fresh princess of the beloved hit show, playing Will Smith’s uber-fashionable yet often air-headed cousin, Hilary Banks. In life, she is anything but vapid, as evidenced by her award-winning Sweet Blackberry series of children’s animated films, highlighting “unsung black heroes in history.” In 2020, Parsons took on yet another role, authoring two children’s books, How High the Moon and Flying Free: How Bessie Coleman’s Dreams to Flight.
How did Parsons, who, 30 years after The Fresh Prince debuted on NBC, is indisputably part of television history, gravitate to historical narratives for the younger market? As she tells us on this week’s episode of The Root Presents: It’s Lit!, even as the daughter of a librarian, it wasn’t a path she would’ve predicted.
“You know, I’m not a historian. I hated history as a kid—there, I said it: I hated history,” she laughs. “And it was presented to me like it is to a lot of kids—or at least growing up, I don’t know if they’re still doing it like this—but it was so dry, and it was so dull, and it was so unrelatable and all pictures were black and white. And the print was really small in the books and it was all about memorizing dates, and you didn’t know how it related to anything about you. I wanted to, with these stories, I wanted to entertain kids and I wanted to meet them where they are, and I wanted it to be fun—the stories are there; there are incredible stories out there. Bessie Coleman’s story is amazing; if she was around today, we’d all be talking about how incredible she was, right?
“So, I just wanted to bring her to children to inspire them, to show them what they’re capable of,” the mother of two continues. “And in doing that, I mean, in terms of confidence to do it...I’m learning, too. I’m researching. I’m finding out stuff, I’m putting in—I’m trying to figure out what the best story is to bring to children. I’m not going to be able to cover everything, but I can bring them enough to plant the seeds. They’ll feel like ‘I know who that is,’ when they hear anything...they’ll know something, and that will spark more interest as they get older. So I’m just like a kid in it myself.”
As for her own indelible legacy and the generations that grew up with her much-beloved character and TV family, Parsons says, “It is an honor to have that place in people’s lives...I just had these wonderful people I was so blessed to have brought into my life that I love to be with at work, after work, play with. And it feels so good when you have that kind of rhythm and you work well with people and you’re like family. I mean, we’re just we’re very, very fortunate,” she adds. “So all around, having that place in people’s lives, impacting them so many decades later...that is is just tremendous to be a part of something like that all around.”
Hear more from the timeless Karyn Parsons in Episode 26 of The Root Presents: It’s Lit!: Karyn Parsons’ Story Is Fresher Than Hilary Banks, available on Apple, Spotify, Stitcher, iHeart Radio, Google Podcasts, Amazon, NPR One, TuneIn, and Radio Public.