is in her prime
Whether it’s advocating for the health of her family and others, overseeing the HollyRod Foundation, or starring in a new TV movie, it’s all in a day’s work for the mom of four.
“We have figured out that advocating for others by sharing our story is so powerful.”
—Holly Robinson Peete
who’s in and out of frame dealing with a washer-dryer purchase. This is when Robinson Peete makes yet another move — pulling Roman (who’s a remarkably good sport) into view for a proud-mama moment before retreating into the calm quiet of a bedroom.
“It doesn't matter how many times you do it, it's just the hardest thing in the world,” she says of the move. “I have four kids and I have accumulated so much stuff. And I emptied all my storage because I'm sick of paying premium prices to house, like, old dog beds and wardrobe boxes of my kids' clothes. I'm just like, ‘Y'all, come in and take it and get it out of here.’ And even though it's hard, I feel lighter.”
Still in the Spotlight
That statement, in fact, could be a metaphor for where Robinson Peete is in life right now. At an age when many actresses see their opportunities — and sense of worth — dwindle in the entertainment industry, Robinson Peete is thriving. In March, she signed an exclusive multi-picture deal with Crown Media Family Networks to continue making movies for the Hallmark Channel — something she began doing in 2015.
“It's such a blessing,” she says. “I was just on such a roll in my 20s and 30s. And I think I was very conscious at the time [that] when I'm 50, roles are going to dry up. But now here I am, 57, and I'm working and busier now than I've been in a long time.”
Beyond simply starring in the network’s famously feel-good holiday fare, Robinson Peete, who started her career in television starring in 21 Jump Street and Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper, is using her voice and her power to modernize the stories. Last year, she starred in and executive produced Our Christmas Journey, playing the mother of a son with autism. Hewing closely to her own life — Robinson Peete’s oldest son, R.J., was diagnosed with autism at age 3 — it’s a project the star was involved in from the pitch to the wrap party, she says. “My footprint was all over it because they knew and trusted my journey with autism would be depicted in Our Christmas Journey.”
The opportunity to tell such personally meaningful stories was part of the deal’s appeal for Robinson Peete. “I knew that they were trying to really take their movies and their content into a more diverse and inclusive space, and I wanted to help them do that,” she says. “They're listening to my ideas. They're allowing me to be part of the content creation process. And to sign a deal like this at my age, in a place in my career where I'm mindful of how hard it is to be able to continue to work and do projects that you love … I'm overjoyed.”
Robinson Peete may have newfound power in modernizing and diversifying Hallmark’s storytelling, but it’s rooted in more than two decades of advocacy work. The actress and her husband, former NFL quarterback Rodney Peete, founded the HollyRod Foundation in 1997 with a focus on “advocacy and compassionate care” for families dealing with Parkinson’s Disease, which Robinson Peete’s father, Matthew, was diagnosed with at 45. But three years later, the couple’s son R.J. was diagnosed with autism, and the foundation’s mission evolved to include advocacy and awareness for that, as well.
Robinson Peete describes herself as a rookie mom who “didn’t know what autism was” back then. “We had this terrible diagnosis given to us in a doomsday fashion that he was never going to do a ton of things,” she says. Even so, realizing that they were in a privileged position that would allow them to help others was healing. “I went from a crazy mom who was fighting tooth and nail for my son to really
The Birth of an Advocate
Robinson Peete has also been vocal about advocating for Black fetal and maternal health; she was awarded the 2004 March of Dimes Healthy Babies, Healthy Futures Award, and just a few years after that, traveled to Kenya with Dr. Lisa Masterson to provide supplies and help safely deliver babies with the Ob-Gyn’s Maternal Fetal Care International organization. “She had an event for her charity and they were auctioning off a trip to go with her to Kenya and help her on one of these missions,” Robinson Peete explains. “I went and it changed my life. I learned so much about this issue on a global scale.”
Here in America, she’s dismayed that 18 years after that award and 17 years after her own last childbirth experience,
we’re still in a place where Black moms are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications and three-and-a-half times more likely to experience late maternal death.
“We're just still not getting the health care that we need,” she says. “Black women, Black pregnant women, are not being believed about certain issues with their health, with their pain levels, and there's still a lack of care that is starkly divided along socioeconomic and racial lines. This shouldn't be happening anymore.”
Robinson Peete is grateful for her three healthy pregnancies but says she was “keenly aware” of the marginalization of Black pregnant women by the time she was getting ready to deliver Roman in 2005. “When I went to the hospital that time, I talked to some of the doctors about it; I said, ‘You know, when patients come here, Black women and they’re pregnant, do you listen to them? Like, do you believe them when they tell you how they're feeling? You don't just push aside their fears and their thoughts, right?’” She continues, “I said, ‘It's up to you to do this, not us to tell you to do your jobs better and have a better bedside manner when it comes to Black pregnant women.”
Robinson Peete also takes pride in the fact that R.J. — the child she was once told would never have meaningful employment — is thriving. “He has a World Series ring with his name on it for his job with the Los Angeles Dodgers,” she says. “He still has some social issues that he works through, but he has such a support system at work. And that's one of the things that we're doing at HollyRod, right now — job training so people can get jobs and encouraging corporations to hire inclusively.”
The fact that Robinson Peete is now able to make such inclusive hiring happen on her own projects — she insisted that an actor with autism be hired to play her son in Our Christmas Journey — is another source of pride, and while we can’t share all of what she told us about her upcoming projects, we can say that more substantive, diverse, and inclusive storylines are on the way.
It’s shaping up to be a busy few months for the star, with her shooting schedule, the HollyRod gala on June 18th, and then her star ceremony on June 21st. Robinson Peete was one of 38 honorees announced last June as the class of 2022. After a decades-long-and-still-going career, the unveiling of her permanent spot on the Hollywood Walk of Fame will be a rare moment for Robinson Peete to stop and celebrate, and her anticipation and joy are palpable across the computer screen. “I am so excited,” she admits. “I've been at it so long and in my mind, my reward is [that I’m] still working. But on June 21st, I'll grab that star and be excited about it.”
“It’s all shifting and the dynamic is changing, but I don’t ever believe the nest is ever really empty, you know?”
—Holly Robinson Peete
Advocating for herself, advocating for others — it’s literally all in a day’s work for the star, whether behind the scenes at HollyRod, where she’s currently working on the organization’s big gala fundraiser, or on the small screen. Which brings us back to Robinson Peete’s impending trip to Vancouver, a city she considers her “second home” after having spent so much time there during her 21 Jump Street days. She’s looking forward to a return to the city she loves, but she’s already mentally and physically preparing for an arduous shooting schedule.
“These movies are 15, 16 day shoots and they’re grueling,” she explains. “The hours are crazy, and it's tough. So you really have to go in with a mindset of like, you put your head down; you set the tone. My number one thing is, everybody comes in that trailer and says, ‘Good morning.’ I don't care if you’re mad, I don’t care if it's 5:30 a.m. Come in, bring joy, and I'm in charge of the music — and we're playing Silk Sonic!”
To that end, she jokes that she’s already booking massages “so I can get myself ready.” She also starts each day by meditating. So add a commitment to self-care as another move Robinson Peete is making at this stage of life — and maybe that’s her secret to not just managing but enjoying everything on her plate these days, including her current stage of parenting three adult children and one almost-adult.
“It's all shifting and the dynamic is changing, but I don't ever believe the nest is ever really empty, you know?” she says. “I feel really good about it. I feel like they still want to hang out with me. They still want to talk to me.”
More to Be Done
Ryan agrees, telling SheKnows that her relationship with her mom is the healthiest it’s ever been. “We’re definitely more like friends now, and I think this all has to do with me getting older,” she says. “I think we’re just more comfortable with each other now, and I’m super grateful.”
COVID only strengthened that connection, as the family was “all on top of each other” Robinson Peete says, adding that now, “we have to readjust and pivot to the fact that we're not seeing each other every day physically.”
In fact, just two weeks before our interview, Robinson Peete’s son Robinson left for a pandemic-delayed gap year in Japan. “My heart just went right with him on that plane,” she admits. “But he's having fun. He's walking through the cherry blossoms and life is good. And so I feel like you really find out how well you prepare them for things, and you kind of get that litmus test back. But I still feel their need for me.”
"Black women — Black pregnant women — are not being believed about certain issues with their health, with their pain levels, and there’s still a lack of care that is starkly divided along socioeconomic and racial lines. This shouldn’t be happening anymore.”
—Holly Robinson Peete
BY Erika Janes
understanding that so many people don't have the resources and the access that I have,” she says. “And so [advocating] for others without a voice in this journey [has] actually been very cathartic for me.”
Years later, her advocacy work expanded to include ADHD, which her daughter Ryan (R.J.’s twin) was diagnosed with at age 14. In fact, Robinson Peete and Ryan spoke to SheKnows last October about their involvement in the MoreToADHD campaign.
“We have figured out that advocating for others by sharing our story is so powerful,” she shared at the time. “We’ve seen that with her twin brother with autism, and now we really wanted to put more of a spotlight on ADHD and how it presents itself — and how people just struggle because they don’t know what it is.”
Makeup: Renny Vasquez
Hair: Shoshana Cheveux
Photos courtesy of Holly Robinson Peete
RETURN TO DIGITAL ISSUE
Holly Robinson Peete's son R.J. Peete walks in a fashion show for the HollyRod Foundation’s annual charity event, Designcare.
Photos of Holly Robinson Peete's 2008 trip to Kenya with Dr. Lisa Masterson.
So, yeah, it’s a lot, but Robinson Peete wouldn’t have it any other way. She’s
talking to SheKnows over Zoom from the kitchen of her new Los Angeles home, which the family moved into the first week of April. Wearing a black Silk Sonic T-shirt
(“I’m their biggest, oldest groupie,” she says gleefully), her curls loose around her makeup-
free face, it’s an intimate, unfiltered glimpse into the star’s life — and it’s refreshingly normal.
There’s a kitchen island with comfy-looking chairs, photos of her kids already on the wall, and a husband
Cover Photography by George Chinsee
Holly Robinson Peete with her daughter Ryan.
o say that Holly Robinson Peete has a lot going on right now is a mild understatement. In the micro, the actress, advocate, and author is in the process of setting up a new family home while also preparing for a temporary move — the day after our interview, she’ll be flying to Vancouver to spend a month filming her next Hallmark movie. In the macro, the 57-year old actress has just signed a multi-picture television deal, will receive her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in June, is overseeing her HollyRod Foundation, and is dealing
with being an almost empty-nester, parenting her four grown and nearly grown children
— twins Ryan and R.J., 24, and sons Robinson, 19, and Roman, 17.
o say that Holly Robinson Peete has a lot going on right now is a mild understatement. In the micro, the actress, advocate, and author is in the process of setting up a new family home while also preparing for a temporary move — the day after our interview, she’ll be flying to Vancouver to spend a month filming her next Hallmark movie. In the macro, the 57-year old actress has just signed a multi-picture television deal, will receive her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in in June, is overseeing her HollyRod Foundation, and is dealing with being an almost empty-nester, parenting her four grown and nearly grown children — twins Ryan and R.J., 24, and sons Robinson, 19, and Roman, 17.