“I leave it to the individual to decide the impact of a piece of work. … You gotta leave it up to the people who decide to be part of the journey.”

This, I believe, is the essence of understanding the omnipresence of Baltimore’s own Jada Pinkett Smith. The actress, on a media mission to promote her memoir “Worthy,” spoke those words Wednesday in the ballroom of her alma mater, the Baltimore School for the Arts. The question, posed by interviewer and 2023 BSA grad Mitchell Napper, was about Pinkett Smith’s intention for her writing; to me, the answer is about the actor’s complicated relationship with the public.

Because you’re reading this. You’re engaged. You care, even if you say you’re sick of her. And how you choose to connect with Pinkett Smith’s work, her life and what you perceive that life to be, are on you. Period.

The “Girls Trip” star has been on one heck of a press tour for her memoir, in which she’s revealed inflammatory and seemingly contradictory gems about her relationship with Academy Award-winning actor Will Smith. They’ve been separated for years! She was shocked he referred to her as his wife before slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars! But wait — that brought them closer and OMG here’s Will during her appearance at the Enoch Pratt Free Library on Wednesday to call her “the best friend I’ve ever had” and pledging “to show up and support her for the rest of her life.”

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I don’t pretend to understand any of this. Her hometown appearances are either sincere or the most spectacular pieces of performance art ever. I choose to believe it’s the former, but in the end, I don’t know. And I don’t think it matters, because y’all are eating it up.

Are you not entertained? Of course you are. If you aren’t, you can log off.

Bet you won’t.

I have never met Pinkett Smith. The closest I have ever been to her was at her BSA appearance, and my Lord, girl, teach us your skin care regimen! But I know a lot of people who went to school with her through the years, who were at proms she attended, who met her in and around the city she calls “the University of Bmore Streets.” Some like her. Some don’t. But they can’t stop talking about her.

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Pinkett Smith has been everywhere in the last few weeks, promoting her book and spilling much tea about her relationship with Smith and his public slapping of Rock for making fun of her bald head, which is caused by alopecia. This resulted in Rock’s hit Netflix special, recorded here in her hometown, during which he called her a bitch and implied that his objection to her was about her supposed open marriage and not about him mocking her appearance and clowning her for decades.

So many people, both famous and anonymous, are livid about her overexposure. Yes, she does seem like a complicated oversharer, but I truly believe the efforts to make her the villain in this narrative are based in misogynoir and the international agreement to blame every damn thing on the Black woman.

I wrote about this in The Baltimore Banner and talked about it on CNN, but to paraphrase Kevin Bacon in “A Few Good Men,” these are the facts, and they are undisputed: Jada Pinkett Smith did not hit anyone. She did not say anything publicly about what happened behind the scenes with Rock until recently. She did not do a comedy special calling herself a bitch in her own hometown. I think her lack of response in the wake of The Slap pissed people off, and they filled in the blanks. She became the problem.

As the mother of a son, I blanched at her discussion of a sexual and romantic relationship with the young friend of her son Jaden. I would not choose that. I don’t like it. But everyone was making bank talking about it, so why not speak on it herself? Her name is already in your mouth. CNN’s Laura Coates, who interviewed Pinkett Smith at the library, told the “Red Table Talk” host that she was “tired of always hearing about you in relation to someone else. I was overjoyed that you shared who you were.”

That’s the thing for me. We are very interested in who other people say Pinkett Smith is, whether it’s Rock or Smith or the endless parade of pundits. Just like Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, who talk about themselves far less than other people do, Pinkett Smith is penalized for speaking her own piece.

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We’d rather do it ourselves.

In both Baltimore appearances, Pinkett Smith presented herself as a talented Baltimore kid and daughter of drug addicts. She told the audience at BSA that she was “admittedly not the best student” but furiously studied her craft there and then pursued a Hollywood career that led her to stardom and to Smith. She said to the Pratt audience she believed that “you make it and you get happy. It fixes everything.” But it did not. “I felt like I was inherently broken, that I couldn’t be fixed,” she said.

Not even her fairytale romance with Smith, who she made “her new Prozac,” solved everything, even though “I depended on him as my savior prince … and nothing was working,” she said in her Pratt appearance. I kind of think that’s what people hate about Pinkett Smith — she was living the life we’ve been told was the pinnacle and yet still made odd, human choices.

So we are weirded out about her mentioning her BSA classmate and so-called “soulmate” Tupac Shakur, who Pinkett Smith said had given “his blessing” to invoke his memory. Coates asked her how she felt that “people take your private life very personally,” and the actor said that her own hard-won sense of self-worth allowed her not to take it to heart.

“At the end of the day, as long as we are walking towards love, no matter what it looks like,” it doesn’t matter what “gets you to that deep place of connection. People are gonna hate you for a minute, but me and Will are good. … The truth of the matter is that I’m not leaving his side and he’s not gonna leave mine,” she said.

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And there you go. “I’m just getting to know my daggone self,” she said. And yes, she’s sharing these revelations publicly.

You don’t have to buy in, you know. You could block notifications.

But you don’t.

And that’s on you.


Leslie Gray Streeter is a columnist excited about telling Baltimore stories — about us and the things that we care about, that touch us, that tickle us and that make us tick, from parenting to pop culture to the perfect crab cake. She is especially psyched about discussions that we don't usually have. Open mind and a sense of humor required.

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