She trademarked the phrase 'Black Don't Crack.' Here's how she lives it
They might be household names now, but they grew up and went to school right here in South Jersey. Wochit
LOS ANGELES - Debra Hubbard is 60, but could pass for 20 years younger.
That's not why she trademarked the phrase "Black Don't Crack" though.
Hubbard, who grew up in Somerdale, obtained a U.S. trademark on the catchphrase five years ago after going through a rough divorce and financial adversity.
"I didn't want it to be about skin and not aging fast," she explained about the saying. "I wanted to do something that could resonate with everyone.
"It's about persevering, never giving up and resilience."
Hubbard has channeled that message into a motivational book titled "Unbreakable."
The book, released April 7 by publisher Morals and Values Press, has a foreword by Billie Jean King and an introduction by Vanessa Bell Calloway.
Links to famous people are nothing new to Hubbard, who moved to Los Angeles not long after graduating from Sterling High School in 1978.
FIRST-CLASS GIFT: Sterling High Class of '78 funded school in Kenya
She had a glamorous life as a model and was Whitney Houston's body double in the 1992 blockbuster "The Bodyguard."
But after marrying a pro tennis player, Hubbard's focus turned to caring for her three kids and the household.
When the 16-year marriage ended in divorce in 2010, she had no "Plan B."
"After the divorce, this financial lifestyle I had was gone. What was I going to do now?"
Hubbard writes in her book about the moment her comfortable former lifestyle collided with her harsh new reality.
"Nothing made sense. Here I was pulling up in my Hummer to apply for welfare."
As the divorce worked its way through the courts for 2½ years, money was scarce, Hubbard said.
Utilities were on and off, and even paying for food was difficult, which is why Hubbard applied for public assistance.
"The outside always looked great. People would probably think, 'She has it going on.' But what was inside was emotional turmoil," she said.
Hubbard said it took her four years to really find her footing. To make a living, she began painting houses — returning to the talent she discovered when she painted a checkerboard pattern on her bedroom ceiling at age 15.
"I also did landscaping and interior design. I started using my creativity to make an income. I learned how to be resourceful."
And she thought about that "Black Don't Crack" catchphrase she had heard her whole life. As it took on new meaning for her, she started getting it printed on shirts.
Her sister suggested she set up a booth at the National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
"I'm a risk-taker so I took my money and bought 300 T-shirts. I made close to $2,000." she said. "It was confirmation to me that people loved my brand."
At that point, Hubbard didn't have the money to trademark "Black Don't Crack," but once she did in 2014, she started the painstaking process.
"It was like birthing a child. It was similar to going through the third trimester of a pregnancy."
The now-trademarked Black Don't Crack clothing line includes silk-screened shirts and some of Hubbard's own designs.
She sells her clothing line at a space inside the Culver City Mall in California.
White customers have asked Hubbard if it would be offensive for them to wear her "Black Don't Crack" apparel.
That's when she explains the inclusive purpose — an idea that was understood when she sent samples of her clothing line to O, the Oprah Magazine.
Gayle King posted a photo of the magazine's creative director, a white Jewish guy named Adam Glassman, wearing a Black Don't Crack shirt.
Hubbard said her path to success can give hope to other late bloomers.
"Having to reinvent yourself at a later age is a very hard thing to do," she said. "But you can have success later on in life. You don't have to go the traditional route."
Hubbard said despite publishing a book and opening a store, she's not done yet. She wants to have more stores, a skin and hair care line, and a motivational speaking career.
"I think I'm at the tip of the iceberg."
While many self-help books are out there, Hubbard said she has a relatable story and voice that sets apart "Unbreakable."
"I think my story resonates with most people. Everybody has adversity."
And Hubbard said the feedback she's been getting on the book bears that out.
"One woman told me, 'When I was reading the book, I was thinking you could have taken your name off the book and put mine on.'"
The book is for everyone, regardless of race or gender, Hubbard said.
"It offers tools and techniques to get out of the darkness and depression of adversity," she said.
While Hubbard acknowledged all people deal differently with depression, she shared a few tips that worked for her:
Find an outlet: "I joined a running group and I got to release a lot of my pain." She suggested everyone can find an outlet that works for them.
Give yourself a reason to get up: Hubbard stressed the need for routine, even if it's not work or school. "Every day you need some type of motivation."
Be vulnerable: "With depression, people's pride can take over and they don't want to share that ugliness." But doing so can be helpful, she said. Hubbard said she found catharsis in talking to a therapist and opening up about her emotional pain in her book.
Reclaim confidence: When Hubbard reached a low point, she made a living at the creative endeavors she knew she could handle, such as house painting.
Don't give in: "Some people stop fighting forward. They get tired of the fight."
Even in dark times, Hubbard said faith in her abilities propelled her.
"I never stopped believing in my dreams and aspirations."
And she didn't take no for an answer, a tactic she developed growing up as the baby girl in a family of eight sisters and three brothers.
"I was always told 'no' ... 'You can't go to that party with your sisters, you're only 14.'" she said. "I had to really fight for anything I wanted. It created a lot of tenacity in me at a young age."
South Jersey in the '70s
Hubbard was born in Camden but moved with her family to Somerdale in the mid-'60s when she was just 6 years old.
"We went from a predominantly black neighborhood to being the only black family in our new neighborhood for eight years."
Looking differently than everyone else led to some culture shock for Hubbard.
At Our Lady of Grace School, "I was a hot commodity. People would want to touch my hair and see why I was different, yet they saw I was the same.
"Even though we looked different, we had a lot of similarities."
Her own home, where her mom introduced her friends to soul food, "was a melting pot," she said.
"It was an inclusive places to release what you were going through," said Hubbard, who recalled that even police officers would come over to confide in her mom.
Despite feeling largely insulated from racial turmoil that rocked the country in the late '60s and early '70s, some incidents in Hubbard's childhood stand out.
At age 11, Hubbard was walking to a neighborhood store along a nature trail when a passing car slowed down and someone threw white cards out the window.
"I waited until they were out of sight and then picked up a card," she said. "It said, 'You have been paid a visit by the Ku Klux Klan' I went back and said to my mom, 'What does this mean?'"
Hubbard's mother, who had been raised in the Deep South, pulled down the shades and closed the curtains in a panic.
"It was the first time I had fear," Hubbard said. "We were taught to love everyone."
And she remembered having similar thoughts when her older siblings experienced a race riot at high school.
"I thought, 'How could hatred divide us just because of the color of our skin?"
She credited her mother with giving her the strength that would later sustain her.
"My mother made me understand what resilience is," she said. "I feel like I have come 360 now because she actually represented my brand."
Plus, her mom was also her biggest cheerleader.
"She would tell me, 'You're going to do something great in this world.' "
Sheri Berkery: @SheriBerkery; 856-486-2673; firstname.lastname@example.org
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