“Black people are achievers; we’re survivors,” a strong statement spoken by the multi-talented actress Roxie Roker. Known for her for groundbreaking role as Helen Willis on the popular TV sitcom The Jeffersons. She is the mother of rock musician Lenny Kravitz, grandmother of actress Zoe Kravitz and second cousin of news journalist Al Roker.
Roxie Albertha Roker was born on August 29, 1929 in Miami, Florida. Her mother, Bessie Roker (née Mitchell), was from Georgia and worked as a housekeeper. Her father, Albert Roker, was a native from Andros, The Bahamas and a porter. She grew up in Brooklyn, New York.
A graduate of Howard University where she became a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, she studied Fine Arts and earned her degree in 1952. During her college days, she became a part of a lot of productions, and was an active member in the Howard Players.
After graduating from college, she moved to New York to pursue a career in acting while also finding means to support herself. Her professional career began with the Negro Ensemble Company and became a successful stage actress. She won an Obie Award in 1974 and was nominated for a Tony Award for her portrayal of Mattie Williams in The River Niger. She was a reporter on WNEW-TV in New York in the 1970s and hosted a public affairs show for the station known as Inside Bed-Stuy, dealing with events in the Brooklyn neighborhood.
Best known for her portrayal as Helen Willis on popular hit television show The Jeffersons, which was groundbreaking. Her role broke social barriers by becoming the first interracial married couple on prime-time TV, with co-actor Franklin Cover. She appeared on many other television shows from the 1970s through the 1990s, including “Stone in the River”, Punky Brewster, Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper, A Different World, Murder She Wrote, The Love Boat, 227, Beat the Clock, Fantasy Island, and ABC Afterschool Specials. She also had roles appeared in the miniseries Roots and in the movie Claudine. She was a children’s advocate who was cited by the city of Los Angeles for her community work.
On December 2, 1995, Roxie died in Los Angeles, California, at the age of 66.
“I wish there was more for minorities than sitcoms. I’d like to see a soap opera about blacks. People don’t live in isolation anymore.”
“Black people are achievers; we’re survivors.”
“I was raised in a very, very loving household. I had quite unusual parents, and my father has always been my hero.”
“I don’t like that putdown: that when you’re trying to achieve, you’re trying to be white. That makes me mad.”
“I was very much a part of the civil rights era, so, of course, my fantasy was to marry some outstanding black gentleman, a leader – someone like Martin Luther King who was doing something for black people.”
ReCreate Model: Angela Dawkins
ReCreate Photographer: Jasmine Mallory