BernNadette Stanis has come a long way from playing the feisty teenage daughter, Thelma, on the hit series in the late 70s and early 80s, Good Times.
We all remember how she and JJ battled it out to see who would get into the one bathroom shared by the family of five, first. Although the Evans family did not have a lot of money and lived in the projects, they still had love and integrity.
Stanis was born and raised in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, NY, and her upbringing is somewhat similar to Thelma’s character on Good Times. She is one of five children and her mother and father worked hard to ensure that they all received a good education. Stanis says they were taught that education and determination to be someone in life was key to being successful.
She remembers her father always saying, “Now I can go and buy a big old house – I can do that, but I’m gonna take my money and invest it in my children’s education and talent.”
As a young girl, Stanis was exposed to the arts, mainly music and dance, enabling her to enroll in Julliard’s School of the Arts. Along with acting, another gift began to emerge – writing.
Her first book was Situations 101 – Relationships, the Good, the Bad, the Ugly followed by a book called, For Men Only, a book of poetry for men, which is a tribute to the men who supported and encouraged her throughout her life. On the heels of those books she also published Situations 101 – Finances. Stanis viewed her role on Good Times as a job, not as being a star, but as doing good work.
She is penning a new book in which she opens her heart, The Last Night: A Caregiver’s Journey. In it she pays tribute to her parents and talks about her relationship with them, who they were, and how they contributed to her success as well as the success of her brothers and sisters.
She speaks lovingly of her parents. “They were very, very wonderful parents,” Bernadette laughs as she recalls how good they were together even though they were opposites. “Mommy was from Louisiana – ‘a Southern little doll’ and Daddy was from the West Indies and he had that fire going!”
She wants to share that with the world as well as the unfortunate things that happened in her life like how they dealt with her father’s murder, and her mother’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Both of those events weighed heavily on Stanis and her family.
When her mom was in the later stages of Alzheimer’s she was watching Good Times with Stanis one day, a show she loved to watch. Thelma and JJ were having one of their usual spats when her mother turned to her and said, “That’s a cute little old girl.” It was a devastating blow that made all too clear the progression of the disease.
“It hit me so hard that my mother did not know that was really me, and it was her that put me on that show and she gave me the face of Thelma. So I said right then and there, I am going to use the same face to put on Alzheimer’s and fight with that! I’m going to fight and hopefully educate and make aware of what it is and what this thing has going on, the characteristics of it, and hopefully we can find an answer to slow it down and stop it eventually.”
Alzheimer’s disease affects African Americans twice as much as any other disease, and is the sixth leading cause of death among African-American women.
Stanis is now a national spokesperson for Alzheimer’s and has established her own Foundation, RememberingtheGoodTimes.org in honor of her mother who passed away in 2011.