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Black History Month Spotlight: Influential child star Raven-Symoné

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Raven-Symoné has been in the entertainment industry since she was two years old, doing ads for major companies like Cool Whip and Ritz Crackers.

Finding success as a print and commercial model, Symoné turned to the silver screen.

In 1989, she made her television debut on the widely known sitcom “The Cosby Show” as Olivia Kendall, the step-daughter of Denise Huxtable. By this time, Symoné was only four years old. She continued to work on the set until the series wrapped in April of 1992. 

Symoné branched out into music after taking voice lessons from the legendary rapper Missy Elliott. She signed with MCA Records, but the label eventually dropped her due to the low album sales.

Though her music career had not been very successful, she continued to book acting jobs, including her most notable role as Raven Baxter in the sitcom “That’s So Raven,” which first aired on the Disney Channel in 2003.

This was a groundbreaking role. Symoné was the first African American on the channel to star in the leading role of a sitcom.

In the series, she played a teenage psychic who tried to fix everything she saw in her visions. Her character was also a good singer and a fashion designer who designed her entire wardrobe.

“Watching ‘That’s So Raven’ is what inspired me to get into fashion,” said Tyra Johnson, a junior at the University of Central Missouri.

The show became extremely popular, which led to the series being the first sitcom on the channel to surpass 100 episodes. Although the show was funny and entertaining, that did not stray them away from talking about real-world issues.

The show also produced two different spin-off shows, “Cory in the House” and “Raven’s Home.”

While working on her sitcom, Symoné also had a role in “The Cheetah Girls,” a movie about a young vocal group trying to pursue their dreams in New York City.

“I think everyone wanted to be a Cheetah Girl when that movie came out, including me,” said Johnson. She said that because of the film’s diversity, young girls were able to see someone they could relate to and model themselves after.

Symoné continued working even after leaving Disney and had the chance to work alongside comedian Martin Lawerence in “College Road Trip.” She played a determined student trying to find her dream college.

“I did not really know what college was until I saw that movie, and from then on I knew that I was going to college after high school,” said UMKC freshman Mariah Williams.

Through her work in film and television, Symoné provided a relatable role model for young girls that gave them confidence to pursue their dreams in entertainment and exciting non-traditional jobs.

djctcn@mai.umkc.edu

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