Holly Robinson Peete on How Fearing for Her Son’s Life Inspired Her to Advocate for RJ's Law (Exclusive)
By Leena Tailor
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Holly Robinson Peete is opening up about family life with former NFL star Rodney Peete, the pride she felt after her daughter, Ryan, came out as gay and how the Black Lives Matter movement spurred her to advocate for RJ’s Law. The law would help police officers identify drivers with autism and was inspired by the 55-year-old star's son, 22-year-old RJ, who has autism.
“About four years ago when RJ started driving, it was a big deal because they said he would never drive, and when he started driving, I was worried about it every time he got behind the wheel, because what happens when he gets pulled over?” Peete told ET’s Deidre Behar. “He has autism, he is different -- how does he respond to demands and commands?”
“How do I keep him alive, because we've seen that could end bad,” Peete continued, referring to incidents like the death of George Floyd, who passed away in May after police officer, Derek Chauvin, pressed his knee against Floyd's neck for several minutes. “We’re starting this initiative for RJ's Law, which essentially would have notification on drivers’ licenses and maybe in some cases on license plates to indicate that the driver or registered owner has autism or is on the autism spectrum.”
The potential dangers faced by RJ due to autism isn’t the only worry that keeps the mom of four up at night. She admitted that she has been concerned about how the color of her children’s skin will impact their lives since the day they were born.
“As a Black mom of four, this isn't my first rodeo,” she said. “This George Floyd thing was horrendous. As a mom of kids that are Black, I worry about this stuff every single day. From the time they were born, as a mom, it’s been on my radar, and so it wasn’t a new thing. I think what happened [was] between the pandemic and the sadness and cruelness of this one incident and timing of it, [it] really helped kick this movement forward.”
Peete shared that she has had former law enforcement officers visit her home to roleplay and educate her children about the best course of action if they ever get pulled over. And, on a daily basis, she meticulously schools them on what to do when they go out.
“I’ve said, ‘Don’t talk back, put your hands where they can be seen, start your phone, always record it, ask a cop if their body cam is on, make sure their body cam is on,’” she shared. “But this is a lot to ask of a child. If you’re being stopped, it’s scary. Your heart starts pounding, you start panicking, and that’s usually when bad things happen.”
“So, we’ve had former policemen come over to our house and talk to our kids and actually roleplay and do things like that,” she continued. “[But] my son said to me the other day, ‘Mom, I thought you said if I comply, everything will be OK. George Floyd complied and he died.’ So, then I’m like, ‘Back to the drawing board again.’”
While Peete is doing everything she can to protect her children, she’s also proud of who they are growing up to be, discussing her support of Ryan, 22, who came out as gayduring Pride Month.
“It's important that we celebrate our kids and love who they love and support what they support,” she said. “I was just proud of her. She did it in her own time, in her own way. She's a spectacular young lady. She felt like she needed to speak her truth, and I'm just there for her 100% and her dad [is] as well.”
Peete credited therapy and ensuring the two remain “on the same page” as the keys to a long, successful marriage. Some of the relationship struggles that have led them to “fall off a page here and there” have included parenting an autistic son and Rodney’s adjustment to football retirement.
“Sometimes as people, you drift and you have to make a conscious effort to stay together and stay focused on what’s important in your marriage,” she said. “People say marriage is 50/50, [but] I say marriage is 100/100, meaning you’ve got to give 100% of yourself 100% of the time. And, we're human beings, so we don't always do that, but it's very important that you are in this to win this, respect each other, and [are] constantly on the same page. We call it, ‘same page love.’”
“We’ve always believed in therapists and licensed marriage counselors,” she continued. “You're not always going to be in the same place as your husband [and] you're not always going to feel like talking about things in a productive way. So, when we sit down with a therapist or a third party who is objective, it's as simple as that. It's not a lobotomy. It's just sitting down and having constructive conversations, and sometimes you need guidance in that area.”
Family life aside, Peete is keeping busy with multiple projects for the Hallmark Channel. In addition to appearing in the upcoming holiday flicks Christmas in Evergreen 4 and Christmas Doctor, she will also film more installments of her popular Hallmark Movies & Mysteries film series, Morning Show Mysteries.
“I'm really excited about these projects,” she said. “I love being able to watch Christmas movies with my family, so to be able to watch these movies and [it’s like], ‘Mom is actually in them?’ That’s pretty cool. But especially now, it’s important that we find feel-good moments. We've bonded as a family around a lot of television content right now, and even right now we have Christmas in July going!”
Peete praised the likes of Hallmark and Netflix for increasingly embracing cultural diversity onscreen.
“As Black people we are very diverse, and I love seeing the diversity of who we are come out on camera,” she said. “We're seeing Netflix doing a great job of it. And a lot these networks are doing a great job, and even Hallmark Channel is diving into making that happen. It's so important. We need to see different versions of us [because] we don't all do the same thing [or] like all the same stuff. We're different just like everybody else is. The more diverse ways that you see us presented and represented in show business, the better you'll get to know who Black people are as a whole.”