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13 Key Takeaways From Jada Pinkett Smith's New Book, 'Worthy'

From the Oscars slap to 'divorce without divorcing' husband Will Smith, Pinkett Smith bares all

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Dey Street Books/Photo by Rich Fury/VF22/Getty Images for Vanity Fair

Readers hungering for celebrity tidbits won’t be disappointed by Jada Pinkett Smith’s memoir, Worthy. In it, Smith, 52, writes about her life in Los Angeles during what she dubs the “Golden Years of Black Hollywood,” the time of Boyz n the Hood, In Living Color and A Different World.  It was during that heyday that she met the rising actor Will Smith.

She writes thoughtfully about their courtship, their lives together (and apart; they separated in 2016), their children Trey, Jaden and Willow. And, yes, she covers The Slap. Even so, the Jada juggernaut sure to accompany the book’s publication (Oct. 17) may gloss over some of the more tough, tender and funny moments that make Smith, as the title says, worthy.

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This is a book about brokenness, about loss, about fixing what was fractured early on. Mother Adrienne Banfield was 17 when Jada was born, and for a time she was a functioning heroin addict. Father Robsol Pinkett struggled with drugs and alcohol addiction much of his life. Pinkett Smith is frank about her mental health crises — a shattering panic attack, depression and thoughts of suicide. She's wise about the systemic challenges facing underserved communities and surprisingly good on friendships — especially the one she had with Tupac Shakur. '

One thing becomes clear very early on in Worthy: she is a seeker. From her childhood in Baltimore to the mental health crises that find her at the top of a Medicine Woman’s driveway in Ojai, CA, contemplating a plant medicine intervention, hers is a journey rife with psychological, emotional and spiritual grappling.

“One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned, which is the main reason I wrote this book,” she states, “is how important it is to share our journeys of self-worth.”

Here's some of what we learn along the way.

How she came to have the name Jada

Her mother, Adrienne, named her only child after a soap actor, Jada Rowland, “who starred for two decades on The Secret Storm.” “Jada’s character began on the show as a teenager and aged in real time. So, in a sense, my mother had grown up with her — even though Jada Rowland herself is white and doesn’t have much in common with Adrienne or me. Still, you might say my mother’s decision to name me after an actress could have been either prophetic or wishful thinking.” Or both.  

Jada Pinkett Smith learned significant life lessons from her grandparents

Her maternal grandparents provided an oasis for Jada and single mom Adrienne. Their middle-class Baltimore home and her grandmother’s garden were a haven of security but also provided Smith a metaphor for personal growth. “Everything grows,” she writes. “If I had learned anything from the gardening lessons with my grandmother, that one truth stood above the rest. Every step is important in the care and nurturing of what we hope to see grow and thrive.”

Her father, Robsol Pinkett, was an addict, an autoditact and a poet

Robsol Pinkett married Adrienne Banfield because she was pregnant. The couple was married just over year. Throughout his life, he had alcohol and drug addiction problems. Although Robsol wasn’t much of a father to Pinkett Smith, she loved her father's mind and flair and includes one of his poems, which has the refrain she’s loved since she was a kid, “nobody gets out of life alive…”

Will Smith and Jada’s first meeting was not entirely auspicious

Pinkett Smith had auditioned for a guest role on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Outside the office she ran into the show's star, Will Smith. They’d never met before. “What’s up?” Will Smith asked with a cheerful grin. “'What up?” I asked in response, not giving him the time of day and kept moving.”

An encounter at her 21st birthday party wasn’t much more prophetic: “…at one point, I brushed past Will, who was leaning against the wall, and he wished me a happy birthday. ‘Thank you, Will.’ "And that was that. Pinkett wasn’t being coy. It just took a while for her to acknowledge that, as she writes later, “Will Smith is actually intriguing and captivating. Who knew?” And it wasn’t until after he and wife Sheree filed for divorce that they began seeing each other.

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If navigating a marriage of more than three decades in public is not a slam dunk, neither is ending it

Pinkett Smith recently made headlines after revealing that she and Will Smith, 55, have lived "separate lives" since 2016. She elaborates on this in the book: “I’d always pledged to myself that if we were really going to end our marriage, we would do so with an amicable partnership to keep together the family we both valued. We’d have to work as members of the same team. There had to be a way to lovingly uncouple without being put under the microscope of the world. In other words, we would choose to divorce without divorcing. That is, to split up, to separate on our own terms, without legal interference," she writes. In late 2016, “Will and I looked each other in the eyes and decided to separate in every way except legally. ... We would remain family-strong, not lose our friendship, and maintain our policy of complete transparency — i.e., no secrets about what we were doing and whom we were doing it with.”

Jada initially thought Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the 2022 Oscars was a skit

From where she was seated in the Dolby Theatre, Pinkett Smith initially thought the encounter was some sort of preplanned sketch. "I witnessed professional fighters laid down by the force of Will’s hands in the boxing ring. More than once. This had to be staged. Otherwise, how could Chris be on his feet like nothing happened?” she writes. “It’s not until Will yells from his seat back up at Chris ... that I perceive the gravity of the situation. ... Even so, I am unclear on the reason why Will is so upset. We had been living separate lives and were there as family, not as husband and wife. But when I hear Will yell ‘wife’ in the chaos of the moment, an internal shift of Oh shit ... I am his wife! happens instantly."

Jada's friendship with rapper Tupac Shakur ran deep

The two met cute in high school and remained close throughout his life (yes, even with some volatile disagreements), and their friendship tracks through the memoir. He called her Square. She calls him Pac. And though they early on knew their love wasn’t romantic, it was profound, she writes. So deep that he once proposed to her.

In her search to grow spiritually, Jada has been a hungry reader

Smith ends each of chapters in Worthy with workbook-style ruminations and quotes. Shoutout recipients include Ntozake Shange, Steve Martin, Alice Walker and Clarissa Pinkola Estés (author of Women Who Run with Wolves). There’s some “real talk” from Charles Xavier of, yes, X-Men. And there’s a nod to, as she writes toward the end of the book, “The One and Only Carl Jung.”

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She has been longtime friends with Dog Whisperer Cesar Millan

She met the Dog Whisperer shortly after he arrived in the U.S. from Mexico and before the world knew him by that moniker.

He helped her with some Rottweilers she was fostering. “How ’bout I pay for a tutor for a whole year?” she said to him when he shared his dreams of reaching a mass audience with his training methods. Currently, she has a pocket Frenchie named Bandit, a 49th birthday gift from Millan.

She loves to skate

Growing up in Baltimore, she had her moments as a dance battler in clubs. But her “greatest joy,” she writes, “was found at the skating rink, Painters Mill, where I practically lived for most of my high school years. They’d play everything from the S.O.S. Band … to the Gap Band’s ‘Yearning for Your Love,’ which was a couples-skate favorite. … But nothing fills me with nostalgia more than a song by Keith Sweat called ‘Make It Last Forever.’” When she moved to Los Angeles, she frequented the legendary World on Wheels on Venice Boulevard, and for her 50th birthday celebration, during the COVID-19 pandemic, she had an outdoor rink built for family and friends.

She received death threats while touring with her band, Wicked Wisdom

Not just any kind of band, but a nu metal group composed of black musicians. “We reveled in connection through music, in a genre most believed had no place for Black folks, especially Black women. ESPECIALLY a famous Black woman. Our differences were moot on the common ground of rock’n the F out and leaving everything we had on the floor.” Which didn’t mean there wasn’t racist backlash when Sharon Osbourne picked the band in 2005 for the Ozzfest tour. “The death threats were so specific, and there were so many of them,” she writes, “that the head of my security detail was firm: ‘We are suggesting you don’t go. It’s too dangerous.’ Ain’t gonna lie — I was shook.” She went.

She met one of her spiritual heroes in Vietnam

Thanks to her brother-in-law, while in Asia with her mother and Willow for their web series Red Table Talk, Smith learned that Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh was at his monastery in Southern Vietnam. With some kind interventions from nuns, she was able to meet him. “I was able to step toward him and to bow at his feet, showing my gratitude and feeling his Divine energy,” she writes of the experience. “Nothing can compare to being in the presence of a spiritual master.” 

How her son, Jaden, got his name

She recounts that Will returned to the hospital from their home after their son’s birth. “Will had an announcement. ‘I know what I want to name him … Jaden.’ I paused. ‘Jaden?’ ‘Yes. After what I saw yesterday, he has to be named after his mother. I’ve never seen anything like that. I want to name him in honor of you.’” 

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