Thirty years ago, the iconic rap artist 2Pac Shakur released what to this day is one of the most powerful heartfelt gut-wrenching music videos titled “Brenda’s Got A Baby.” The storyline is about a 12-year-old girl named Brenda who lives in a ghetto and has a baby she can’t support. The song explores the issue of teen pregnancy, molestation, and its effect on young mothers and their families. It draws from the plight of the impoverished. The lyrics written by Tupac sent chills through the spines of its listeners, but what pushed this music video to the forefront and made it impactful was the actress who played Brenda. Her portrayal of the character depicted what it’s like for teen mothers to deal with traumatic issues with little to no support.
Now 30 years later, I caught up with the actress who is now a business owner, life coach, and mentor, Ms. “Ethel Love“. Love was born and raised in Richmond, California, her upbringing was in a Pentecostal household. When asked how she met Tupac she stated, “I met 2Pac through my older brothers and Godbrothers. They use to hang around in the community.” I wanted to know how 2Pac was as a person back then. Ethel stated “2Pac was quiet, he stayed to himself at times. He was doing a lot of observing to capture things that inspired him to write.” When asked how she got the role of Brenda, she talked about how Pac saw that she liked the arts and that she was a teen mother. Tupac asked Ethel’s brother to see if she would act in the video. Ethel wondered why he didn’t ask her personally, but she felt he didn’t out of respect for her brothers.
Brenda’s got a baby was a phenomenal piece of art. I asked Ethel Love did she know what made him write the song? While on a flight from New York, Shakur wrote the song after reading a story in the newspaper about a 12-year-old girl getting pregnant by her cousin and trying to dispose of the baby in a trash can. Love stated, “He was upset about the article and wanted to make it a reality in the music video.” Even though Ethel had done music videos before, this was her biggest moment. Love stated everyone was professional on set and they treated her with the utmost respect. She was the star. Love was the focus and they made sure she was comfortable. I asked her how she tapped into the role and got into character. “When I arrived on set, I never heard the song or read a script. They were giving me cues as I went along.” Ethel had to bring a lot of emotion out. “It was a lot of work. Being a teen mom myself, they asked me to bring my baby on set that day, but I was glad I didn’t because I had a lot to do that day.”
When asked about how she prepared her mind to perform the epic bathroom scene where she was giving a painful birth, she took herself back to her own experiences. Ethel went through it firsthand by having her own child and was right there in the room when cousins and family members were delivering their own children. “I was helping them by telling them to push, so I understood what it took.” “I had to pull a lot of energy out of me to make it seem like I was having a baby.”
After the video was released, she received so much love from the community. People at school would recognize her and say, “why didn’t you tell me you were in a video with Tupac?” and would always ask to speak to him. Even when going outside, people would scream her name yelling “Brenda’s got a baby.” I asked her now that it’s 30 years later and the video and song are still being played to this day and are still revered as one of the top videos, how does she feel? “It’s still iconic. My heart is so swole because it had always been a dream of mine since I was a kid. It’s still relevant. to this day teachers ask me to come out and speak and it still humbles me when I sign autographs.”
These days Ethel is still at it. She has been celebrating Juneteenth since the 80s before everyone else started recognizing it. Ethel was surprised when she moved to Atlanta and there was no Juneteenth. “Back in Richmond, there were parades, different functions, camera people, the local news. big barbecues, and performers.”
Her greatest challenge she faces is to put herself out there more to the public. Ethel has been hesitant but is opening up more. Her greatest accomplishment is raising her three girls. Love says “I’m iconic. You don’t have to be in the limelight to be that. You can be iconic to your children. There is nothing greater than knowing yourself.”
Ethel is flourishing in her many businesses, she is a mobile stylist and travels to do elderly people’s hair. Love also wants to continue acting but not in big roles, she would prefer to be a background actress because she understands the time and commitment that must go into it, and at this time, her number one priority is raising her children and being there for them. She says being a life coach and a mentor is an everyday thing for her. Her advice to the youth is “Always encourage yourself, pat yourself on the back cause you are your own worst critic. Keep pushing regardless of what people say around you. Know your purpose, be obedient and understand how to sacrifice. Don’t be a ‘shoulda woulda coulda’ person. Turn everything into a positive for yourself. Nike said just do it, I say ‘just done’ because it’s not a challenge to me because I know it’s already done.”
I asked Ethel Love when it’s all said and done and you are long gone from the earth, what is it that you want people to know about you? “I want people to know that I did my best to keep my word; because my word is my bond, and I tried to be true to myself so that I could be true to you.”
Full Video Interview
This interview was first published in The Narrative Matters Publication