Black Heritage Celebration Launches with Keynote from Actor Amanda Seales

Seales advised GW audience to be fearless in making career moves if a job isn’t serving them.

February 3, 2023

Amanda Seales

Amanda Seales was the keynote speaker for the 2023 Black Heritage Celebration. (William Atkins/GW Today)

The George Washington University community kicked off its Black Heritage Celebration with a keynote discussion full of heart and humor featuring actor and comedian Amanda Seales, popular for her iconic role as Tiffany in the hit HBO comedy series “Insecure.”

Seales helped to launch GW’s month-long 2023 celebration, which carries the theme “Black to the Future: Our Revival & Rebirth” with a focus on encouraging students to move forward toward a more resilient future.

Seales, known for her debut stand-up comedy special “I Be Knowin,” was a co-host on the daytime talk show, “The Real,” and host of NBC’s “Bring the Funny.” She has a weekly podcast called “Small Doses” and is also the creator of the touring variety game show, “Smart Funny & Black.”

She shared her experience as a Black woman in the entertainment business and advised students how to navigate the unique personal and professional challenges they will face in any careers. The discussion, moderated by BHC’s keynote chair, Ella Stern, a senior in the School of Media and Public Affairs, was full of laughs and wisdom.

Seales said her goal with her work is to “edutain” or provide entertainment with an educational aspect. “I want to use humor to sweeten the pot but also get these ideas across and get people comfortable with challenging things,” Seales said. “And if I can’t do that, it doesn’t excite me.” 

Seales spoke about her decision to use her platform to take on serious topics and advocate for social justice reform. “I have just always been somebody who can't witness injustice and not say something about it,” Seales said.

With so much negativity, hate and disinformation being spread daily on social media, she said there need to be more voices spreading good.

Seales, who has a master's degree in African American studies from Columbia University, said she brings the lessons she learned in her classes into her work. One of her professors who taught a Black pop culture course said since Black people do not have much representation in popular culture, movies and other entertainment with Black themes or Black characters carry a large burden.

“For us, it has been the biggest way to have our stories represented in a world that continues to deny our existence,” Seales said. “So, for us, Clair Huxtable is just as real as your mother because she has been a person that we can look to when we haven't seen any other representations of ourselves in that space. And when I do my work now, I'm carrying that with me.”

Knowing she has that responsibility, Seales said, informs the roles she chooses to take in her career.

“The centering of me in my work has always been about my integrity. Will this make me feel ashamed if I do this? And you might think, what are you asked to do that would make you feel ashamed? You would be surprised,” Seales said. “Any job that you are in will have times where you are like, ‘Do I want to do that? Is this going to serve me?’ And there is a spectrum. You need to choose your battles.”

Seales gave an example of a script she read during an audition that featured racist Black stereotypes. “At that moment,” she said, “I had to decide, are we going to get the role or are we going to have a revolution?"

She told the casting director she would not play the part as it was written because it was racist. He agreed with Seales, and she got a call back on the spot. Seales shared that story to impart to students that they can use their voices and stand up for their values even if it is intimidating.

She told students they have a responsibility to make sure they are making the right choices for themselves and if they are in a situation that does not meet their standards or values, they should start planning their exit and move on to a better opportunity.

“I think a lot of us are afraid to do that,” she said. “We are so afraid to consider that something better could happen to us. And so, we stay in situations, we stay in jobs, we stay in scenarios that are not serving us. But we don't permit ourselves to consider there could be something better. I like to stand on the reality that maybe you are destined for good things.”