By 2012, when For Brown Girls was taking off, Karyn’s mother Jean had been battling cervical cancer for four years. She had been diagnosed Karyn’s junior year of high school.
“Her mother was probably one of the only people she really was comfortable talking to, family-wise,” John Griffin tells me. A friend and old crush of Karyn’s from high school, he speaks at a near whisper on an upper floor of MSU’s library and looks like Will Smith in his Fresh Prince days, with flattop hair and a black-and-gray diamond-patterned sweater. “She never really talked about a lot of people in her family, but she loved her mother.”
Griffin is the first of many to explain that Karyn and Rip, her father, had a particularly difficult relationship. Though he declined to be interviewed, Rip admitted in a Facebook message that Karyn “hated” him because he disagreed with some of her “behavior.” “I know she told me in high school at one point her parents had taken the hinges off the door to her room,” Griffin says. “She didn’t have any privacy.”
PJ saw Karyn’s moods swing between “real extreme highs and real extreme lows.” She seemed particularly conflicted in reconciling her mother’s death with the newfound freedom it afforded her. “She always used to get emotional about that because she felt like she traded her mother for the money,” he says. “She always thought about that.”
She was contacted for a few interviews, the biggest with Madame Noire, in which she described FBG’s goal “for new generations of darker-skinned girls to not even have one thought of wishing to be lighter, to never doubt their beauty.”
We don't know how to let people be gifted and imperfect. And when we are those people, going from being a nobody to being a movement star, well, it doesn't leave a lot of room for complexity. Or to feel comfortable being honest about wanting to die when so many people are looking to you for a reason to live.
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