Over the past few weeks, an anonymous account, Phone Calls From Prison, has released multiple jailhouse recordings of conversations between Shirley Strawberry and her husband Ernesto Williams and between Williams and his alleged mistress. Strawberry is a long-time co-host of the “Steve Harvey Morning Show,” who leads the infamous Strawberry Letter segment of the radio program.
By way of background, Williams was arrested and is allegedly facing multiple charges including possession of child pornography, sexual assault, fraud and theft. Some of the victims appear to be Strawberry’s daughter and grandchildren. Through the recorded calls, listeners receive maddening details about Strawberry’s mindset and her marital relationship. In some of the calls, which appear to have been recorded in the fall of 2022, Strawberry noted that she didn’t believe Williams has done what he is accused of and that he has “always been nice to her.” She appears to now believe otherwise as she noted in a September 11, 2023, discussion with Harvey and the morning show team that divorce proceedings were underway.
It gives me no pleasure to write about this. My heart goes out to Strawberry, her daughter and grandchildren, and people in similar situations. And I am reminded that anyone who spends time talking about others’ life choices will eventually be in a place where others critique them. But as a woman in her late 60s, a mother whose own child and grandchildren have been named as potential victims, and a person with an established career, this must be a crushing blow.
While Strawberry will deal with this crisis in the manner she deems appropriate, this situation is a cautionary tale for the rest of us. It offers at least five lessons.
- When giving advice, it is best to do so from a place of humility and gentleness because we are all sojourners on the journey of life. If a person is breathing, there is the chance for triumph or failure. So, we must give others the grace, patience, and gentleness that we would want for ourselves.
- At every stage in life, we must be diligent. As I shared in my 2021 book, “First and Only: What Black Women Say About Thriving at Work and in Life,” a lifetime of success is not inoculation from mistakes. We can get it right for decades and still make a mistake or involve ourselves with those who could derail our future. And Strawberry is not the only one who has faced romantic woes. I think about Wendy Williams who endured a very messy and public divorce. I also think about the 2018 True Crime series “Dirty John,” which chronicles the experience of entrepreneur Debra Newell who married con man John Meehan. These situations remind us that a good job, big name, or money in the bank is not protection against problematic relationships.
- We must prioritize our healing. There is one thing we must add to our daily “To Do” list and that is prioritize our healing. When we have any area in our life that is unhealed, we will operate out of our wounds versus out of our strength. For instance, if we believe we are not enough because we are not married, we will accept less than what we deserve or dispense with common sense. What is more, we cannot gloss over our wounds. They will always find us out.
- We must be on guard against deception and self-deception. In the jail recordings between Strawberry and Williams, we hear the voice of a genteel wife who desperately wants to believe her husband. It appears she has chosen to believe a lie versus the truth that is manifest before her. And if we’re honest, most women and men have at some point, or another believed a lie. The details may be different, but many of us can attest to loving someone so much that we have ignored the red flags that were right in front of us. We have loved someone so much that we have been willing to go against the world just to have them in our world.
- Just because someone has a large public platform doesn’t mean they should be giving relationship advice or that you should be accepting their advice. A platform indicates success in one area but doesn’t mean success in every area of a person’s life. The people we admire will go through ups and downs, just like the rest of us. We would do better to focus less on the thoughts and opinions of celebrities and more on the work that each of us is called to do.
To be clear, Strawberry’s current crisis is in headlines today, but we should be more concerned with our own lives. We should be asking, “In what areas of my life am I evading the truth?’” As tragic as this situation is, the main character is the person in the mirror. Prudent and wise individuals will review this situation, and others like it, and ask themselves in what ways they – not Strawberry – can make better choices.
Jennifer R. Farmer is a public relations coach and author of “First and Only: What Black Women Say About Thriving at Work and in Life.”
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