Gabrielle Union is smiling over her shoulder in a gorgeous fluffy white dress.
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Gabrielle Union Is A Nontraditional Mom Keeping Family Traditions Alive This Year

The Union-Wade family is going back to basics this holiday season: show tunes, glazed ham, and making the world a better place.

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Between her decades-long career as an actress and her marriage to a professional basketball player, Gabrielle Union hasn’t lived anywhere in her adult life long enough to establish a ton of traditions. During the holiday season, however, the actress and philanthropist carries over one specific custom from her childhood. Instead of Christmas carols, Union grew up singing songs from Broadway musicals with her family. “We would listen to the original Broadway cast album of Dreamgirls and we’d each choose parts and alternate who got to be Deena Jones,” she says.

Since her husband Dwyane Wade (who is now retired from basketball) joined the family, the extended Union crew has since added Hamilton songs to the mix. It’s a new spin on an old family tradition, and it works for the family of six. “As long as there is music, show tunes, and a glazed ham, that’s all we need,” she says.

Usually, between the pair’s families, they host anywhere from 50 to 75 people for Thanksgiving. There’ll be no extended get-together this year; their priority is keeping ther family, many of whom Union says have preexisting conditions, and others safe from the risk of COVID-19. Instead of a huge gathering complete with group activities like going to a pro football game, Union is bringing it back to the basics: “Just loving the people here quarantining with us,” she says, and taking the opportunity to invest her time and platform in causes close to her heart.

Between my husband's family and my family, we've dealt with all kinds of things, from addiction to homeless, food scarcity, to domestic violence, sexual assault. And we depended on the kindness of strangers to get through.

Union, who says she’s a traditionalist only in theory, is pretty clear on the values that are important to her: family and giving back to people in need. She also embraces the importance of staying flexible. As the needs of the most vulnerable Americans grow greater during the pandemic, she’s working with AmazonSmile to fill the gaps in resources for Deborah’s Place, a supportive housing service for homeless women in Chicago, and Women’s Center for Advancement, an organization helping victims of domestic violence and human trafficking in Omaha, Nebraska. The organizations, in Union’s hometown of Omaha and her husband’s hometown of Chicago, are close to her heart for more reason than one. “Between my husband's family and my family, we've dealt with all kinds of things, from addiction to homeless, food scarcity, to domestic violence, sexual assault,” she says. “And we depended on the kindness of strangers to get through.”

While she’s raising donations, she’s also showing her children that their parents are “not that far removed from needing the help and kindness of strangers,” she says. And getting the kids involved in charitable causes is one family tradition that will never change. Since they were little, they’ve been involved in hands-on giving through the Wade family’s nonprofit organization for at-risk children, Wade’s World Foundation. They learned early the importance of giving away not just things they’ve outgrown or no longer want but things they actually covet. “It’s important they understand that to whom much is given much is required, and there’s a lot required of us,” she says. “As much as you want certain things, there are other kids out there who need those things. Our priorities can shift to make sure that we put a smile on peoples’ faces.”

Now, as the kids get older, especially their 18-year-old son Zaire and 13-year-old daughter Zaya, their parents let them decide what causes are important to them to become involved with.

This year, of course, the safest way to keep that practice going is virtually. Sending organizations essential items from their wish lists means less waste and focused help where it’s most needed — right in line with Union’s typical directness. She’s been outspoken about her sexual assault, unabashedly supportive of their daughter Zaya’s coming out as transgender, and a prominent voice against institutional racism in the film and television industry. Union is also working hard with her production company, I’ll Have Another, to create more opportunities to center marginalized creators and their stories.

Though her husband is of the 'keep it real camp,' Union strives to help her family maintain a semblance of joy — a radical act for Black Americans right now.

That directness extends to her home, where the reality of the state of our country is not lost on the famous family.

In their California neighborhood, where they just celebrated the second birthday of baby Kaavia (an Instagram celebrity in her own right), Union says Make America Great Again flags and Black Lives Matter flags fly on the very same block. Racism, homophobia, transphobia, and political unrest are a reality their children aren’t shielded from and (at least for the holidays), Union is putting her energy on highlighting for her kids the kindness of their fellow man. Though her husband is of the “keep it real camp,” Union strives to help her family maintain a semblance of joy — a radical act for Black Americans right now.

She does not wear — nor put the children in — rose-colored glasses, but she brings the focus back to what matters most to her: prioritizing those with the greatest need. She explains to her children: “There are people who want to take away the hard-won rights and protections of marginalized people and then there are people who want the opposite: to center and amplify the needs of the most marginalized of us and offer them protections under the law,” she says. “So just hold on to those people, because there’s always a fight. There will always be something to do.”

You can join the Union-Wade family in supporting Women's Center for Advancement and Deborah's Place via the linked wishlists.

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