Bernadette Stanis has come a long way from playing the feisty teenage daughter, Thelma, on the hit series Good Times.
We all remember how she and JJ battled it out to see who would get into the one bathroom shared by the family of five, first. Although the Evans family did not have a lot of money and lived in the projects, they still had love and integrity.
Born Bernadette Stanislaus and raised in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, New York in the projects, Bernadette’s story was ironically similar to Thelma’s character on Good Times. She is one of five children and her mother and father worked hard to ensure that they all received a good education. Bernadette says they were taught that education and determination to be someone in life was key to being successful. She remembers her father always saying, “Now I can go and buy a big old house – I can do that, but I’m gonna take my money and invest it in my children’s education and talent”. It was an investment that he and his wife made without a second thought!
As a young girl, Bernadette was exposed to the arts, mainly music and dance, enabling her to enroll in Julliard’s School of the Arts. Her talent was evident and while in her sophomore year she was selected for the part of Thelma on Good Times. She describes it as an “incredible” experience. “Being the rookie, I was watching them. I learned everything just by watching them and how professional they were. Esther Rolle was like my mom away from home. I loved her so much; she was such a brilliant woman. She fought for the right thing for us.” Initially Bernadette only had a few lines like, ‘Hi Mom, Hi Dad, and Shut up JJ.’ She started to get bored and commented to Esther Rolle one day that she wanted more lines. Ms. Rolle’s response was ‘You do, huh? Well, let me handle that.’ After that conversation, things changed, and Thelma had a voice on the show. She attributes that change to Esther Rolle. Although Bernadette was successful early in life, she remembered what her parents stressed about getting an education, and went back to school to get her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Drama.
Along with acting, another gift began to emerge – writing. Her first book was Situations 101 – Relationships, the Good, the Bad, the Ugly followed by a book of poetry for men, which is a tribute to the men who supported and encouraged her throughout her life, called For Men Only. On the heels of those books she also published Situations 101 – Finances. Bernadette viewed her role on Good Times as a job, not as being a star, but as doing good work. In 2006, when she started traveling with her mother to promote her book, she realized for the first time how much her fans appreciated her and what an impact she had on them. Both she and her mom were touched by the outpouring of love and support from the fans. Her mother remarked, ‘Oh Bern, they love you; your fans love you.’
Today, Bern Nadette Stanis travels the world as the author of 3 books. Her most recent work, The Last Night: A Caregiver’s Journey, profiles the walk of a loving daughter with a beloved Mother diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She has participated as a Celebrity Champion in the Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s, and has been broadcast on the Tom Joiner Morning Show as an advocate for Alzheimer’s awareness. She participated in the 2010 Rose Bowl, appearing on the float called The Boomer Express, as the Alzheimer’s Association Celebrity Champion. She continues to be a motivational speaker as requested.