Donzaleigh Abernathy: Actress, activist — and savvy saver [classic article]

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Donzaleigh Abernathy has one claim to fame she inherited — she’s the daughter of the late civil rights activist, Ralph David Abernathy — and another she created — actress.

She currently stars on the Lifetime cable channel’s series “Any Day Now,” in the challenging double role of a young woman and senior citizen. Her other film credits include “Murder in Mississippi,” “Stranger in My House,” “Other People’s Money” and “Ghost Dad.” Recently, Abernathy completed a photo essay entitled “Partners in History: Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph David Abernathy and the Civil Rights Movement.”

She is a founding member and current vice-president of the Board of Trustees for the New Road Schools, a spin-off of the Crossroads School in Santa Monica, Calif., which promote diversity.

Abernathy is a highly enthusiastic, energetic personality who has a surprising background for the child of a civil rights preacher. After the civil rights era in the ’60s, Ralph David Abernathy was in demand as a speaker and made a very comfortable living. Donzaleigh’s childhood included a posh boarding school in Bucks County and holidays in France. She remembers reading “The New Republic” as a kid.

Bankrate: Are you involved in any new projects?
Donzaleigh Abernathy: The writing thing. I’m dealing with the publisher. I’ve been writing like a fiend. I like the creative process. I have to redecorate wherever I am, I have to draw or write. I don’t see anything the same as everyone. My sleeping is really sporadic.

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Bankrate: Do you have any special expenses as an actress?
Donzaleigh Abernathy: I have to live in L.A., have a manager, agent, public relations person, the right clothes, image. I have a friend, Von, who is a costumer, he worked on “Lonesome Dove” and “Blessing.” He’s so authentic in films. Even the undergarments are period. He knows my whole closet and helps me get ready for events.

Bankrate: It’s a new millennium. Do you have any ideas on what direction the movement for equality should take?
Donzaleigh Abernathy: I’m excited about the technological era. My new friends are all in their 20s — computer geeks. They’re the future. Better attempts at integration will be able to be made; in the past, there were futile attempts. Parents used to stress separation, even when the schools were integrated. I had in school who was a ballet dancer from Hungary. But her parents quickly learned that they would not be able to advance if she remained my friend. It’s like that now; some people want me to move from my mixed neighborhood to an all-black neighborhood.

Bankrate: Have you thought of entering politics?
Donzaleigh Abernathy: Never and never will! I’m not traditional and I like it that way. I don’t want to change anybody. I could have been a congressional page, but I didn’t want to. The process of how laws are made is boring. If I were in politics, I would have to dress in a certain way and I won’t. Or being forced to entertain people. A chore. I might have to marry someone I don’t love. That’s boring.

Bankrate: What did you do with your first big paycheck?
Donzaleigh Abernathy: I’m such a tightwad. I save. I don’t care if it’s $10, $1 will go into a fund. My daddy taught me that. He was the treasurer for the Southern Christian Convention. I used to sit on his lap when they counted those big bills, money used to be bigger then.

Bankrate: Do you manage your own money?
Donzaleigh Abernathy: Yes. My manager at my bank has watched me for years and told me, “You’re very wise.” My brother sends me Money magazine.

Bankrate: What’s something you consider a splurge?
Donzaleigh Abernathy: I don’t like spending on luxuries. Yolanda King asks, “What is this suffering thing?” I’m building a spiritual life. I do use gifts that are given to me; I believe that you honor people when you use their gifts. Some people don’t even use their wedding gifts. I do have beautiful china. I have a BMW — my second. I’m not an acquirer, though.

Bankrate: What are your favorite investments?
Donzaleigh Abernathy: Tech is still the future. By 2010, they’ll be back. There’s Cisco Systems. You’re foolish not to support it. I made a big mistake. My cousin, Sharon, was connected with Cisco. She told me to put $1,000 in it. I listened to another cousin who had a scam. They said the same about cars and Standard Oil. I have land in Alabama that I inherited. I’m trying to find some land in LA The land calls me first, not the home. It’s healing to be near the water. It’s totally unaffordable in California, though. I should buy up little waterfront properties on the East Coast. There’s only so much of it left.


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