Queen Latifah says she’s thankful for the way her parents raised both her and her brother to learn without boundaries.
“I think my parents really tried to make me strong at a young age. I was very fortunate to have both sides of the coin,” the star, 50, says during her interview for this week’s PEOPLE cover story, celebrating the lives and legacies of Black trailblazers.
Opening up on the PEOPLE Every Day podcast, Queen Latifah, born Dana Owens, shares how her parents — beloved school teacher Rita Owens, and police tactical officer Lancelot Owens, Sr. — raised her and her brother, Lancelot Jr., with equal love and opportunities.
“I’m definitely a product of my parents,” she says. “My father really made me tough in certain ways. He taught me how to fight. He put me in taekwondo classes. Everything my brother could do, I was included in. I wasn’t separated with that boy-girl kind of thing.”
That, she adds, “was the beginning of making me aware of my capabilities.”
When it comes to her mother Rita, who she lost in 2018 following a long battle with scleroderma, “My mother is the queen in me. Anything queenly about me is really from her. She smoothed out my rough edges.”
As for her mom’s choice of extracurricular activities, “she put me in dance, even though I was the biggest girl in the ballet class,” she recalls. “Guitar lessons for as long as we could afford them.”
Growing up inside the Owens household, “there was a lot of communication,” the Equalizer star says. “Just reading the newspaper was a competition.”
It was also a pretty powerful place to be. “I didn’t realize it at the time,” says Queen Latifah, “but they were also planning the future for us as African-Americans. There were people like [author-poet] Amiri Baraka at my house — but I just thought that was Uncle Amiri. That was just the life I grew up in. They were preparing us.”
Queen Latifah, who tragically lost her brother Lancelot Jr. in a motorcycle accident in 1992, credits her strong foundation with her success today. As for how she carves out space for her personal life now, despite achieving mega fame, she says it’s simple.
“I keep people around me who can smack my hand when I do the wrong things and pat me on my back when I do the right things,” she says. “Most importantly,” she adds, “they love me and know me.”
“I’m not dependent on the world telling me who I am,” says the actress. “I have people who really will go through the fire with me and I’ll go through the fire with them and we have.”
We’re happy to see Queen back in the spotlight. Be sure to check out her new series,’The Equalizer’ Sundays (8 p.m. ET) on CBS.