James Baldwin once said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” The new AMC series, 61st Street, does just that. It’s a story about the struggles of a Black man named Moses and the obstacles he must face in pursuit of his college dream. Andrene Ward-Hammond, the actress portraying Norma, the mother of Moses, let Taji Mag know why 61st Street is not a typical courtroom show and talked about what makes the series relatable.
Dapper Dr. Feel (DDF): What made you choose to be a part of this project?
Andrene Ward-Hammond (AWH): Other than getting booked? Lol. I came off of the show Your Honor, and Peter Moffat (61st Street creator) sent this project to me. So I’m super grateful for that. A mom raising two Black kids, specifically black sons in Chicago. I don’t know if I would want to pass up the opportunity to portray the character. I’m a Black mom, a few different sides of her, you know?
DDF: How did you approach this role?
AWH: I am originally from New York and moved to Georgia. I [have] a daughter, and the part of Georgia we moved to, didn’t see much of us. It wasn’t a hard reach playing a mom, and it was easy to pull from experiences because I knew my challenges raising my daughter. Like, we are not seen in the best light in America…how we protect our tribe, how we protect our family, and how excited we are about our culture. It’s not hard to pull from because I am wildly protective of my daughter, my family, and of my friends. So to raise two Black men as characters, it’s already sitting in there ’cause we already fighting for Black men in America. So it’s like, we’re not way too far off from that.
DDF: What do you think Norma is thinking internally as her son is being blamed for killing an officer?
AWH: That (Norma) wants him alive by any means necessary. She knows who her child is. She knows who she raised Moses to be. He is not the criminal the police are making him out to be. It’s so outside of Moses’ character, she tells him to run. She saw a child who was always the good kid. So it’s always a battle internally, too. Like, what can save him? What can she do to ensure that his life is saved? [The authorities] do not see him in the best light. Norma just wants to see her kids happy.
DDF: What was it like on set with the rest of the cast?
AWH: Mr. C (Courtney B. Vance) is dope. He is like that uncle you always wanted. Ms. Aunjanue (many flowers given) is like a big sister I absolutely needed. It’s so funny because we were just texting today. Tosin and Bentley were the sweetest ever. They can’t get rid of me now. Tosin’s like my little brother. Bentley’s like my son. Holt is hilarious and the best host ever. As for Mark. I just want to be on a comedy show that Mark writes because he is absolutely fricking hilarious. You can’t say no to a project that’s led by Courtney B. Vance and Aunjanue. It was a given, it was a gift. I don’t care how it turned out.
DDF: What do you think people will get out of this project?
AWH: It’s not your typical courtroom show. It shows how these cases, like the one in 61st Street, affect families outside of a courtroom. It doesn’t lean towards anybody being a good or a bad guy. It’s based on your moral compass. So you get to determine, “okay well, this is how I feel about that”, but, more than anything, start to engage in conversation that’s incredibly uncomfortable. But it’s not like it’s going away ’cause it’s happening now. Although the show is [only now] made, the creators started on it six years ago. To have it land at a time after the kneeling on the neck incident, it just shows you how relevant the conversation is and how it needs to continue. We clearly still have a fight ahead of us.
The first two episodes of 61st Street have provided more than enough interest for me to stay invested. I want to see what paths each character will choose since the Chicago environment places some tension between the police and its citizens, much like real life. Veterans Courtney B. Vance and Aunjanue Ellis bring their chemistry from Lovecraft County. The series looks promising as Andrene and other castmates add to the intensity and compelling stories in the series.
Promising high school teenager, Moses Johnson (Tosin Cole), finds himself running for his life after he is wrongfully accused of killing a police officer. His only hope is Franklin Roberts (Courtney B. Vance), a lawyer down to his last case and struggling with his health. Will Moses be placed on the path of prison or will he be able to live the life for which he’s worked so hard?
61st Street | Where to watch: AMC
Starring: Courtney B. Vance, Aunjanue Ellis, Andrene Ward-Hammond, Tosin Cole
Executive producer: Michael B. Jordan