Chicago native Yolonda Ross was excited to participate in “The Chi” because it presented her city “in a positive way.” Though crime happens everywhere, “Chicago really has gotten a bad rap,” so Ross was compelled by the way that creator Lena Waithe made “characters and situations personal, so that people could get how some of these things can actually happen.” This Showtime ensemble drama, also starring Jason Mitchell, Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine and Sonja Sohn, examines life on the South Side of Chicago and ended its 10-episode first season in March. It will be back for a second season. Watch our exclusive video interview with Ross above.
Ross plays Jada Washington, a single mother working as a nurse to raise her son, Emmett (Jacob Latimore). Looking after a young black man is “a lot in itself these days,” says Ross, “because you never know what could happen once they leave the house.” So Jada gives Emmett some tough love when it comes to raising his own children. “She’s trying to guide him so that he makes the right decisions along the way,” and with Jada’s help “you see how Emmett grows” and “takes more responsibility.”
As a nurse, Jada also cares for an elderly woman named Ethel (LaDonna Tittle), whose grandson Ronnie (Mwine) is rarely around. “I thought that was such a great character to write,” says Ross of Ethel, noting how the elderly are often “neglected” as characters on TV. Ross thought it was interesting to show how “a black family deals with” aging people. “We care for our own,” she explains, “and things aren’t always as easy.” Jada steps in to look after her not only because “it’s her job,” but also because “she does feel for this woman. They do become friends.”
Ross has had a long career on both the big screen and the small screen. She has competed twice at the Independent Spirit Awards for her film work: Best Debut Performance for “Stranger Inside” (2001) and Best Supporting Actress for “Go for Sisters” (2013). “Stranger Inside” also brought her a Breakthrough Award at the Gothams. Her other film credits include “Antwone Fisher” (2002), “Shortbus” (2006) and “I’m Not There” (2007), and she has appeared in TV shows including “Treme,” “The Get Down,” and “How to Get Away with Murder.”
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