Mary: Exactly. I gained many fans who were like, "How do we get free?" Those are the people I want to reach. In the hood, the minute someone steps up and fights the tough guy, he or she gets respect. I've fought the tough guy. Now people are saying, "Mary, I gotta admit I didn't like all this happy stuff. But I'm so proud of you." We'll be doomed if we keep pulling ourselves down. We have to save each other. That's why my husband won't let me walk out of the house if I'm blocking my own progress. If I don't get outta my way, he won't get outta my face!

Oprah: You have to be at a certain spiritual and emotional place to even receive a man like Kendu. You have to want something better.

Mary: I love Kendu. He's my best friend—until I want my way! [Laughs] At the end of the day, it's about what God wants for me. I'm tired of being sick. I want to get well. It's difficult for me to be with someone who tells me the truth, because I come from a family of women who are fighters—they don't listen to men. I have issues with hearing him. But I'm growing. Just the fact that I'm sitting here talking with you is proof of that. I never dreamed this day would come.

Oprah: The reason I'm in Houston talking with you today is that I know you've grown. A few years back, my friend Gayle suggested I interview you for the magazine. I go, "What is Mary J. Blige going to say?"

Mary: Thank you. If you had talked to me back then, you would've stunted my growth.

Oprah: An interview would have been all about the publicity machine. Maya Angelou always says that when you know better, you do better. What do you wish you had known better?

Mary: I wish I had known that education is the key. That knowledge is power. Now I pick up books and watch educational shows with my husband. I'm seeing how knowledge can elevate you. Another thing I realize: When you hold on to anger and unforgiveness, you can't move forward. I also wish I'd known more about the music business. If I did, I'd be wealthier and more successful than I've been. And ultimately, I wish I'd been confident in who I am.

Oprah: You pretended pretty well. Many people thought you were the embodiment of confidence.

Mary: After I performed, do you know what I had to go home and deal with? I'm ugly, I'm dumb: all those voices from my childhood.

Oprah: That's shocking.

Mary: When I was a girl, relatives teased me about my feet, my lips, my butt, the way I walked. They said, "You'll never finish high school." And I wanted them to love me so much. If I needed to smoke a cigarette to get their approval, fine. If I had to act mean or ignorant, great. But I could never do enough to satisfy them because they already had their favorite.

Oprah: I get it. What does fame mean to you?

Mary: These days, it means I have to remain humble and grateful. Before, it meant feeling good for a moment.


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