“We Had an Everybody-Welcome Policy": Former Ambassador Nicole Avant on Learning Diplomacy as a Kid
Now a film producer, she has a documentary on Netflix, Black Godfather, about her father and others who fought for Civil Rights in the South.
Nicole Avant lives by this guiding principle: “The more you give back, the less you have time to focus on all the things going wrong in the world.” This perspective has led her to some invaluable experiences, including turns as an actress and a music executive before becoming the youngest person and first African-American woman to serve as U.S. ambassador to the Bahamas. During her tenure she focused on women’s issues, education, and alternative energy. “It’s in my DNA,” she says. “Like my father, I get excited bearing witness to people’s dreams coming true.”
Her father is music executive Clarence Avant, a self-made man from the Jim Crow South who, through hard work and a no-BS attitude, helped shape the careers of composer and record producer Quincy Jones, singer-songwriter Bill Withers, and many others. He is also a Democratic fundraiser and has invited people of all stripes into his home. “My parents have always had friends on both sides of the aisle,” says Nicole. “We had an everybody-welcome policy, which was very important for [my brother] Alex and me to understand growing up. We don’t judge on religion, race, gender, Republicans, Democrats, independents. We judge by character.”
His undeniable legacy inspired Avant to produce a documentary about her dad, The Black Godfather, a reference to his role as a mentor. Directed by Reginald Hudlin and released on Netflix, the film features tributes by people like former presidents Clinton and Obama; singer-songwriter Lionel Richie; entertainment mogul David Geffen; and Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos, Avant’s husband. Her project was a labor of love dedicated not only to her father but to all the unsung heroes she never got to meet: “the people who did sit-ins, fought for civil rights, and did whatever they had to do for me to even be sitting here having this interview.”
With more film ventures on the way, Avant is also paying close attention to the 2020 election and is heartened by the current crop of Democratic candidates. “You’ve got white, black, brown, male, and female all on one stage vying for the presidency. That is the goodness of America. That picture is what everyone was fighting for and dreaming of. It did happen.”