For Latifah, it was a struggle. "I didn't understand it. My brother and I had many many, many days that we just kind of uh, sort of boo-hooed to each other and … and cried on each other's shoulder."
Although Latifah and Winki remained close to their father, it was Rita who shouldered the responsibility for raising them. And what a job she did. She found time to get a college degree, she became an art teacher, and she spent time with your kids.
But it was no easy task. Rita recalls, "Once I put the children to bed at night, then the lady next door would watch them for me. And I'd go to the post office and work at the post office all night. I'd get back in home in time to bathe the children, feed them and get them off to Catholic school. And then, I would take two hours for a nap and then go over to the college. And I'd go to college until it was time for them to get out of school. And I'd come home, get them from school, cooked and homework, get another two hours maybe, and then go to work."
"My mama is gangsta … you know? … I mean, it takes a lot of uh, character to do … to accomplish all those things. … I always used to wish that if I was ever half the woman that my mother is that I would be all right. You know? Because my mom is amazing to me."
Rita said she always felt Latifah had a great talent, but she admits her daughter wasn't exactly an angel. "Most of my gray hairs came from Dana. I call her 'my medals.' Thank you for my medals," she said.
Latifah has written about her experiences dabbling with drugs. "I was just going through an experimental stage with, I think, everything in my life." But, she said, she never got hooked.
She admits having tried cocaine a couple times, something that shocked her mom.
"That's something I regret because it really wasn't necessary. It really wasn't necessary at all. … When I even hear about people doing that now I'm like … that played out in the '80s. What are you doing? … It's stupid to me," Latifah said.
Latifah and Winki
While Latifah was flirting with the drug laws, her brother Winki dreamed of law enforcement. He would eventually become a Newark policeman. But if their interests were different, their personalities were not. They were very close.
So close, Rita said, that most people thought they were twins. "They thought alike. They had the same interests. They were both Pisces. And we did everything together as a family, the three of us."
Life was treating them well. Latifah's rap career was thriving. There was enough money coming in that she could buy a new house for the three of them to share.
The more famous she became — the more important her family became — her brother Winki and her mother Rita were at the center of her life. That was about to change.
For Winki's 24th birthday, Latifah and some friends decided he deserved a present: a motorcycle he'd been yearning for. He'd been a policeman for over a year, and, Latifah said, "We figured we'd get him the bike. 'Cause he was going to get it anyway. He was a cop. He could afford to save … save up some money now and do it."
But the birthday motorcycle would carry Winki to his death only weeks later in a tragic road accident.
Latifah and her mom were devastated. "It rocked my world. It really did. It made me feel disconnected from Earth. I felt like I couldn't relate to people. And I felt like nobody could really relate to what I was feeling," Latifah said.
Family Life Ahead?