Karyn Parsons: How the 'Fresh Prince of Bel-Air' Cast Stayed My Family

The actress explains how her former cast stepped up when she needed them most.

June 25, 2014, 5:43 AM
PHOTO The cast of "The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air"
The cast of "The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air" from left: Joseph Marcell as Geoffrey; Janet Hubert as Vivian Banks; James Avery as Philip Banks; Karyn Parsons as Hilary Banks; Alfonso Ribeiro as Carlton Banks. Front: Tatyana Ali as Ashley Banks and Will Smith as William "Will" Smith.
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— -- "I just wish James was here," Karyn Parsons says the week ofher Kickstarter launch for her organization, Sweet Blackberry.

Parsons, who you may know as Hilary Banks from "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," says her on-screen father James Avery (Philip Banks) always encouraged her and influenced her to follow through with an initiative like Sweet Blackberry, whose mission is "to bring little-known stories of African-American achievement to kids." He also ended up living in the same neighborhood as her in Los Angeles following the show, but that's another story.

Avery died last December at 68 years old after complications from open heart surgery and Parsons, 47, just wishes he could be around to see what she's accomplished.

It's that closeness that Parsons, Avery and the rest of the "Fresh Prince" cast have for each other, even today, almost a decade after the show wrapped.

Read: The Entire 'Fresh Prince' Cast Is Still Friends and Here's Proof

Related: 'The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air' Cast: Where Are They Now?

"It's like family," she said. "We went through something so major in our lives, we spent six years with each other. Afterward, we hung out together. We all wanted to be together."

That family bond was never more evident than right after Avery's death last year.

"The memorial was beautiful, James would have loved it so much," Parsons says, adding that the cast banded together to get through the loss. "There were performances, there were speeches, there was dancing, there were musicians ... then we went to Barbara and James house and hung out, after that I felt really, really good."

But Avery was not the only person Parsons has kept in touch with from her "Fresh Prince" family, since the show ended in 1996.

With the launch of her Kickstarter, she needed to offer up some quality perks to get people to donate funds, so she could create a short film about Janet Collins - the first black prima ballerina and first African-American soloist to perform at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Chris Rock will narrate the story.

Everyone from Will Smith to Alfonso Ribeiro to Tatyana Ali have stepped up in one way or another.

As the donations go up, there's even a chance to screen an episode of the show with the cast. There's also a personal voicemail from Geoffrey the Butler (Joseph Marcell) as one of the perks.

"I knew Joe would do it, and I talked to him the day before we posted it and he was like 'Oh, sounds like fun' (Parsons says in her best British accent). Joe is game for anything. He's always been like that," she says.

Ribeiro (Carlton Banks), stays in touch with Parsons with Christmas cards from his wife Angela Unkrich.

"I adore Angela. She does a Christmas card with all the pictures, tons of pictures, she also talks about the year, highlights for the year on the cards," she said. "When Alfonso's around, we also try and see each other if possible ... I get to see them when I come out [to Los Angeles]."

Parsons, who now lives in Brooklyn, New York, said much of the cast would get together for BBQs when she lived in LA.

If Ribeiro, 42, is like the loving cousin Parson sees when she can, Tatyana Ali (Ashley Banks) is the cool aunt to Parsons' children - daughter, Lana and son, Nico.

"Tatyana is on the board of Sweet Blackberry," she adds. "She was here not that long ago and she came and spent the day with me and the kids. That was really fun. The kids love her, she loves them. She's the queen to me, I think she is the most awesome person. She's brilliant and beautiful and creative. My daughter just adores her."

Ali, 35, has offered up the opportunity for two lucky donors to go shopping with her and Parsons - yes, shopping with Hilary and Ashley Banks!

Then there's Will Smith, 45. The "down-to-Earth" mega-star as Parsons calls him, who is swamped as most actors in his league are, but that didn't stop his wife Jada Pinkett Smith from offering a personalized voicemail of her own to the Kickstarter. There's also lunch with Will Smith and the "Fresh Prince" cast.

That family bond has certainly come full circle and is something that has made its way into Parsons' own family, as her daughter Lana, 11, has started to take interest in the show.

"Last summer she got into the 'Fresh Prince,'" she said. "It wasn't until last year, she insisted we pick up the DVDs at the store. I got a couple seasons and she went off by herself watching and got over me really fast. The fun part is I'd be across the room and hear her laughing, enjoying the show."

Even with Avery gone, Parsons has one special keepsake from the "Fresh Price" set that she's kept, which adds a reminder of her on-screen father.

"In the kitchen, there was a drawer in the island that had a little diary," she says. "Every now and then a camera person or the actors, somebody would just write silly poetry or 'James is getting on my nerves.' We would make little notes, so I took that. I need to pull that out, especially now that James has passed, because I know he's written in there. I know he was written about."

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