Sunny Hostin was 7-years-old when she found her calling. It wasn’t intentional. It wasn’t even a welcomed discovery. But it’s a moment the View co-host says triggered something within her and unknowingly defined her purpose.
On an outing with her father’s younger brother, Hostin witnessed a crime that would eventually change her life. The culmination of a love triangle gone terribly wrong, the husband of a woman the South Bronx native’s favorite uncle was in a relationship with stabbed him before her eyes.
“I’m not someone that is confrontational inherently or someone that is pugilistic,” Hostin explains to ESSENCE. “But I do become that way when I see an injustice, or when I see someone that is being taken advantage of, or that doesn’t have a voice. And I believe that it comes from that childhood trauma. So it drives me. It’s driven not only my career but my entire life.”
Last month, at a luncheon in New York City’s Plaza Hotel, the Safe Horizons board member was honored as a Help Hero by HELP USA. The organization founded in 1986 was established to combat homelessness throughout the United States. Today it builds new homes, provides shelter for people in crisis and centers itself in under-resourced communities to offer job training, youth development, trauma counseling and more. Hostin was recognized for her unwavering dedication to give a voice to the voiceless and her ability to inspire change in the areas of domestic violence and social justice.
“When I get these awards, I can’t say that I don’t feel I’m worthy,” Hostin says, “but it’s like I feel there’s so many other people that are doing bigger things if I’m being honest. But it’s still nice.”
For more than three years, America has had the opportunity to grow to love the humble and helpful nature of the outspoken Afro-Latina, as co-host of one of the most-watched daytime shows on network TV. But before she became the go-to voice for saying what it is that so many women—Black women even more so—are thinking, she was a CNN legal analyst fighting to share stories like that of Trayvon Martin’s, and prior to that, a federal prosecutor speaking up for children who were victims of sexual abuse.
“I think I’ve always been the person, who sticks up for the underdogs. You know, if I see the person who should have the seat on the bus—that doesn’t have the seat, I am the person that says, ‘Why don’t you give up your seat?’”
Hostin’s inherent alacrity to call out injustice has served her well. Not only did it make her a successful attorney, but it has also made her a well-respected and much-beloved TV personality. One that viewers often count on to be straightforward, thoughtful, and honest, who they know will ask the tough questions while remaining cool and exhibiting grace. And though the self-described “thinker” welcomes the adoration, Hostin admits that her fame has been an unexpected turn in her career journey.
“It’s remarkable,” Hostin admits. During our mid-December sit-down, the Senior Legal Correspondent for ABC News and host of Truth About Murder With Sunny Hostin on Investigative Discovery recalled how her husband called her that week to say, “I think you’re famous.”
“I said, ‘I’m not famous.’ He goes, ‘Yeah, yeah you are.’”
Someone had stopped the orthopedic surgeon and often-talked about love of Hostin’s life while Christmas shopping in New York City’s Bryant Park to ask him, “Are you Manny?”
For the mother of two to have found achievement and acclaim as a broadcast journalist is significant. The product of teenage parents from the Bronx, Hostin has, on many occasions, stated that she should have become a statistic. Instead, her presence in the spotlight has become a representation of what possibilities look like.
We live in a time when your dreams mean something. They have to mean something.”
– SUNNY HOSTIN
“I’m not a role model. Because it’s so hard to make it in television. It’s so hard,” she reiterates. “So I kind of had that mindset that my mother and father put in my head. They would say, ‘You need to be a lawyer or a doctor’ because that’s a tangible thing.”
Hostin listened to her parents—at first. During her formative years, the Notre Dame Law School grad occasionally relied on boiled water to heat her home, and “spam and tang” dinners just to get by. And while a creative path was appealing, the uncertainty that came with it was something she chose to not gamble with. But at a point in her life, Hostin says it became apparent that she had to bet on herself.
“We live in a time when your dreams mean something,” she passionately asserts. “They have to mean something.”
That dream became a reality when preparation met opportunity and a Black woman TV producer gave the trained attorney a chance at her big break. Within a couple of weeks of getting her resume into the right hands, Hostin says she was on television. Some of that she credits to her scrappiness, but she also admits that she worked really hard, and remained relentless.
With her increased visibility has come great responsibility. In addition to adjusting to the idea of being in front of the camera—she prefers to be behind the scenes—and feeling like she has to “get it right every single time,” she has also found a greater need to give back.
At present, the animal lover and would-be owner of a mobile vet service (if she had the time, of course) is the mom to two rescue dogs, raises chickens, and recently adopted a cat named Luna. She also advocates on behalf of domestic violence victims and sits on the board of the Bronx Children’s Museum. “The Bronx is the only borough of New York that does not have a children’s museum, Hostin reveals. “And it’s the one that needs it truly
Hostin is passionate. She is determined. She is here to help. “I work around these issues because I grew up in the South Bronx Projects, around abject poverty and domestic violence,” the member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. tells those gathered at the Plaza Hotel last month. “I knew that if I got out of those circumstances and made something or really anything of myself that I had to give back, and I had to be of service, and I had to do something, just something.”