Union in 2009
|Born||Gabrielle Monique Union
October 29, 1972
Omaha, Nebraska, U.S.
|Other names||Gabrielle Union Howard|
Gabrielle Monique Union Wade (born October 29, 1972) is an American actress. She began her career in 1990s, appearing on television sitcoms, before landing supporting roles in an teen comedy films She's All That and 10 Things I Hate About You (1999). Her breakthrough role was in 2000 teen comedy film Bring It On, after which she was female lead in the short-lived CBS medical drama series, City of Angels later that year.
Union is best known for her performances in the romantic comedy films The Brothers (2001), Deliver Us from Eva (2003), Daddy's Little Girls (2007), Think Like a Man (2012) and Think Like a Man Too (2014). She also had starring roles in Bad Boys II (2003), and Cradle 2 the Grave (2003), and in the critically acclaimed Neo Ned (2005) Cadillac Records (2008), and Top Five (2014). In 2013, Union began starring as lead character in the BET drama series, Being Mary Jane, for which she has received critical acclaim and NAACP Image Award. In 2016, she is set to appear in films The Birth of a Nation, Sleepless Night, and A Meyers Christmas.
Gabrielle Union was born in Omaha, Nebraska, the daughter of Theresa (Glass), a phone company manager and social worker, and Sylvester E. Union, a business executive and military sergeant. She was raised Catholic and "to be an independent woman, standing on my own two feet, and that's the road I opted to take." Union's earliest memory is playing catch with her father. As a child, Union had no friends. According to Union, her mother taught her to have "a world perspective" and took her to a gay pride parade at the age of eight after the family moved to Pleasanton, California, where she was raised. Her parents divorced after 30 years of marriage and Union said, "They handled their divorce and our subsequent transition into a blended family with grace and dignity and respect. They always put us first and didn't involve us. I'm lucky that I can just mirror what my parents did and always put the kids first. They're pretty awesome, I'm lucky."
Union grew up with self-esteem issues relating to her appearance, as she believed growing up that blonde women were "the ideal of beauty" and "if I looked nothing like that, then I must be ugly." She longed to be acknowledged for her physical appearance. "I was never really looked upon as being pretty. On her college football memories, Union reflected, "In my family if you couldn’t talk Cornhusker football – that means knowing the black shirt defense, knowing the I-back formation – then you don’t get to have an opinion. When I first toured the Nebraska campus and I saw Turner Gill walk, I freaked out. That was like the biggest star-struck moment I’ve probably ever had in my life. But it's because I grew up in a household that always talked specifically Cornhusker football and Big 8 sports, at the time."
Union attended the University of Nebraska, where she played on the club soccer team, before transferring to Cuesta College. She eventually transferred to UCLA and earned a degree in sociology. While studying there in her senior year, she interned at the Judith Fontaine Modeling & Talent Agency to earn extra academic credits. Union started her acting career in minor roles. Her first audition was for "Saved by the Bell". Other of her earlier roles included those in teen movies such as 10 Things I Hate About You, She's All That, and Love & Basketball. In 1997, Union appeared in the sixth-season episode of "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – "Sons and Daughters" as the Klingon N'Garen. She also appeared in Sister, Sister as Vanessa, in Smart Guy as Denise, and in five episodes of 7th Heaven as Keesha Hamilton.
She appeared in the 2000 film Love & Basketball. In 2000 Union performed the role of Isis in the cheerleading movie Bring It On opposite Kirsten Dunst. Bring It On helped push Union into the mainstream and she began gaining more exposure. Union herself would say of all her films, Bring It On gave her the "biggest boost". This led to Union being cast in the CBS television drama City of Angels as Dr. Courtney Ellis. Union was featured in The Brothers and was seen as having "a beguiling sincerity, even when she's fudging the truth." Union was cast in her first leading role in the 2003 film Deliver Us from Eva with LL Cool J. This was her second time working with the rapper since making a cameo in his video "Paradise" in 2002. When casting Eva, director Gary Hardwick was looking for an actress capable of instantly changing from " funny to caustic and dramatic." Hardwick had previously worked with Union in The Brothers and believed she was perfect for the role of Eva. Union's role in the film was met by praise, with Dustin Putman of All-Reviews.com wrote that she was "the star attraction, and the number-one reason to even consider seeing the film." Union drew influence from her father for the "stern" look she had in the film, admitting that she had stolen it from him.
Union landed the role of Will Smith's character's girlfriend, Syd, in the film Bad Boys II, a box-office success grossing over $273 million worldwide. Union claimed to have seen Bad Boys, the predecessor to Bad Boys II, "about 100 times" and stated she liked the film because "it was the first time we got to see Will out of the ‘Fresh Prince’ mode and he was kind of like billy-bad-ass. That was cool. I loved it." Union felt that she had been "blessed" with her role in the film and expressed that she was "blessed to have the opportunity to try to take it to the next level." The following year she appeared in Something the Lord Made.
Union starred with Jamie Foxx in the film Breakin' All the Rules in 2004. The film was unpopular with critics. She appeared in the 2005 film Neo Ned, costarring Jeremy Renner and portraying an African-American woman with delusions that she is Adolf Hitler. They were noted by Mark Olsen of the Los Angeles Times as having "a strange, offbeat chemistry that drives the film." Union was credited with owning "the picture" and navigating "the tricky twists of her character with skill and ease, veering from lunatic ravings to moments of lucidity, all tinged with fragility and a haunting self-awareness". She won an award for Best Actress in Neo Ned at the Palm Beach International Film Festival, and the film received awards at several festivals.
She starred in the 2005 remake of The Honeymooners with comedian Cedric The Entertainer. When asked if she would stay with Cedric's character in real life, she stated: "I'm staying with him. You know I got asked a lot if Alice would ever be with Ralph. I said you can't judge a book by its cover because you're going to miss out on a lot of good reading. When I met my husband, he didn't look like anybody I had ever dated. I had been dating all these different people and I had this certain look that I needed. When I met my husband, he was covered in tattoos, both of his ears were pierced and he had a motorcycle. I was like 'ew.' But you never know what package true love is going to come in, you just have to open up and be ready for it. So all of that is to say, I do have a Ralph. He's not the obvious choice based on my past dating history, but it works for me."
Union starred in the short-lived ABC series Night Stalker. She called the series a "reworking" rather than a remake. Union admitted that at the time of getting the script, she was turned off, but became interested after reading the script at her agent's insistence. She then met with series creator Frank Spotnitz and executive producer Daniel Sackheim, who told her they thought of her anytime they thought of the character. Union did not believe them and asked who else passed auditioning, leading the pair to explain "we thought about Perri Reed we thought about strength, and thought about you". They confirmed Union's casting did not change the script due to her ethnicity, as it was never brought up in the context of the series. In 2006, she starred as Busta Rhymes' love interest in the music video for Rhymes' "I Love My Chick".
Union starred in the 2007 film Daddy's Little Girls by Tyler Perry (released on Valentine's Day). She played Julia Rossmore, a romantically challenged attorney. The role was written with her in mind. Before working with Perry, she went to see his stage show, which helped her understand him and his audience. Union and Perry's agent ended up on the same plane and she indicated to the agent that she would "love to work" with Perry. The agent set the pair up to have lunch together, which lasted four hours, during which Union said that they "connected" and Perry turned in the script a month later. She filmed Daddy's Little Girls over the summer of 2006 in Atlanta, Georgia. Union was seen as performing her character well along with Idris Elba and having a "great sense of comedic timing". Union's character also drew comparisons to Eva, her role in Deliver Us from Eva. According to Union, Perry had specifically approached her over not turning the role into the same character, as he wanted a "strong independent woman who might have some of the same struggles" Union also related to her character in Daddy's Little Girls more, adding that she was "much more Julia than I was Eva."
Union made an appearance in the 2007 Christmas film The Perfect Holiday, which opened on December 12. Since she had no children of her own, Union used her mother and sister to portray the divorced single mother of three in the film. She found the children that she worked with to not be seasoned actors, which she felt added to the authenticity of their reactions, and called them "really, great, well behaved children." She enjoyed working with Queen Latifah. Overall, Union was happy with the role and with working with Latifah. She called working on the film an "amazing experience" and credited Latifah with making the filming an easy process. Union initially turned down the role, as she did not want to get typecast for playing a mother until she was told of other actresses that had played similar roles and still found success in their careers.
In an interview with Art Nouveau Magazine, Union complained about the lack of roles for black actresses and actors in Hollywood: "There used to be [roles] specifically written black, if you knew Denzel was doing a movie you knew his wife, girl or love interest was going to be black [but] that's not necessarily the case anymore. You’re in that room with every amazingly talented actress of every hue, and it's a dogfight, it's hard". Moreover, although she often plays weak, insecure characters, Union believes that "Hollywood needs to recognize all shades of African-American beauty."
In 2008 Union appeared on Ugly Betty for three episodes (36–38) as Renee, Wilhelmina Slater's (Vanessa L. Williams) sister and Daniel Meade's (Eric Mabius) love interest. She also made a cameo appearance in the music video for Ne-Yo's "Miss Independent". Union appeared in the 2008 film Cadillac Records. Union was reported to have signed to the film in March 2008. She portrayed Geneva Wade, who later married Muddy Waters. Waters was portrayed by Jeffrey Wright, who Union played opposite to. Union also worked with Beyoncé, who she had known since she was a teenager. In December 2008, Union said of Beyoncé, "It's been nice to see that her music and her lifestyle choices and her acting choices have all evolved as she's gotten older." Union was seen as a "pleasant surprise" to the film and her performance was said to have shown she had larger acting range than her previous roles. Union later called taking the role of Geneva Wade in the film the best business decision she had ever made. Union appeared in the 2008 film Meet Dave, playing the love interest of Eddie Murphy's character. Union said the film was a gift. That same year, she wrote the foreword for Hill Harper's Letters to a Young Sister: DeFINE your Destiny.
Union joined the cast of the U.S. television series Life on NBC and appeared in four episodes prior to its cancellation in May 2009. She appeared in the ABC series FlashForward alongside John Cho and Joseph Fiennes as Zoey Andata, a role for which she was nominated for an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series in 2010. Union was announced to have joined the cast of FlashForward in July 2009. FlashForward Executive Producer David S. Goyer said in a statement "We're thrilled that Gabrielle is joining our cast" and reflected, "When we met with her, we immediately knew she was our Zoey.
She appeared in episodes of Army Wives and NTSF:SD:SUV in 2010 and 2011. Union was reported to be joining the cast of Army Wives in June 2010. Union attended a Nintendo 3DS launch event on March 26, 2011 in Hollywood, California. In April 2011, Union attended the opening of Tao Beach in Las Vegas. Union was reported in May 2011 to have landed roles in Think Like a Man, a romantic comedy based on Steve Harvey's book Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, and an indie film, Family Tree. In June 2011, Union defended the music video for the Rihanna single "Man Down" after it sparked controversy for Rihanna depicting a rape victim shooting and killing her attacker. Union related that every rape victim was "unique", which extended to how they believed justice should be carried out. In January 2012, Union was announced to be a participant in Bounce TV's documentary Our History.
In 2012 she worked with Tyler Perry on the romantic comedy Good Deeds, playing the role of Natalie, the soon to be wife of Perry's character Wesley Deeds. Union said that after she read the script she became interested in working with Tyler Perry again. "Once I read the script, the biggest thing was that I loved how he didn’t make her a bitch. My character’s usually the villain in this sort of romantic drama. I was very happy that Tyler made her a normal person who has a great career, great friends and who comes from a great family. So, in this case, maybe the relationship’s just not working instead of my character’s being an evil shrew." She also expressed her positive views on working with the cast, describing Phylicia Rashad as "an icon, and amazing."
She then appeared in Steve Harvey's movie Think Like A Man. Union read Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man with friends and thought the book was "common sense". The movie debuted at No. 1 during the weekend of April 20, 2012. In the film, Union portrays Kristen, who is in an interracial relationship with a character portrayed by Jerry Ferrara. The interracial relationship was not addressed in the film and regarding this, Union stated: "Our characters were not race specific. Interracial relationships are really over thought in Hollywood. It’s simple…just focus on the relationship!" Union related to her character since she "married young, divorced young, and now I'm older and wiser while being in a committed relationship." Union and Meagan Good were seen as having taken advantage of their "straightforward characters to add spots of comic zest as well."
Her next appearance was In Our Nature. The film was Brian Savelson's directorial debut and Union expressed how impressed she was with his writing ability, stating that he "wrote such an amazing, nuanced character of Vicky". Union described herself as being "honored" since she had "generally had never predicted or considered auditioning for a role like this". Savelson offered her the role and she was "blown away" due to Savelson having "enough interest" to offer the part to her. She then "fell in love" with the character she portrayed and story of the film. Union was also satisfied with her character being an integral part of the storyline and called the film "a painfully real character piece with a dynamic between father and son, significant others and how it all comes together in a kind of broad way." Union believed the role was not written with ethnicity in mind and she called this "ideal" and viewed "this particular role" as having "added a layer that made it more interesting. It’s not spoken, but you can definitely see it." Union was offered the role two years prior to the film's release, in 2010 and later called the film "my win."
In 2013, she was the star of the BET network show Being Mary Jane. Union learned of the series while auditioning for Scandal for the role of Olivia Pope, which ultimately went to Kerry Washington. Union has said that she is content with having lost the role in Scandal to Washington. "I didn't get Scandal, but I got something better -- which is my own show," Union stated. "It's all about building a legacy. This new opportunity is something I feel that can grow." Union was impressed with the show's quality and professionalism. "We have so many amazing veterans and so many amazing up-and-comers. It's a beautiful mix." Also in 2013 Union starred in Ava DuVernay's short film The Door as part of Miu Miu's Women's Tales campaign.
Union reprised her role as Kristen in Think Like a Man Too in 2014, which received mostly negative reviews. She attended the premiere of the film at the TCL Chinese Theatre, with the rest of the cast. Prior to the film's release, Union expressed her and the cast's belief that the film would do well at the box office. "We had so much fun with the first one. And part of what people responded to was our fun as friends. So to get to come together, all of us friends -- we've all known each other over a decade -- to go to Vegas and they're going to pay us, we knew it would translate again." By July 17, 2014, the film grossed $64,468,351. Union's character in the film was compared to her, the character being a newlywed while Union was engaged at the time. Union did not see this similarity since unlike her character, she kept "her relationship enjoyable, fresh and exciting". Union was announced in July 2014 as a producer in the Lifetime film With This Ring. The leads of the film included Regina Hall, who Union previously worked with in the films The Honeymooners, Think Like a Man and its sequel. Union stated that Hall was "one of the most gifted actresses in our business".
In November 2015, Union will voice Nala in the Disney movie and series The Lion Guard.
In 1992, at the age of 19, Union was attacked and raped at her part-time job at a Payless Store. Her attacker later turned himself in and was sentenced to 33 years in prison. Union has insisted that she would not have survived her victimhood after her rape had it not been for watching Winfrey's talk show. Winfrey stated Union's speech upon receiving the Fierce and Fearless Award, where Union admitted that she had once reveled "in gossip and rumors", inspired her because she "had never heard anyone be that honest in public or private about the competition and fierce drive to be seen and succeed in Hollywood." Union said during an appearance on Oprah's Next Chapter that she used to be a "mean girl" until attending a party with her trainer and sounding board, A.J. Johnson. "I was holding court – because I can turn a phrase and be a little slick myself – and I was trashing somebody. Just ripping them to shreds, head to toe," Union recalled. "A.J. pulls me aside and says, 'Okay, now, how did your life change? Did you get the guy? Did you get the job? Is your house any bigger? Did money just magically get put in your pocket? What positive [event] happened in your life after you just tore that woman down?'" In February 2012, Union was identified as a suspicious person by airport security and was subjected to a "hair patdown". She tweeted about the experience. "Hopefully my weave doesn't cause turbulence," Union joked. "It's clearly very powerful."
Union ran in the Global Race for the Cure in Washington, D.C. on Saturday, June 2, 2012, in honor of her friend Kristen Martinez, who died from breast cancer. Union was present at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. on August 23, 2013, and unveiled a limited-edition 1963 March on Washington stamp to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the march.
Union is a spokeswoman for Neutrogena. She became affiliated with Neutrogena in 2004. It was reported in November 2014, that Union became ambassador for nail polish company SensatioNail. She became the company's first celebrity ambassador and creative advisor. In 2010, Union launched Love & Blessings, a clothing line for plus-sized women. The line was inspired by Union's full-figured sister. In March 2014, Union released her first wine, "Vanilla Puddin'".
While in high school, Union dated former NBA player Jason Kidd. Union has said Kidd broke up with her two weeks before junior prom. Union met NFL player Chris Howard at a party in 1999. They married on May 5, 2001, and separated in October 2005. The divorce was finalized in 2006. Union said that when she got divorced she "sort of realized that [s]he hadn't been making sound choices which were the best for her to pursue her hopes and dreams and aspirations and passions." In a 2014 interview, Union stated that she may have rushed into the relationship for the wrong reasons, noting that, "in my 20s, I was all about getting the ring." Union had earlier reflected that she spent much of the marriage "upset" and from the relationship, she realized that the men in her life were "just human."
In 2009, Union began dating NBA player Dwyane Wade. According to Wade, he and Union briefly split up at some point early in 2013 because of career demands. During that time, Wade and a longtime friend conceived a son, Xavier, born in November 2013. Wade and Union reconciled, and became engaged in December 2013, the month after the birth. The couple married on August 30, 2014, in Miami, Florida. Upon the marriage, Union became a stepmother to Xavier and Wade's two elder sons from his first marriage, Zaire (born 2002) and Zion (born 2007). Union stated in an interview prior to the marriage that she and Wade would be signing a prenuptial agreement to protect their individual assets. Union and Wade spent their honeymoon in the Maldives and Tanzania.
Union is an advocate for survivors of assault, and has voiced her support for Jada, a Texas teenager who was allegedly taken advantage of after passing out during a party and had her assault filmed and posted in clips online, where her assault has been mocked by others on social networking websites. Union posted a picture of Jada on Instagram and wrote: "Rape is never funny. Ever. This brave young woman is what a real-life superhero looks like.... Someone who stands up and acts when injustice occurs. She's just a child and she's using her voice for good, even in the face of her own personal horror.... My hero #IStandWithJada".
Union has also addressed the death of Trayvon Martin and stated "When you have influence I think it’s the responsible thing to do, to speak out on an issue when you see injustice. I’m still fighting for Trayvon ... we all should." In the months following Martin's death, Union supported a petition that called for Florida District Attorney Norman Wolfinger to bring charges against George Zimmerman. After Zimmerman was acquitted of charges in Martin's death in July 2013, Union remarked, "Apparently walking while black is a crime punishable by death." Union was angered by Todd Akin's position on abortion, which he explained as a woman not being able to get pregnant in the case of "legitimate rape". Tanganyika Williams, the aunt of NBA player Matt Barnes, was killed on July 8, 2014. Union posted on both Instagram and Twitter, calling for anyone with information on the killer of Barnes's aunt to report their information to authorities.
In 2008, Union supported Barack Obama in his presidential campaign. She would later say that the election "invigorated me in a way that I’d never really been before about being part of the process". She added, "I take a lot of pride knowing that my president understands that we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, and we have a responsibility to each other. He understands that America prospers when we’re all doing it together, when everyone does their fair share and plays by the same rules." After working on the unsuccessful pilot for Army Wives, Union was appointed by President Obama to work with the National Advisory Committee for Violence Against Women. Union called the appointment "a little more fulfilling" than the pilot. Obama contacted her specifically after learning that the pilot had fallen through.
Union participated in the Obama campaign's "Greater Together" initiative. She was visible on HBCU campuses and spoke of her belief that the media was against the president. Of the media's negative focus on President Obama, Union said, "As we're bombarded with a 24-hour news cycle telling us everything that the GOP Republican Party ] believes is wrong with our president, it's important to drive the point home what exactly he has accomplished, separate the truth from fiction and also mobilize voters". In late-2012, she held a campaign event for President Obama in Tallahassee, Florida. In an interview, she cited her reasons for endorsing him for re-election, including satisfaction over the death of Osama Bin Laden and an interest in keeping student loans down. She also expressed her own views on equality while reasoning why Obama should be president. Union called on Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to release his tax returns and birth certificate and noted that his father George W. Romney had released his own tax returns when running for President of the United States. The office of Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed in November 2014 announced a campaign entitled "Take a Stand" and its commission of a short film featuring Union and Tika Sumpter.
Union is an Ambassador in Susan G. Komen for the Cure's Circle of Promise. Union became a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood's breast health initiative and launched the Women Are Watching campaign with other actresses in 2012. In October 2014, it was announced that Union would be designing T-shirts to bring attention to the Women Are Watching campaign. The announcement came a month before the 2014 midterm elections, with the campaign hoping to have its female base become both aware and critical of the issues and the platform of each candidate. Union said in a press release: "It's hard to believe we're still living in a time when some politicians believe they should make decisions for women about birth control and basic health care. That's why I'm always proud to support Planned Parenthood Action Fund's efforts to engage women around critical issues in the upcoming election through their Women Are Watching campaign. We have to vote like our access to birth control and basic health care is on the line this year – because it is". Union attended a charity event on November 18, 2014, which benefited A Night on the Runwade, Dwyane Wade's foundation.
|1993||Family Matters||Mall girl (credited)||Episode: "Scenes from a Mall"|
|1995/96||Saved by the Bell: The New Class||Hilary / Jennifer||2 episodes|
|Malibu Shores||Shannon Everette||Episode: "The Competitive Edge"|
|Goode Behavior||Tracy Monaghan||3 episodes|
|1996–99||7th Heaven||Keesha Hamilton||5 episodes|
|1997||Smart Guy||Lydia||Episode: "Don't Do That Thing You Do"|
|Dave's World||Carly||Episode: "Oh Dad, Poor Dad"|
|Hitz||Soul||Episode: "The Godfather: Not the Movie"|
|Sister, Sister||Shawn / Vanessa||3 episodes|
|City Guys||Katisha Grant||Episode: "The Date"|
|Star Trek: Deep Space Nine||N'Garen||Episode: "Sons and Daughters"|
|1998||The Steve Harvey Show||Naomi Parson||Episode: "The He-Man, Player-Hater's Club"|
|1998/99||Clueless||Lydia / Rebecca||2 episodes|
|1999||Grown Ups||Felicia||Episode: "Pilot"|
|2000||ER||Tamara Davis||Episode: "Family Matters"|
|The Others||Lindsay||Episode: "Theta"|
|Zoe, Duncan, Jack & Jane||Lana||Episode: "Too Much Pressure"|
|City of Angels||Dr. Courtney Ellis||11 episodes|
|2001||Close to Home||Gabby||Pilot|
|Friends||Kristen Lang||Episode: "The One With The Cheap Wedding Dress"|
|2003||The Proud Family||Sunny Stevens / Iesha (voice)||Episode: "Hooray for Iesha"|
|2004||The West Wing||Meeshel Anders||Episode: "The Benign Prerogative"|
|2005||Family Guy||Shauna Parks (voice)||Episode: "Peter's Got Woods"|
|2005–06||Night Stalker||Perri Reed||10 episodes|
|2007||Football Wives||Chardonnay Lane||Pilot|
|2008||Ugly Betty||Renee Slater||3 episodes|
|2009||Life||Jane Seever||4 episodes|
|2009–10||FlashForward||Zoey Andata||9 episodes
Nominated — NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
|2010||Army Wives||Gina Holt||Episode: "Murder in Charleston"|
|2011||NTSF:SD:SUV||Sandy Canyons||Episode: "Tijuana, We've Got a Problem"|
|2012||Half the Sky||Herself||Documentary|
|2013–present||Being Mary Jane||Mary Jane Paul||Main role
NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special (2014)
Nominated — NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series (2015-16)
Nominated — BET Award for Best Actress (2014-15)
Nominated — Black Reel Award for Best Actress: T.V. Movie/Cable (2014)
|2015-present||The Lion Guard||Nala (voice)|
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- "Trayvon Martin petition draws plenty of celebrity support". Florida Courier. May 10, 2012.
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- G. Komen for the Cure(R)'s Circle of Promise Welcomes Gabrielle Union, Lalah Hathaway, Synthia SAINT JAMES as National Ambassadors. Prnewswire.com (May 28, 2008). Retrieved 2013-03-13.
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