Gabrielle Union was born in Omaha, Nebraska, to Theresa (Glass), who managed a phone company, and Sylvester E. Union, a military sergeant and business executive. At the age of 8, her family moved to Pleasanton, California, where she grew up and attended middle school and high school. She was a cheerleader in middle school. In high school, Union was an all-star point guard and a year-round athlete participating in soccer, basketball, and track.
After high school, Gabrielle attended college at University of Nebraska, where she played on the soccer team; and then later transferred to Cuesta College. Eventually, she ended up at UCLA. On her way to law school, just planning on being a working stiff, things started to happen during her senior year. Gabrielle had a college internship at a L.A. modeling agency, she thought it would be an easy way to pick up some extra credits. Little did she know that clients were eying the help. Upon the completion of the internship, she was asked to become a client with the agency. Gabby thought of it as a great way to pay off a stack of college loans, and modeled until her agent found that she could actually act. Her first audition/job was landed without any headshots, on Saved by the Bell.
Although she plays parts that are opinionated and strong, Gabrielle believes that, "Hollywood needs to recognize all shades of African-American beauty". Gabrielle is a graduate of UCLA with honors, in sociology. She is fluent in Spanish.