July 12, 2018 01:30 PM

Gabrielle Union is still happily in the honeymoon phase. “My dude!” she says of husband Dwyane Wade, when asked what makes her the happiest these days. Beaming, she adds, “I just like him so much.”

The actress, 45, couldn’t help gushing about her beau to PEOPLE during Essence Festival in New Orleans on Sunday, where she partnered with AT&T for their Dream In Black campaign to help inspire black Americans to dream big and fully embrace their culture.

The actress has been married to Wade, 36, who plays for the Miami Heat, for just under four years. She is a stepmom to his three kids — Zaire Blessing, 16, Zion Malachi Airamis, 11, and Xavier Zechariah, 4.

Union recently helped her hubby through a very tough time. “Yesterday we were at a funeral and I’d never seen him that way,” she says of accompanying him to the funeral of his grandmother, who raised Wade and many of his cousins. “I’d seen him after they lost the finals and I’ve seen him deal with illness and injury, but I’d never seen him in mourning, extreme grief.”

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That level of vulnerability endeared him to her even more. “Just to be there for him and to see how loving he is, even in his grief,” she says, “I don’t know, I somehow fell in love with him even more, in a different kind of way, at a low point.”

Union says she’s matured over the years and come a long way in the empathy department. “Listen, in my first marriage it was working like that,” she says with a laugh. “At his lowest point I was trying to add dirt to the grave.”

 

But now with Wade, she says, “As I’ve evolved and he’s evolved, we find deeper love connections in places I would never have thought to look for them.”

Still, there’s been a lot of high points for the couple lately.

The two are currently hopping the globe vacationing on what they call a “Wade World Tour.” In May, the NBA star surprised his wife with a trip to the French Riviera. China, Italy and “hopefully” Africa are next up for the duo, Union said.

Gabrielle Union/Instagram

While she revels in her marital bliss and travels the globe, Union is working to be a resource and a guiding light for friends and colleagues in the black community. The actress, who joined AT&T’s #DreamInBlack Luncheon over the weekend, concluded an emotional book tour last year on her memoir, “We’re Going to Need More Wine.”

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“On the book tour I wanted to be able to really have honest, clear, the effective conversation surrounding larger issues — sexism, sexual assault, racism, what it’s like to raise black boys, what it’s like to be famous and buy tampons, or have a yeast infection,” Union said.

Besides the support of her loving husband, Union found the strength to share her story through mentors in the black Hollywood community.

Royal Binion/AT&T

“I have so many women in black Hollywood that just weren’t interested in watching me fail,” Union said. She credits Jennifer Lewis, Tisha Campbell-Martin, Regina King and others with allowing her to be the best version of herself.

“It’s not enough for one person to dream big and to meet all of their goals,” the actress said before hitting the stage with Queen Latifah. “Giving someone a chance to survive through their darkest moments — that is Dreaming In Black, that is the resilience and tenacity of our people.”

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