Ever wonder how some of the prime time African-American women in television became successful? Do you think they have gone through some of the most horrendous childhoods and came out on top? Well we picked seven black women that we recognized as the leading ladies who have made it from “Rags to Riches”. These women have went on to make a name for themselves and despite their past, childhood or upbringings they never let it defeat them. Look at the seven leading ladies who help us remember if “they can do it, we can too.”
No-nonsense NeNe Leakes does not play games – unless, of course, she is getting paid! NeNe Leakes born Linnethia Monique “NeNe” Leakes Johnson; is the big personality that we have seen on The Real Housewives of Atlanta as an American television personality for the past eight years. NeNe has one of the biggest personalities on television and has made a name for herself despite her childhood struggles. You will not hear Leakes talk much about her abandonment and betrayal issues she has from her childhood. Her mother left her in Queens New York and Leakes was sent to live with her aunt in Georgia at the age of 4. Despite her childhood she continued to perservere and put her all into acting and now producing. She has been a recurring character Roz Washington on the previous hit FOX sitcom Glee. She also played Rocky Rhoades as a series regular on the award-winning sitcom The New Normal on NBC until its cancellation in 2013. Currently, she is one of the regular panelists on ABC‘s revival of the 1950s game show To Tell The Truth along with Betty White and a special co-host on E!‘s hit talk show Fashion Police. Early in 2016 Leakes announced she will be producing her own game show on the network ABC.
Porsha is the woman behind Cookie Lyon on the hit show Empire. Porsha, played by Ta’Rhonda Jones is a fan favorite with her witty sense of humor. Before she was Porsha on Empire, the 27 year old, was a determined woman from Chicago’s South Side working at a nursing home. Ta’Rhondaa was previously working at a nursing home when she auditioned for the role of “Porsha”. She previously was working for a nursing home for four years and got promoted as an assistant director of nutritional services. Her brother was gunned down in the streets of Chicago and she was looking for a way to make it out of Chicago. That’s when one of her younger brothers told her they heard that Terrance Howard was looking for female rappers in their twenties. She was in music before but gave up on it and decided to call the number anyways and see what comes of it.
She auditioned three times unknowingly the third time she auditioned in front of the executive producer Lee Daniels and ended up landing the part. Porsha says, “before Empire I have never been on a plan or outside of Chicago. Now she’s entering season three of Empire and says that Empire has allowed her to live in a Condo on the seventh floor in Chicago and got out the hood and can now see skyscrapers. She says “when I started out, people always told me, you wouldn’t, you shouldn’t, you couldn’t.” I’m still proving I can, I will and I am.
Viola Davis grew up in Central Falls, Rhode Island. Before she became an Academy Award winner Davis says she lived in poverty and the family struggled to find enough to eat. Davis is now one of the leading African-American women in entertainment and currently has a starring role on the hit show, “How to Get Away With Murder”. In 2015 she became the first black woman of any nationality to win the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in 2015. The role also won her two SAG Awards both in 2015 and 2016. Davis has gone on to pave the way for more African American women in television by giving them hope that their acting abilities will be and can be recognized despite their color.
Tasha Smith grew up in a poor area, dropped out of high school, turned to drugs but coped by having a sense of humor and a dream. Her sense of humor and determination to make it as one of the leading black female actresses in the industry. Smith was born in Camden, New Jersey and was raised by a single mother. In an interview with EURweb.com, Smith discussed her conversion from atheism to Christianity: “When I was 25 I had an encounter with God because my father had gotten sick. I had a time where I really challenged God, like, if you’re really God you’ll show me such-and-such’. I was going through this whole thing where I questioned whether God was real or not. I really needed God to be real because I was feeling so depressed and so unhappy, I felt like if there isn’t a God [then] I have no reason to live. It was just a bad time in my life and God really showed up and met me where I was.” Since then Tasha has became one of the leading black actresses and producers in Hollywood. She is known for Couples Retreat (2009), The Whole Ten Yards (2004) and Jumping the Broom (2011) and other productions like Tyler Perry’s “Why Did I Get Married, and a recurring role on the hit show Empire as Cookie Lyons crack head sister. She has now opened up the doors for other actresses who want to enter the business by offering acting classes at her own acting school. She knew that giving back was something that she had to do in order to continue to pave the way for more actors and actresses.
Shonda Rhimes, 45, details overcoming shyness in her book “Year of Yes,”Rhimes grew up introverted in the Chicago area and it was during her childhood that she was able to form her ability to make up stories, which has now led her into the world of television..
Here are some of the mentions Rhimes makes of her suburban childhood in “Year of Yes.” She now lives in California. Rhimes, reflects on having five brothers and sisters and sharing housing space with them while growing up. She said she would invent friends and their make up stories because she had trouble making friends. She drew parallels of this practice to her television production company ShondaLand. “You see, ShondaLand, the imaginary land of Shonda, has existed since I was 11 years old.” Rhimes is one of the top leading African American women television leaders. She has created the hit shows on ABC, “Grey’s Anatomy”, “How To Get Away With Murder” and America’s favorite Thursday night show “Scandal”. Shonda has taken over ABC with her creativity and allows the world to enter the imagination of Shondaland.
Nicki Minaj born Onika Tanya Maraj in 1982 grew up with an abusive drug addicted father. Nicki always had a gift with music and was introduced to Lil Wayne in the year 2010 which launched her musical career. In 2012 Minaj appeared on the hit singing show “American Idol” and went on to release a hit album Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded. This is where her career took off and she has been soaring ever since. In 2016, Minaj was apart of the Time 100 list of the most influential people in the world. She has gone on to acting, executive producing and more. Minaj is currently executive producing and appearing in a scripted single-camera comedy series for ABC Family based on her life.
Taraji Henson After being rejected from a performing arts high school and failing pre-calculus as an electrical engineering major at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, Henson turned to her father who encouraged her to transfer to Howard University to pursue an acting degree. With only $700 in her bank account Taraji moved to Los Angeles to chase a dream that would eventually pay off big. Now the 44 year old actress has starred in movies, such as, “Baby Boy” , “I Can Do Bad All By Myself”, and was nominated for Best Supporting Actress Oscar for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and now plays the leading role on the hit series “Empire” as “”. Henson has opened up the road for many other black actresses to breakthrough and continues to appreciate her journey from rags to riches.
Remember we all have to pay it forward. So when you make it big remember to share your story with others. You never know what someone needs as inspiration and motivation to get them to the next step of their dream and their success. You could be on the next list of being one of the most influential people.
Go be great,