Long before actress and activist Uzo Aduba was a two-time Emmy Award winning star of Orange is the New Black, she was a doubtful young woman ready to call quits on becoming a storyteller. A fateful phone call from her agent turned her career around. Aduba’s turn as Crazy Eyes quickly became a fixture in pop culture. However, looking back on her life in the premiere episode of ESSENCE’s Yes, Girl! podcast, Aduba shares how the constant encouragement from her family—Nigerian immigrants who raised her in a small Massachusetts town near Boston—strengthened her sense of self even when the world would not.
“I thank God for my mom who was insistent on staying proud of where we are from my name to to the food to which we would eat,” says Aduba. “The truth is I am who I am and that’s enough…I don’t need to start attempting to be anything outside of that.”
The 36-year-old star also opens up about her hopeful start as a New York City theater student that was nearly dimmed when she had a run-in with the police. But that memory didn’t dampen the gratitude for her journey. In fact, Aduba happily shared with Yes, Girl! hosts Cori Murray and Yolanda Sangweni her Nigerian pride (“Nigerians finish first” she jokes), who has the best jollof rice and the beauty of gap teeth. “There is space for me and my gap. There’s nothing wrong with perfectly straight teeth just that there is nothing wrong with perfectly gapped teeth.”