This year, 2022, is KJ Smith‘s year.
The actress, who many people know from her star-making turn as Andrea “Andi” Barnes in Tyler Perry’s hit BET series Sistas, is celebrating the show being renewed for a fourth season. She also has a new, recurring role on the second season of the breakout Starz drama Power Book III: Raising Kanan. She’s also engaged, set to wed fellow actor Skyh Alvester Black this year.
“I just feel amazing all the time. I just feel like, Wow. This is my life!” she tells ESSENCE when asked how she’s feeling about her personal and professional success. “There was one day where I was just crying on an air mattress and now I’m living the life of my dreams.”
That day wasn’t that long ago. The star moved from her native Tallahassee to Los Angeles with high hopes years ago. She struggled early on to find opportunities, working retail to have a consistent check.
“I was getting told no every day,” she says, noting that she was attending auditions in a T-shirt and jeans with a thick Floridian accent in tow. The more nos she heard, the more resentful she became, which inevitably turned into sadness.
“Hindsight being 20/20, I was impatient, I was entitled, I was dissatisfied. I was ungrateful,” she recalls. “When I really think about it and am honest with myself, after years of therapy of course, I realize I put myself in that space. I compared myself to other people and felt like I deserve this. Not a spirit of gratitude or alignment with God. I was completely out of alignment and operating out of ego.”
To get herself out of that space, she had to do the work. A good friend, who was also a therapist, booked her a one-way ticket back to Florida. She wanted Smith to take some time to reevaluate her intentions and learn to focus on feelings instead of what happened in the past or where she thought she “deserved” to be in the future. The actress also started doing more prayer and the actual work, career wise, so she could get where she wanted to be upon returning to LA.
“When you’re coming from a place of love and not ego, great things are going to happen. But when you’re on the surface and you focus on surface-level things…I couldn’t function,” she says. “I had to dig deep and find my true worth and true self to come out of that depression.”
When she did, doors opened, not only with work but also with love. She met Black during the pandemic as they prepared to film Sistas Season 2. He had a recurring role as Jacobi for the second and third season. “His energy, it was something so palpable about it. I was just taken aback,” she says. Throughout shooting, they would gravitate towards each other, but they kept it professional out of concern over a no-fraternization policy. Still, their co-stars could tell they had chemistry.
“They were like, ‘ooh! That boy Skyh like him some KJ!'” she joked. “I just felt like a kid again. It was butterflies. It was all those things we honestly didn’t feel comfortable acting on because of the rules.”
When he booked a new series and finished his time on Sistas, she hit him up in his DMs to congratulate him. They exchanged numbers and in no time, after she told him she preferred to talk rather than text, they would find themselves on the phone for hours. The two eventually agreed to meet up.
“We were really limited during the [early] pandemic, so I thought we were just going to grab some coffee and go sit in a park,” she says of their first date. “This man showed up with a big picnic basket and cooler full of all the things that I talked about that I like on the phone.”
She expected little because the dating scene hadn’t shown her much different, but Black exceeded her expectations and showed her he was serious about getting to know her and only her.
“He handed me his phone and said, ‘Here, you decide the music,'” she says. “The phone was open. No passcode. He just handed it to me. I had his phone for an hour and a half. No messages came in. I kept looking at him like, You’re just going to give me your phone like that?”
She adds, “All of these things were just so different than anything I’d ever experienced. I’ve dated and been in relationships, but it was these little things that showed me he cared and he was considering me and was mindful of me.”
They were in a time of their lives where they were ready for love, and they found it with each other — all while managing to keep quiet about it. So much so, when people would see them together in public and take their picture, posting it to social media, Williams’s publicist would reach out to politely ask fans to remove them.
“We hadn’t even told Tyler [Perry] yet,” she says. When they eventually told him, he gave them his blessing. Soon after, they chose to go public, doing so last September. While initially nervous about having to deal with negativity, the vast majority of people have been rooting loudly for the couple. The cheers reached an all-time high as news of their engagement was shared after he proposed on Christmas day 2021. Smith is certainly feeling the love. She’s also feeling all the gratitude she initially didn’t have when she was trying to make ends meet in her early years in LA. With a new role, the continued success of Sistas and a wedding on the way, she couldn’t be happier. She also is thankful that the lessons she learned while at her lowest, helped her get to this point.
“It was really sad. But if I would have quit, I wouldn’t be here,” she says, recalling her bouts with depression. “I wouldn’t be feeling so glorious. I wouldn’t have changed the trajectory of my family. I wouldn’t be inspiring young girls and boys. I wouldn’t have found the love of my life.”