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Star Jones on Starting Over »

Al Reynolds believes you can’t hold a good man down. Nearly a year after his highly publicized divorce from Star Jones, the southern gent has gone M.I.A., making Miami his new home, teaching personal finance and leadership at Florida Memorial University. caught up with Reynolds to discuss his new life on campus, running into his ex-wife with his new flame, and why he no longer has feelings for Star Jones.

ESSENCE.COM: Despite all the hoopla surrounding your marriage and divorce to Star Jones, you’ve managed to continue your career as a professor, author and soon-to-be reality star. How’s life treating you?
Great. Miami has always been like my second home because [Star Jones] and I had a place here. Also, I’m originally from the south and I enjoy living on the water. I developed a strong sense of community and became an integral part of academia as a professor at Florida Memorial University, which is a historically Black college and is nearly 130 years old. It was important that I give back to the community by teaching at a Black college, especially considering the staggering statistics of how many Black men don’t make it to college but end up in the penal system.

ESSENCE.COM: Well, we applaud you for that commitment. Because you have lived under a microscope and married into celebrity, how were you received by the students and faculty?
When I started working at FMU, I was still married, and there throughout my divorce, and I have to say that most of the students are intrigued by celebs but they are not enthralled by them. So I tried to be proactive and I let them know who I am but made sure to back it by my list of accomplishments as well as what things I hope to accomplish as a professor. Some of them thought it was cool, others were like, mmmmm (laughs). But when everything went down with my divorce and the reporters were on the campus sneaking around trying to make contact with my colleagues and students, they protected me. That’s the difference between being part of a village and a community they told them, “You don’t see what this guy does every day, but we know. So whatever you’re trying to do to ruin him, forget about it.” And I couldn’t have been more pleased and touched.

ESSENCE.COM: Recently, you reportedly ran into your ex-wife at a tennis match. Was it awkward seeing her and were you inclined to speak?
It was awkward because it had been nearly a year since we’d seen each other. The reason I didn’t speak was because I was there with my date and a film crew that was taping for an episode of my upcoming TV One show, and it would have been inappropriate. I’m not that dude that would cause a scene or be disrespectful. Of course, you always hope that you can coexist and kind of want to talk and find out how the person is doing, but my ex-wife and I don’t communicate at all. I hope one day we can be more amicable and be friends.

ESSENCE.COM: What did you have the most difficulty coping with during the divorce?
First l’d like to say, I don’t think my divorce is any different from anyone else’s divorce or breakup. When you’re hurting emotionally or mentally and coming to terms with the reality that the person you once loved, trusted, shared your life with, and expected to grow old with for the rest of your life won’t be moving forward with you, it’s hard, period. The most challenging for me is that when you’re in the public eye people use your breakup or divorce as entertainment. I don’t believe anyone gets married with the intentions of divorce. It’s the most difficult thing when people treat your real life so trivial and reduce that level of vulnerability you’re experiencing to a joke.

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ESSENCE.COM: In retrospect, what do you believe was your biggest mistake in the dismantling of your marriage?
Inviting the public into our personal lives the way that we did. As an entertainer, how you allow the media and public into your personal life and relationships will leave you exposed and you have to be a little bit more protective of your wife and husband.

ESSENCE.COM: Are you still in love with Star?
No, I’m not in love with her, I’ve moved on. We’ve grown apart. I still respect her for the love we both shared, but I’m looking to find the right woman for me.

ESSENCE.COM: Would that woman be Nicole Hutchinson, whom you’ve been rumored to be engaged to?
(Laughs.) I’m not engaged. Again, I’m learning from my past experience and keeping my personal relationships personal. What I will share is that I am dating and I’m happy.

ESSENCE.COM: Understood. Well, there has always been speculation regarding your sexuality, and you’ve often said you choose not to label yourself, which is totally ambiguous. When those rumors surfaced how did it affect you and your family?
When it comes to people discussing my sexuality I’ve always taken the higher road, but I get very emotional about it. I’m tired of the disrespect. It has affected my professional career and life. It’s difficult when people are making up stories about you and lying about your sexuality. I have 14 nephews, five brothers and sisters, and they read the comments and so do their friends. It’s difficult when an my 8-year-old nephew has to go to school and hear kids call his uncle names and then question him about his sexuality or when reporters call and berate my 80-year-old mother who has dementia. There was a time I could go play basketball with my boys, but then it’s reported that I’m dating one of them so you begin to lose friendships because who wants to deal with that? It’s a little too much. It’s this kind of unfair scrutiny that made me think, Okay, I have to create a force and protect my family and friends as much as I can and keep everything personal.