It's press day for Nafessa Williams, and xoNecole is her last stop on the press run. If she's low on energy after fielding back-to-back interviews, the movie star is keeping it well under wraps. She hops on our call with good vibes and a level of enthusiasm that is the epitome of gratitude begets success.
And truth be told, she worked hard to get where she is today and prayed even harder. Just a few years ago, she was interning at the district attorney's office daydreaming about a more fulfilling life in Hollywood. No longer willing to work a job that didn't align with her purpose, Williams began auditioning for roles, not realizing that her leap of faith would cost her a steady paycheck when the company ultimately decided to let her go.
DFree / Shutterstock.com
"I felt like I became my own superhero that day when I took it upon myself to just do what I felt like I needed to do for me. That was the first day of the rest of my life."
Over the next few years, Williams built an impressive resume of television and movie roles before receiving a call that would lead her to be crowned network television's first Black lesbian superhero on CW's Black Lightning. Keeping with the trend of being a part of history-making projects, she hit the big screen this fall alongside Naomie Harris, Mike Colter, and Tyrese for her role as Missy in Black and Blue—the first film to feature a Black woman lead as a police officer.
And if you think the flashing lights and red carpet appearances have her feeling herself, she's quick to remind you that she's the same ol' Nafessa, just a Philly jawn going for gold with no intention of slowing down. We catch Williams as she continues to level up on and off the screen for some good girl talk about the importance of trading fear for faith, bringing her girl tribe with her as she elevates, and why she's choosing selfishness as a form of self-love.
xoNecole: What drew you to the script for 'Black and Blue'?
Nafessa Williams: I like to take on projects that I feel are going to help shape the culture and have a message that serves us as a society. It was really unique with this group because it was a film about a rookie cop who witnesses a murder, but it's led by a female, which is very unique in and of its kind. We don't typically see a female leading a movie based around the police department. Also, the fact that the script mirrored what we're going through right now in our country with racial injustice and the judicial system and the injustices that are within, that really caught my attention.
xoNecole: You've previously talked about your interest in television and film, even as a child, but then you pursued a career in law. What initially made you decide not to dive into television and film?
Nafessa: You know, it felt like a hoop dream. It felt like something far-fetched. I didn't have anyone really in the industry or my family or close friends that could help guide me towards it, so I went with something a little bit more practical like most people do. I went to college and I was like, "I'm going to go be a lawyer." I interned at the DA's office and I soon learned that it was not for me. I had to do what spoke to my soul and what spoke to my heart, which was acting. No matter how difficult it was going to be, no matter if it took me 20 years to get the first "yes", I knew that it will happen eventually if I stuck with it.
xoNecole: At what point did you realize working in that law office really didn’t align with your purpose and how did you overcome the fear of taking a leap?
Nafessa: I used to dread going to work every day. Some moments I would cry that I had to do it and I was like, "OK, you can't do this anymore. You gotta be happy. You got to really get aligned with your purpose." I'm really grateful for my insight because I saw it all so clear and for the faith that I have and the drive to do it all. I was sitting in the office and realized that this would be my life 30 years from now if I made the decision to stay, or I had the option to start from scratch and make a lot of sacrifices. I couldn't travel for a while. I couldn't do certain things some of my other friends were doing because I decided to follow my dreams, which can be very tough and [there] can be a lot of ups and downs. But I just made a promise to myself that if you start, you gotta really go full throttle, and I did that from the very first day.
"I was sitting in the office and realized that this would be my life 30 years from now if I made the decision to stay, or I had the option to start from scratch and make a lot of sacrifices."
xoNecole: How long did it take for you to start seeing success in television and film?
Nafessa: I was 22 going on 23 [when I got fired], and then I booked my first regular series two years later. It was on One Life to Live, and at the time you could not tell me nothing. I was able to pay my rent. I was able to work on my craft every day, and I knew that would only strengthen my skills and help me get to the next level. So, it was about two and a half years into it, which was fairly quick. That was confirmation that I was on the right track, and it gave me hope to keep going.
xoNecole: What were you doing in between that time since you weren't working a 9 to 5?
Nafessa: I had saved money so I was living off of savings and I was auditioning like crazy. I was in acting class, but I wasn't technically working on the books yet. I was going on auditions and I would tell everybody I'm a working actress even though I hadn't booked anything, but I was just really trying to manifest that and do everything in my power to make it become real.
xoNecole: Did you ever experience Imposter Syndrome?
Nafessa: Oh, of course. Especially when you get to LA because I had started to make a name for myself in New York with being on One Life to Live and just hanging out in the acting community. But when you go to LA it's like starting all over, so it can make you feel really small. I told myself you will hear no and to just get comfortable with that rejection because eventually, you're going to get a "yes" that's going to change your life.
xoNecole: Did you get that kind of character from your family or is that just something you developed as you went along in this business?
Nafessa: I think that's something that's within you, but there are influences that can inspire that. Also, growing up in Philly and wanting to get out of the environment and wanting to just be different from what I saw. Again, it goes back to Black and Blue where you could become a product of your environment or you could want something completely different, and whatever your choice is, your friends are going to reflect that and your environment is going to reflect it. So I think it's about the environment that you choose. We don't have a choice at first, but after a while, you can make a choice to decide what it is that you want.
"I think it's about the environment that you choose. We don't have a choice at first, but after a while, you can make a choice to decide what it is that you want."
xoNecole: So, I know set life is crazy, and it can obviously take a lot of toll on your body. Are there certain things you do to maintain your self-care and wellness? Because you look good, girl!
Nafessa: Oh my gosh, the hardest thing is to stay away from all the badness and crappy food. I work out a good bit. Meditation is really, really important to me. My spirituality is very important to me. I think that's what keeps me centered and grounded throughout all the chaos and the strict schedules. What else? Oh, massages. I treat myself very often, especially with all the fighting that I have to do on set. It's very important to me. I love Deepak Chopra; I listen to him a lot. I've learned how to meditate through Deepak. So, whatever podcast he's on, I have those on my phone.
xoNecole: Being young and in Hollywood, what has your dating experience been like?
Nafessa: I can't say that I haven't dated here and there, but the last five years, my main focus has been my career and I've been really gung-ho on that. It's literally my boyfriend. I feel like that's been a priority to me; it's been about laying my foundation. I'm still a baby in this industry and I'm just starting out. The blessings of Black Lightning and Black and Blue, I take very seriously. So it's really all about work for me right now.
xoNecole: Do you feel like you're sacrificing your love life in lieu of your career?
Nafessa: You know, I realized that I chose a different path. If I had stayed home in Philly, my life may look a little different. But I'm still young; I feel like I have time. And again, I'm just getting started. I believe in coming into a relationship whole and knowing who you are and setting the foundation of your career so that you don't need anything from anybody else. And I believe you attract who and what you are. So to me, it's really about laying the foundation with myself and my career, and self-healing and self-care is high on my list. It's really all about me right now though, I'm so selfish [laughs].
"I believe you attract who and what you are. To me, it's really about laying the foundation with myself and my career, and self-healing and self-care is high on my list. It's really all about me right now though, I'm so selfish."
xoNecole: Oh, tell me more about this selfishness!
Nafessa: I was in long-term relationships really young, so I felt going into my 30s, it was really important to find out who I am as an individual and by myself and to learn what it is I really want, and then link up with somebody else.
xoNecole: Have you figured out what that is yet or are you still in the process of figuring it out?
Nafessa: I'm definitely still on a journey of that. And I think soon, starting a family is ideal for me. But again, I'm still in the thick of having and enjoying where I am in my career. You don't want to break that. I guess I'm just riding this wave right now.
xoNecole: As you should be. So when the cameras are turned off, who would you say you are at your core?
Nafessa: Just a real simple, down to earth, funny girl. Somebody who you feel like is your cousin. Somebody who likes to have fun. Somebody likes to dance and just always tries to remain true to who I am and at my core who I was when I left Philly. I posted me dancing on my InstaStory and somebody who I went to college with was like, "Damn, you really are the same person. You still like to have fun; you didn't change." To me, that's a compliment because you always want to remember who you are and remember what got you here.
xoNecole: So what’s next for you?
Nafessa: I really want to do comedy. I love to have fun. I love to make people laugh, and I think it's going to be interesting for people to see a different side of me. A lot of what I've done so far has been a lot of drama. Even the superhero show, it's still very dramatic and I'm really excited to dive into the comedy realm. My ultimate comedy job would be SNL.
Keep up with Nafessa on Instagram by following her at @NafessaWilliams on Instagram!
Featured image by DFree / Shutterstock.com
Originally published November 11, 2019.
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This post is in partnership with Amgen.
The seemingly simple task of taking a breath is something most of us don’t think twice about. But for people who live with severe asthma, breathing does not always come easily. Asthma, a chronic respiratory condition that inflames and narrows the airways in the lungs, affects millions of people worldwide – 5-10% of which live with severe asthma. Severe asthma is a chronic and lifelong condition that is unpredictable and can be difficult to manage. Though often invisible to the rest of the world, severe asthma is a not-so-silent companion for those who live with it, often interrupting schedules and impacting day-to-day life.
Among the many individuals who battle severe asthma, Black women face a unique set of challenges. It's not uncommon for us to go years without a proper diagnosis, and finding the right treatment often requires some trial and error. Thankfully, all hope is not lost for those who may be fighting to get their severe asthma under control. We spoke with Juanita Brown Ingram, Esq. and Jania Watson, two inspiring Black women who have been living with severe asthma and have found strength, resilience, and a sense of purpose in their journeys.
Juanita Brown Ingram, Esq.
Juanita Ingram has a resume that would make anyone’s jaw drop. On top of being recently crowned Mrs. Universe, she’s also an accomplished attorney, filmmaker, and philanthropist. From the outside, it seems there’s nothing this talented woman won’t try, and likely succeed at. In her everyday life, however, Juanita exercises a lot more caution. From a young age, Juanita has struggled with severe asthma. Her symptoms were always exacerbated by common illnesses like a cold or flu. “I've heard these stories of my breathing struggles, but I remember distinctly when I was younger not being able to breathe every time I got a virus,” says Ingram. “I remember missing a lot of school and crying a lot because asthma is painful. I [was taken] to see my doctor often if I got sick with anything so I was hypervigilant as a child, and I still am.”
Today, Juanita says her symptoms are best managed when she’s working closely with her care team, avoiding getting sick and staying ahead of any symptoms. Ingram said she’s been blessed with skilled doctors who are just as vigilant of her symptoms as she is. While competing in the Mrs. Universe competition, Juanita took extra care to stay clear of other competitors to ensure she didn’t catch a cold or virus that would trigger her severe asthma. “I would stand off to the side and sometimes that could be taken as ‘oh, she thinks she's better than everybody else.’ But if I get sick during a pageant, I'm done. I had to compete with that in mind because my sickness doesn't look like everybody else's sickness.”
Even when her symptoms are under control, living with severe asthma still presents challenges. Juanita relies on her strong support system to overcome the hurdles caused by a lack of understanding from the public, “I think that there's a lot of lack of awareness about how serious severe asthma is. I would [also] tell women to advocate and to trust their intuition and not to allow someone to dismiss what you're experiencing.”
Jania, a content creator from Atlanta, Georgia, has been living with severe asthma for many years. Thanks to early testing by asthma specialists, Jania was diagnosed with severe asthma as a child after experiencing frequent flare-ups and challenges in her day-to-day life. “I specifically remember, I was starting school, and we were moving into a new house. One of the triggers for me and my younger sister at the time were certain types of carpets. We had just moved into this new house and within weeks of us being there, my parents literally had to pay for all new carpet in the house.”
As Jania grew older, she was suffering from fewer flare-ups and thought her asthma was well under control. However, a trip back to her doctor during high school revealed that her severe asthma was affecting her more than she realized. “That was the first time in a long time I had to do a breathing test,” she describes. “The doctor had me take a deep breath in and blow into a machine to test my breathing. They told me to blow as hard as I could. And I was doing it. I was giving everything I got. [My dad and the doctor] were looking at me like ‘girl, stop playing.’ And at that point [it confirmed] I still have severe asthma because I've given it all I got. It doesn't really go away, but I just learned how to help manage it better.”
Jania recognizes that people who aren’t living with asthma, may not understand the disease and mistake it for something less serious. Or there could be others who think their symptoms are minor, and not worth bringing up. So, for Jania, communicating with others about her diagnosis is key. “Having severe asthma [flare-ups] in some cases looks very similar to being out of shape,” she said. “But this is a chronic illness that I was born with. This is just something that I live with that I've been dealing with. And I think it's important for people to know because that determines the next steps. [They might ask] ‘Do you need a bottle of water, or do you need an inhaler? Do you need to take a break, or do we need to take you to the hospital?’ So, I think letting the people around you know what's going on, just in case anything were to happen plays a lot into it as well.”
Like Juanita, Jania’s journey has been marked by ups and downs, but she remains an unwavering advocate for asthma awareness and support within the Black community. She hopes that her story can be an inspiration to other women with asthma who may not yet have their symptoms under control. “There's still life to be lived outside of having severe asthma. It is always going to be there, but it's not meant to stop you from living your life. That’s why learning how to manage it and also having that support system around you, is so important.”
By sharing their journeys, Juanita and Jania hope to encourage others to embrace their conditions, obtain a proper management plan from a doctor or asthma specialist like a pulmonologist or allergist, and contribute to the improvement of asthma awareness and support, not only within the Black community, but for all individuals living with severe asthma.
Read more stories from others like Juanita and Jania on Amgen.com, or visit Uncontrolled Asthma In Black Women | BREAK THE CYCLE to find support and resources.
In a time where the term “relationship goal” has seemed to have lost its spark, there’s one couple that we continue to root for whether they’re together or apart and that’s Ryan Destiny and Keith Powers.
Powers, 30, and Destiny, 27, first met in 2015 while attending a Teen Vogue party in 2015 but it wasn’t until 2019 that confirmation of their relationship surfaced in the digital cover of WeTheUrban digital cover in July of the same year.
While there was an immediate attraction, the now-exes said sparks really flew once they connected over Instagram. "For a minute we tried to hide it for numerous reasons, but as human beings sometimes you want to just shout to the world 'I love this person and I'm happy!'” Destiny expressed in the interview. "We try to find a balance. I'm already a private person and very career driven so reminding people that I am my own person is important."
With “are they, aren’t they” rumors swirling about the two’s aspirational relationship, it is clear that they both hold their privacy in high regard, while not keeping their love for each other a secret.
During the same interview, Powers shared how maintaining happiness in a relationship involves keeping aspects of one's life private. Especially considering the challenges of having a public relationship while navigating external perceptions that can lead to misinformation.
"The more you keep private the happier you'll be,” he shared. “It's not easy being in a public relationship, so you try to keep as much as you can private. Control your own narrative, don't give people too much because they make up stuff from the outside looking in."
In 2022, PEOPLE reported that the starlet couple had separated after a four-year relationship. And while a source confirmed that the two were, “taking time to focus on themselves and their emerging careers but are remaining close friends,” the LA-based actors have continued to be spotted together on red carpets, social functions, and public outings.
Although it hasn’t been confirmed whether the two are officially together again, us girls can dream, right? Let’s take a scroll through their relationship timeline together.
2015 — Ryan Destiny and Keith Powers Meet
Destiny and Powers met in 2015 at a Teen Vogue party. From there, the two grew as friends and Powers quickly knew there was something special between them. "I realized I was in love when I knew my life would be extremely affected in a negative way if Ryan wasn't in it," he detailed for the digital cover of WeTheUrban in 2019. "I also felt myself growing as a person when Ryan came into my life, especially mentally. And I realized that I'm ready to deal with anything I have to deal with alongside Ryan. Once I felt that, I knew."
2017 — Ryan Destiny and Keith Powers Attend LudaDay Weekend Topgolf Takeover
(L-R) Keith Powers, Ryan Destiny, Algee Smith, Luke James and Woody McClain.
Paras Griffin/Getty Images
Alongside Powers' New Edition castmates at the time, Powers and Destiny showed support at the LudaDay Weekend Topgolf Takeover in Midtown Atlanta.
2019 — Ryan Destiny and Keith Powers Confirm Relationship
Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for BET
Keith Powers and Ryan Destiny made their red carpet debut as a couple in 2018 at the BET Awards. In doing so, they also seemingly confirmed their romantic relationship.
2019 — Ryan Destiny and Keith Powers Go Public With Their Relationship
It’s safe to say that the couple has embraced privacy over the years, but in 2019, the two began to appear as a package deal in magazine shoots and advertising campaigns together.
The couple starred in a sultry Calvin Klein campaign, dished the details of the relationship to WeTheUrban, and even appeared on-screen in Big Sean’s "Single Again” which highlighted the ramifications of being in a public breakup.
January 2022 — Ryan Destiny and Keith Powers Spilt
After four years of dating, Powers and Destiny end their relationship, but still “remain friends.”
August 2022 — Ryan Destiny and Keith Powers Spend Time With His Family
If spotting the former couple here and there together shortly after their public split didn't create speculation of a possible rekindling, fans seeing the two together with his family for his birthday put romance rumors into overdrive.
October 2022 — Ryan Destiny and Keith Powers Spotted Together All Smiles
Destiny and Powers were photographed together and shared in a mutual friend's Instagram Story.
March 2023 — Ryan Destiny and Keith Powers’ First Public Outing Since Breakup
Ryan Destiny and Keith Powers posing together at the 2023 ESSENCE Black Women In Hollywood Awards.
Arnold Turner/Getty Images for ESSENCE
The actors were spotted together while attending the Essence Black Women In Hollywood Awards.
April 2023 — Ryan Destiny and Keith Powers Pose At Coachella
In April, the two were seen at the Revolve Festival during this year’s Coachella Festival at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California.
June 2023 — Ryan Destiny and Keith Powers At “The Perfect Find” Premiere
(L-R) Ryan Destiny and Keith Powers attend 'The Perfect Find' world premiere.
Noam Galai/Getty Images for Netflix
Powers owned his leading role alongside Gabrielle Union in the Netflix rom-com, The Perfect Find. And in June, Destiny was his red carpet date at the movie’s premiere during the 2023 Tribeca Film Festival.
August 2023 — Ryan Destiny and Keith Powers Show Support
Jerritt Clark/Getty Images for FWRD
Destiny and Powers were dressed to the nines at the Hall Of Fame Induction Celebration for Dwyane Wade hosted by FWRD at Chateau Marmont's Bar in Hollywood.
August 2023 — Ryan Destiny and Keith Powers Take a Getaway
In an August Instagram posting, Destiny and Powers shared nearly identical selfies and photos showcasing that they both took a cruise with Virgin Voyages across the Adriatic Sea around the actor's birthday. Coincidence? One user commented on Powers' post, "You and my girl Ry Ry think y’all slick! I love it tho."
August 2023 — Ryan Destiny and Keith Powers Dance The Night Away
October 2023 — Ryan Destiny and Keith Powers Celebrate Halloween
Destiny and Powers got in on the Halloween fun and hit the town in coordinating hamburger and hot dog costumes at a party in LA.
December 2023 — Ryan Destiny and Keith Powers On a Dinner Date
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Featured image by Jerritt Clark/Getty Images for FWRD