Model. Actor. Musician. Author. Those are just a few words to describe the multi-hyphenate heartthrob that is Don Benjamin.
Hailing from humble beginnings on the South Side, the Chicago native found himself bouncing between Minnesota, Mississippi, and even Florida before settling in Los Angeles in 2005. It was there that he thrust himself into the world of modeling, fashion, and music, securing campaigns with various notable brands such as Bloomingdale's, True Religion, Tillys, Guess, and also appeared as a finalist on America's Next Top Model. But don't let the handsome face and pretty eyes fool you, there's much more to Don than meets the eye. And if you needed further proof of that, look no further than his new book, My Truth. In his debut work, Benjamin opens up about the tests, trials, and testimonies of his life experiences––everything from growing up without his father in his life, growing into manhood, love and loss and so much more.
xoNecole recently got the chance to chat with Don about all things personal evolution, self-love, and dealing with heartbreak. Here's what he had to say:
Courtesy of Don Benjamin
xoNecole: You’ve got your hands in a lot of things with acting, music, modeling, and now your new book. Which of those do you find the most rewarding?
Don Benjamin: I try to make them all coincide as much as possible. As long as I'm being creative, you know expressing different sides of my creativity. Sometimes I'll get really into my music and I'm in a zone where I want to write a ton of music. And sometimes I'm locked in and all about acting and growing. Now I'm all about writing. After spilling my soul, I'm really loving writing books. I've already started writing my second book. But I feel like it all goes together even though they're all different, they still kind of feel like one.
In your book, you talk about the difficulties you faced growing up without your father and the void that that relationship created. Why do you think it’s so important for young men to have that healthy male presence and dynamic?
That's important because, without it, I think it's something that kind of messes us up to where we kinda start questioning ourselves, like 'Was it something I did? Was I not good enough for him to be around?' And it breaks down our self-esteem. For me, I just bottled it in. My mother was always asking if I wanted to talk to a professional about it but I would always bottle it in, not really realizing how unhealthy it is and how it leads to bigger issues. But I think it's important to put yourself around men that are of a positive influence. Because when you grow up in that situation, you're kind of hungry for the influence of a man that's going to help guide you since you didn't get that from your father.
A lot of times, it leads you to other broken situations where you find yourself with other men who didn't have their father around. And you're following the footsteps of the people you see in the media and it just leads to an unhealthy pattern. That's what I found in myself. I kinda had to snap out of it, I had to take some losses in my life and learn some pretty harsh lessons and THEN go searching for that. Like, 'Yo, I need some men in my life that can actually be a positive influence.' So I want to try to help the younger generation understand that at a sooner time, rather than waking up in their thirties and forties and realizing it and doing a lot more damage.
I often feel like most people at some point in their life go through a Blinding Light experience. Meaning a moment where life knocks you off your current course in order to redirect you onto the right one. Have you had one and if so what was it?
Yeah, I think I had an initial one when my father passed away in 2017 and it made me start looking at life a lot differently.
"I went into a real depression, I stopped focusing on work. I think my entire life I was looking for his approval subconsciously, I was always like, 'I wanna get super-rich and famous so I can take care of my Dad and give him the life.' I finally started to come out of it and then last year I was engaged to be married, but towards the end of the year, I made some stupid choices that led to us breaking up. And that was my ultimate Blinding Light to where I needed to step back and look at the things I was doing. And why I was carrying on these continued patterns that my father had been doing to me and make a change in my life."
It really woke me up and it's crazy how it happened the year we were forced to stay inside and stay to ourselves––and not do anything but focus on ourselves. So I had it at the top of this year and I feel like I'm finally aligned and seeing things clearly. It's a blessing.
I’m sorry to hear that. But how did you deal with that heartbreak?
When we first broke up, I didn't really know how to get through it in the moment. I went to God and just laid it all on God. I had a good support system around me, thankfully. I was like, 'Lord give me the strength to understand this and get through this and use this to grow and become a better version of myself.' And that's what really helped me. A lot of reading, praying, and meditation.
That prayer and meditation will do it, won’t it?
Man, I'm telling you. It was everything.
What’s something you vow to do differently or do more of in your next relationship now?
For me, what I've really been working on is being a lot more selfless in a relationship. I never really had a solid foundation of a relationship to look at for inspiration. I always just kind of created my own thoughts of what I thought a good relationship should be like. And I was going based on a lot of men from broken homes as well. I did a lot of reading of different mentors who've been in strong relationships after making some mistakes and how they changed things up and maneuvered differently. And how you do things differently in a relationship, and just being all about your woman. Making her feel confident and letting her have the right type of trust in you––and just letting the woman feel confident and full in a relationship. Letting her have that queen feeling. That's what I'm really trying to work on carrying into my next relationship. I don't have to let my pride win or my ego win and I make sure my focus is all my woman and cutting out certain distractions and temptations. Because the world we live in right now is so full of temptations with social media and TV. So being more aware of those temptations so that it doesn't interfere in my relationship [is how I'd move differently].
Speaking of distractions and temptations, when it comes to things like infidelity or unfaithfulness in relationships––what’s one thing men and women should understand?
I think for men a lot of times, it stems from past issues with parents or influence. Not getting the proper influence from people around us. And our need for certain attention, it goes deeper than just the situation per se.
"My advice for women is that it doesn't have nothing to do with you. You could be the best woman in the world, but if a man is broken inside, he has to dig deep and fix those issues. Because the infidelity is usually something deeper that he's searching for and he doesn't realize that it could stem from his childhood."
The couple has to really come together and talk about it and maybe go to relationship counseling early to prevent anything from taking place.
Do you think a person can truly be ready for love if they don’t first love themselves?
You definitely have to love yourself first, how can you love somebody else if you're not happy with yourself? I feel like there are gonna be a lot of issues. I've been learning that more and more. But it's weird because you hear stories about high school sweethearts and the ones who got married young and lasted long, and they grew together and learned lessons together and bonded together even stronger. Nowadays, especially if you're a little bit older, I feel like you wanna have as much love for yourself as possible. You have to know what you need in life before you go searching for that in someone else. Because then you're gonna put all the weight on them and it's gonna lead to a lot of stress.
That last part is definitely key, I love that you brought that up.
It's real though.
For sure. Let’s talk relationship green flags, what would make you feel the most safe and secure?
I think a woman having confidence and something going for herself, to where she's not sitting at home all day wondering what you're doing. If she's confident and independent, that's definitely a green flag. Family, religion. If she doesn't have a strong religious foundation or good guidance in her life, I feel like it's gonna be really hard to make that connection. So religion is key.
Courtesy of Don Benjamin
How can a woman get AND keep your attention?
Right now, I'm so focused on my personal growth, it's whatever God places in my sight. I'm not really specific. It has to benefit me and help build me, there has to be that spiritual energy and connection. Being in LA, you see so many attractive people, you could meet one just walking to Starbucks. So it's not really so much about the image, it's about the connection. If you have a connection with somebody on a deeper level, that's how I feel like you can maintain that longevity.
Do you know your love languages?
I think mine are physical touch, I like to be held and I like cuddling. I love quality time, I need that. I like to just cuddle and watch a movie.
Before you go, I want to know what’s something you know now about yourself or about love that you didn’t know before?
The main thing I've learned is that you really have to be selfless. It's not about you, of course, the self-love dynamic too, but you have to be confident in you—and really be more aware of your partner's feelings. And keeping them happy and safe.
"It's a lot of work, [but] I've learned that you have to be ready to put that work in going into a relationship in order to make it last. Everything isn't gonna always be peaches and cream, there's gonna be disagreements; there's gonna be family issues. It has to go way deeper than just 'oh I'm attracted to you.'"
Once the puppy love stage wears off and ya'll get past the honeymoon phase––then it becomes another form of work. You literally have somebody's heart and feelings and well-being in your possession, you have to be careful with it.
You have to be careful with it. And lastly, what's next for you Don?
I was supposed to be filming a movie this year. I was playing the lead in a movie I co-created and produced, but I feel like we're still up in the air as far as whether or not we're going to be able to finish shooting it before the year is up. So hopefully we can do that. I'm also working on another book that comes along with a masterclass. A lot of people have been asking me how to break into the modeling industry, so I wanted to create something for them to go along with that.
Featured image courtesy of Don Benjamin.
This post is in partnership with BET+.
Kingdom Business is back for its second season, with even more sermons, songs, and serpents. The series picks up where it left off, with actress Serayah as Rbel caught between the stripper pole and the pulpit. With the first lady of the church working desperately against her, Rbel must find a way to live her dreams and honor her friend while figuring out her faith in the process.
Season one served a collection plate of rivalry, deceit, and revenge –– among many other tribulations. Between the 28-year-old’s acting, conviction, and harmonious voice, here are a few reasons why season two of Kingdom Business is a must-watch.
If the Spirit Doesn’t Move You, Serayah’s Singing Voice Will
Rbel, formally known as Rebecca Belle, is a stripper whose life forcibly takes a turn after suffering a tragedy. Through her quest to find the truth, Rbel finds herself at odds with the head of a local church, First Kingdom’s Denita Jordan, played by the legendary Yolanda Adams. Rbel unknowingly emerges as what a faithful Christian embodies: a perfectly imperfect human who works every day to try their best while leaning on God. Although struggling with her faith, each ballad sung by Rbel can be felt, as the lyrics relate to personal struggles we all endure in different ways. Gospel songs hit differently when your life is in shambles, and chile, Serayah is singing new life into folks.
Serayah is a Formidable Opponent to The Yolanda Adams
As one of the best-selling gospel artists of all time, it’s no easy task to take on the role of a person on the opposing side of greatness. Serayah’s Rbel does an excellent job meeting Jordan at her level while shining through her solos. Throughout season one, Rbel emerges as a top streaming artist, an accomplishment that begets something of a holy war.
Serayah’s Acting Range is Engaging
As a former stripper trying to make a name for herself in the gospel industry, you can imagine the struggles that could come with it. Rbel goes through a range of emotions, all understandable and relatable. Despite several crises of faith, Serayah ensures Rbel delivers a humbling performance that makes the audience root for her redemption.
The Kingdom Business Soundtrack is Everything
Streaming now on Spotify, Tidal, and Apple Music, the Kingdom Business: Season 1 soundtrack is one you’d want to add to your playlist for high and low times. Aside from four soul-soothing songs from Serayah, the soundtrack also features singles from co-star/Hamilton’s Chaundre-Hall Broomfield, gospel artist Chandler Moore, and legend Yolanda Adams.
Serayah’s Rbel Makes You Root For Her
With First Kingdom beginning to crumble under the pressure of lies, infidelity, and deception, Rbel’s window to take that top spot seems wide open; however, the end of season one showed us the Spirit had other plans. Whether you believe or not, Serayah’s Rbel makes you want to see her win. Who doesn’t love a good underdog with a laid 22” bust down? Whether she seeks Him or not, God is proving to be on Rbel’s side. But is it enough to turn everything around for her? Will Rbel lean on faith or fear?
With secrets coming to light, success within reach, and the devastating conclusion of season one, you don’t want to miss season two––especially with more guest collaborations. Kingdom Business returns to BET+ on Nov 2.
BET+ Original | Kingdom Business | S2 Official Traileryoutu.be
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A few years ago, I penned a piece for the platform that had some readers super hot. It was entitled, “Why I Prefer My Friends To NOT Be Friends With Each Other.” For some reason, they thought that my resolve was about insecurity. What’s hilarious is some of those very people ended up writing me, some months later, to say that they actually got where I was coming from after going through a few things in their own world.
Listen, when it comes to my friends who were already friends with each other, it’s whatever. Beyond that, though, it has served me well to keep that kind of “You’ve got your friends and I’ve got mine” type of boundary — not just when it comes to my relationships but my friends and their friends whom I am not friends with as well. For one thing, I can decide what I want known and what I don’t want known; when all of your friends are friends, all kinds of assumptions about who can and should know what can be made that could be dead wrong.
Another reason? Friendships come in levels — in other words, no one should assume that just because I am friends with multiple people that the closeness or intimacy is the same with others as it is with them. So, if everyone is cool with each other and not exactly close, I don’t have to worry about that. And these reasons are just the tip of my iceberg.
Besides, it’s not like this “rule” of mine affects a ton of people. I say that because I don’t call a ton of people my “friend” in the first place. One reason is because I think that “friend” is a very serious title to have; one that comes with a lot of mutual responsibility and reciprocity. Secondly, I know that there is A LOT of space in between “friend” and “enemy.” That’s why, when I first happened upon the whole “five friendship theory” notion, it made complete and total sense to me.
If you’re not familiar with what that is, let’s discuss it today to see if you agree that it’s truly onto something — that you are rich beyond measure if you’ve got five solid friends. Not only that but it’s probably, in most instances, a wise number to both start and stop at.
First of All, What’s Your Personal Definition of “Friend”?Giphy
In order for you to really appreciate the theory and where the notion is actually coming from, first ponder how you would define the word “friend” to begin with. If you’d like a few articles to jumpstart your brain, check out “10 Things You Should Absolutely Expect From Your Friendships,” “10 Signs You’ve Got A Close (TOXIC) Friend,” and “Allow These Things To Happen Before Calling Someone 'Friend.'”
Me personally? My friends are closer to me than a ton of my blood relatives are. There are sweet sentiments behind that and also, sometimes, top-tier inconveniences as well (check out “Life Taught Me That True Friendships Are 'Inconvenient'”). Wait — did I mean to say “inconvenient”? Indeed, I did. Sometimes I’ve paid bills for a friend. Sometimes I’ve been awakened in the middle of the night by a friend. Sometimes, quite frankly, I’ve done things that I don’t even remotely want to do yet, because my friend asked, it was as good as done. Why? Because my friends have done/will do those same things for me. And that’s a huge part of the reason why I don’t use the word casually.
That’s how I see my friendships, though. When it comes to your own, what do you require? What do your friends require of you? And when you factor in all that comes with both of those questions, how much time, effort, energy, and resources do you have to devote to multiple people?
This brings me to my next point.
Now, Let’s Explore Why You Can Probably Only Maintain Five FriendshipsGiphy
Earlier this year, The Guardian published an article entitled, “Five intimate friendships is the optimal amount – I scrape two.” Long story short, she was talking about how she finds it easier to maintain relationships that are close by rather than long-distance ones. While I get her overall point, most of my friends have lives that are just as, if not more, full as my own whether we live in the same city or not. In fact, one of my closest friends is in another state and we talk more than some of the people who are 10 miles away from me; so, in many ways, I think the author’s point has to do with her personal friendship love language (check out “This Is How To Apply Love Languages To Your Friendships”) and her personal approach to relationships.
However, what her narrative did confirm is that, especially as adults, our plates are full. Therefore, to be able to nurture a true friendship in the way that it truly deserves, you’re probably only going to be able to consistently manage about five of them (especially if you’re married and/or have children). And honestly, there is nothing wrong with that. It really is time for (some of) us to stop thinking that life is one big high school.
What I mean by that is, when we were teenagers, a big part of how many of us defined friendship was by how popular or liked we were. Now, our friendships need to be about who supports us, who nurtures us, and who helps to make us better people. Friendship needs to be seen from the angle and perspective of a quote that I once read by actor Amy Poehler once said: “Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you; spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life."
Spend a lot of time with them. Chile, when you’re thriving in your purpose (regardless of your relational status), who has a lot of time for much of anything outside of that? This part actually reminds me of some things that I’ve heard stated by a Black influencer who goes by Only One Jess says about learning how to navigate some of her (what she calls) high-maintenance friends vs. low-maintenance ones. I believe she’s 31 and I’m not (LOL)…time evolves a lot of insights of friendship navigation; however, she’s got a solid point when it comes to different kinds of friends need different things especially when you know that you are living “in your lane”— which is another reason why “five” is a pretty solid number. Not to mention the fact that, biblically, “5” actually means grace (and yes, friendships need quite a bit of that as well).
So yeah — if you’re committed and consistent, five (especially close) friendships may be just about all that you can manage. Does this mean that you can’t have other people in your world? Of course, not. Remember how I said that there is a lot of space between friend and enemy? Let me expound on that for just a sec.
Have You Ever Wondered What Your Own “People Bandwidth” Is?Giphy
Someone who is in my personal top five talks about bandwidth quite a bit. One definition of that word is literally “a range of frequencies” while another is “the energy or mental capacity required to deal with a situation.” It’s another article for another time to be careful about making sure that your life isn’t filled with a lot of people who pretty much do nothing more than drain your energy; however, when it comes to what we’re tackling today — what do you have the energy and mental capacity for, overall, when it comes to your relationships with other people?
According to a British anthropologist by the name of Robin Dunbar, no human can properly maintain more than 150 relationships; not close friendships, mind you — no, he’s speaking of relevant connections, in general. Based on his findings, any number above that is not going to have much longevity. OK, so how does he break all of this down? Good question.
Per an article I read that explains the theory well:
“According to the theory, the tightest circle has just five people – loved ones. That’s followed by successive layers of 15 (good friends), 50 (friends), 150 (meaningful contacts), 500 (acquaintances) and 1500 (people you can recognise). People migrate in and out of these layers, but the idea is that space has to be carved out for any new entrants.”
From what I’ve read and researched on the topic, our brain literally doesn’t have the ability to properly and responsibly handle more than this. So, with his theory being in front of you, do you agree? Do you really only have the “bandwidth” for five close friends and then the “bandwidth” for no more than 150, as he puts it, meaningful contacts? Now before you answer, let me bring more one point into the dynamic.
Remember, There Are Always “Levels” to This ThingGiphy
Live on this earth long enough (which, let’s be real, that includes being disappointed by enough people) and you’ll learn that friendships ARE NOT a monolith. Indeed, there are plenty of layers to them. That’s why I wrote articles like “Always Remember That Friendships Have 'Levels' To Them” and “According To Aristotle, We Need ‘Utility’, ‘Pleasure’ & ‘Good’ Friends.”
When it comes to the Aristotle piece, his theory is that we need work/career/purpose (which aren’t exactly the same things) friends, friends who we can kick it with (you may have common interests), and then friends who build your character. Based on what your priorities are at any given time, you may have more “bandwidth” for one of those types of friends more than the others.
The point here is that, as you start to sort out what it means, TO YOU, to call someone “friend” and then you begin to branch out, please don’t feel like everyone has to check off all of the same boxes — they absolutely do not.
I’ve got some friends who I will drop everything right now and tend to. Then I have meaningful connections. Yeah, I really like that “space” between friend and enemy because some people really can mean a lot to you but you wouldn’t exactly consider them to be a “friend.” Right now, I’ve got someone in my life who is going through a super challenging situation. We’re not friends yet I do care profoundly about them, so I’ve been intentional about making time for them, weekly, until their particular storm passes.
Yeah, one of the things about applying Dunbar and Aristotle’s theories to your life is you can start to categorize who fits where and when — without getting confused or even feeling bad about it. Your “levels” can make you handle your bandwidth with extreme care before it — or you — up and snaps because you simply have nothing left to give.
Never Be Apologetic for Having a “Friend Limit”Giphy
A part of the reason why I thought it was important to write this article is because I think that most of us have had one time or another when we’ve felt bad for not having it in us to give as much as people expect. It’s also another message for another time, how important it is to make sure that if you’re “stretching yourself thin,” it’s for people who would do the same for you. For many years, I was stretching out and it was completely one-sided…and that is why I was so tapped out. Yet — and please hear me when I say this — even when it comes to reciprocators, it’s still okay to have friend limits.
Some people laugh at the Gemini in me and/or the Shellie in me, who will be quick to tell someone who expects certain things of me (simply because they decided that they should have it), “We aren’t friends; I do that for my friends.” And again, only people who think there are two relational teams only (friends and enemies) would be offended by that. Not everyone is your spouse; it’s an esteemed title.
The more you value friendship, not everyone should be called “friend” either.
So yeah, whether you agree with Dunbar and your limit is five or you’ve got 20 — your limit is your limit. Be okay with being okay with that…it doesn’t matter who else isn’t. You know your bandwidth, your energy level, your mental capacity; that’s all that matters.
Aight. Let me hop off of this thing in order to tend to one of my “top five”.
I’m telling you, this theory can be so freeing. At least…consider applying it.
When it comes to the quality of your relationships, it could be a real game-changer.
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