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Courtesy of Zuri Adele

‘Good Trouble’ Star Zuri Adele Finds Happiness In Prioritizing Self

"By choosing myself, I am choosing everyone I am connected to."

Finding Balance

In xoNecole's Finding Balance, we profile boss women making boss moves in the world and in their respective industries. We talk to them about their business, and most of all, what they do to find balance in their busy lives.

As we navigate this world, we all are given different opinions and perspectives on how we should be. We've been told to be kind, not mean, be brave, not afraid, and be selfless, not selfish. I don't know about y'all, but as I've gotten older, the definition of these things have definitely shifted for me. Now that I am in my 30s, my definition for being brave may be different from someone else's. Even with the word 'selfish' and the negative association to it, I am sure it leaves a bad taste in your mouth just by saying it. But if I am being honest, being selfish does not have to always be a bad thing.


There are nuances about selfishness that are actually very healthy, especially for those who consider themselves people-pleasers or huge givers. Now I am not saying that giving to others is something we need to stop doing. We all need support and that sense of community. All I am proposing is pivoting our mindsets a little when we think about the word 'selfish' because in reality, focusing on our well-being should be a priority. Taking care of ourselves and putting ourselves first should not be frowned upon.

Recently, I had an amazing conversation with actress Zuri Adele, a woman who made the decision to be selfish through self-choosing, and she hasn't looked back since. Zuri grew up between Palo Alto, California, and Brooklyn, New York. She studied acting at Spelman College, the British American Drama Academy, and UCLA's School of Theater, Film, and Television. Outside of acting, Zuri is very passionate about wellness. In addition to teaching acting at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa and UCLA's TFT, she's led yoga classes, voice workshops, and curated wellness experiences within her communities.

Zuri is well known for her role as Malika Williams on Freeform's series Good Trouble, a spin-off from The Fosters where viewers follow two sisters, Callie and Mariana, as they move to The Coterie in downtown Los Angeles. They meet their new neighbors and journey through their new lives in LA. One of those neighbors is Malika (played by Zuri), a Black Lives Matter activist, and her story centers around showing up for social justice while exploring intersectionality in romance and human identity.

Courtesy of Rikers Brothers

What I love about Zuri playing the role is that showing up for yourself is what this character is all about. The actress has learned through trial and error that as Black women, we do ourselves a disservice by not choosing ourselves first, before we give to others. She shared, "Once I started to learn that self-choosing ripples in such a major way to everyone including myself, it's bigger than me at that point. It is actually more selfish of me to try to be perceived as a good person by doing something that I honestly don't want to do."

In this installment of Finding Balance, xoNecole talks to Zuri about living a liberated life, unlearning certain definitions of selfishness, and the importance of moving your body.

xoNecole: What have you learned from your 'Good Trouble' character, Malika, that has helped you figure out your personal why?

Zuri Adele: I love that question. Thank you for that. Something that I continue to learn through Malika is that everything we do is connected to a divine purpose. I strongly believe in this system from merging with Malika. For instance, my purpose as an actor is that I am a griot. I am a storyteller. I am here to pass on as many stories as I can through my body and voice. Malika is my soulmate in a sense because she is so passionate about collective and Black liberation. She is a griot in her own right and she reminds me that our best life is a liberated one. As one of my best friends recently reminded me, living your most liberated life is your life's purpose.

"Living your most liberated life is your life's purpose."

On the show, we see how Malika is showing up for herself and others through activism. For you, how are you showing up for yourself unapologetically on a daily basis?

I have really been reflecting on this recently. How I like to show up for myself is to make sure that my cup is overflowing. In order to do anything, I try to stay as consistent as I can with my morning and night routines. As creatives, our schedules can get a little hectic, but as long as I carve out some time for me to pour into myself, that is something I prioritize. Trusting my intuition and when my body tells me I need to give it attention has been the best way in taking care of myself.

At what point in your life did you understand the importance of pressing pause and finding balance in both your personal and professional life?

It has really been through trial and error. It has really been through hitting my limits and facing the consequences of doing that. Whether it's people-pleasing, appearing selfless, and just avoiding other people's reactions of how I come off if I act otherwise. Doing that really had cost me money, my health, my peace, and my confidence. Experiencing that made me take a step back and say, 'Wait a minute, I can not survive like this.'

When I did start speaking up more for myself, the outcome actually went above and beyond what I expected. Once I started to learn that self-choosing ripples in such a major way to everyone including myself, it's bigger than me at that point. It is actually more selfish of me to try to be perceived as a good person by doing something that I honestly don't want to do.

"Once I started to learn that self-choosing ripples in such a major way to everyone including myself, it's bigger than me at that point. It is actually more selfish of me to try to be perceived as a good person by doing something that I honestly don't want to do."

Courtesy of Rikers Brothers

What have you discovered through self-choosing that you would like other women to know?

For me, it is really about unlearning the selfish narrative. For so long, I had an adult in my life that would call me selfish when I would self-choose. I really want to encourage people to not listen to those negative voices that are inside of our heads. By choosing myself, I am choosing everyone I am connected to. Self-choosing is also a way we accept our abundance. The more we responsibly choose our abundance, we make room to be able to be of service to others. There are so many moments when we as Black women are taught that we need to put our masks on last, but it's really the exact opposite.

"By choosing myself, I am choosing everyone I am connected to. Self-choosing is also a way we accept our abundance. The more we responsibly choose our abundance, we make room to be able to be of service to others."

What are your mornings like?

When I wake up in the morning, I like to do a morning meditation for about five minutes. Then, I like to read Iyanla Vanzant's devotional book Acts of Faith. I make sure that I do not respond to any calls or messages until after I have read my devotion. I also try to move my body as much as I can. I practice martial arts, yoga, and I have a spin class that I like to go to. I don't believe I have to go through the same loop of routines. I just have to do something where I can move my body. [There are] those t-shirts that say, "I'm sorry for what I said before I ate," [but] my shirt would say, "I'm sorry for what I said before I moved my body."

How do you wind down at night?

If I didn't get to work out, then I would work out at night. After that, I would shower to cleanse the day off. I like to light some candles and get my skincare routine going.

What are your top three favorite self-care practices?

Gardening and taking care of my plants is one of my favorites. Another practice I love to do is acupuncture. It has been really helpful for me. Last but not least is skincare. I don't know what it is, but I didn't know I was going to get so hooked on it [laughs]. Skincare makes me feel like I am just releasing all the toxins out of me.

Courtesy of Rikers Brothers

How do you find balance with:

Friends?

It has been really helpful to know that I am not alone, especially during the pandemic. One thing I will say that my friends and I do is speak up more about what we need. We all work in different fields, so we have different needs. We show up for each other when we can and respect each other's boundaries as well. Making sure that I stay connected to my friends, who are Black women, not only helps me with filming Good Trouble, but also grounds me in my sisterhood and community.

"Making sure that I stay connected to my friends, who are Black women, not only helps me with filming Good Trouble, but also grounds me in my sisterhood and community."

Love/Relationships?

I am really trusting my intuition with what works for me as far as dating. Overall, I have been noticing the red flags way sooner than I did before and simply owning what I need. I actually just hired a matchmaker and it has been really fun! I learned about her on the Therapy for Black Girls podcast. She said this quote in her interview that really stuck with me. So I posted the quote on Instagram and tagged her. She later reached out to me and told me she would love to match me. Her company is called The Broom List and it has been really dope so far!

When you're going through a bout of uncertainty or feeling stuck, how do you handle it?

Therapy is No. 1. I started therapy a little over two years ago. I can't even tell you what I was out here doing before that. Just having that private sacred place to talk through anything has been life-changing. I am able to recognize certain patterns from my past and navigate through that better. I also want to mention the importance of being still. Stillness and not rushing myself has been really helpful for me. I am one of those people who needs time to process to respond how I need to in certain situations. The answer is always within yourself. You just need time to carve out all the noise.

"I am one of those people who needs time to process to respond how I need to in certain situations. The answer is always within yourself. You just need time to carve out all the noise."

And honestly, what does success mean to you? What does happiness mean to you?

Well, in some ways, right now success and happiness go hand in hand, definitely more than they did before. Success and happiness both feel like liberation, and to me, that feels like peace. Happiness doesn't necessarily mean joy. Happiness means peace and knowing that everything is in divine order. Success is when you are living your most authentic liberated life as best as you can with the resources that you have.

I envision myself in a meditative position and, [although] there is a tornado or a bunch of moving pieces around me, I am seated on the ground and still. That is what success and happiness looks like to me. To know that no matter what is going on around me, internally, I am at peace.

For more of Zuri Adele, follow her on Instagram here.

Featured image courtesy of Rikers Brothers

You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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