Can you speak a bit about your upbringing in an immigrant Nigerian family? How did your experiences get you to where you are today?
Not only are my parents both immigrants, but I consider myself an immigrant because I came to this country as a toddler. I was born in Nigeria. So, for me, my Nigerian background and culture is really at the base and at the root of everything I am. I was taught that you have to work hard, that there’s nothing greater than success. I was also taught that quitting is not an option. So, everything that I’ve achieved in my life is a testament to my Nigerian heritage and my parents, who really instilled in me that if we came to this country with nothing, then you have no excuse but to be great and to be successful. They really emphasized academics and finding a career and being the best in that field.
Growing up, did you ever expect this? Did you see yourself being able to do everything that you’re doing now or is this sort of a pleasant surprise?
It is a pleasant surprise! I have no idea how I do what I do, nor did I aspire to do all these things. It really just fell upon me. One day, and I’ll never forget this, one of my professors asked a question to the class and we had to stand up — it was Socratic method — and answer the question. And I didn’t know the answer to the question. And the professor asked me, “Why don’t you know this?” to which I told him I didn’t have time to read. And then he said to me, “Did you go to sleep?” I said yes, and he was like, “So you had time,” and he kicked me out of the class. That’s an experience that I will never forget. And it’s not good to not sleep, but I believe that you have 24 hours in your day, and you have to make the most of those 24 hours. If you can juggle things, then juggle it. We’re only on this planet for a short period of time and we have to do everything we can while we’re still here.
Why did you decide to do the “Housewives”? How did that opportunity come about?
I know some of the ladies. We run in similar social circles and I sit on some of the same nonprofit boards. Since that was the case, it was a very organic relationship and I was approached to do the show. At first I was like I’m not sure if I want to do this because it’s so different from what I’m known for. But then I realized at the end of the day, my brand is rooted in authenticity and being authentic whether I’m being a professor or a political commentator, and who I am is what you get. I’m a straight shooter. After talking with my family, they were like go for it! And I said to myself, you only live once. I don’t want to be 90 years old looking back on my life wondering what if I hadn’t taken this opportunity.
Did you have any reservations about how potential drama occurring on the show would affect your work and how you’d be perceived in your other roles?
It’s funny because “Housewives” is like an illustration of a group project gone bad. No matter how much you’re being your authentic self, minding your business and doing what you need to do, you can’t control what anybody else does. So the year I’m coming on, there’s actually a big confrontation between some of my castmates and it’s like, “Oh, my God, I can’t believe this is happening.” But the show really is rooted in showing our real lives and … I think it’ll be interesting for the viewers to see how we each reacted to [the issue]. For me, it was sticking a fork in the sand and saying this is not what I stand for. I’m sad it happened but, in a sense, I’m also interested to see how people will react to how each of us handled it.
Being outspoken on current issues is a large part of who you are and what you do. BLM is at the top of the news again and you’ve been very involved sharing commentary on different TV networks. The cast of “The Real Housewives of Potomac” is composed of Black women. Is this a group that discusses these issues, and will we see anything on the show?
Our group, we’re very aware of the current climate. For me, I know the cameras followed me as I gave some commentary. I know BLM has caught the nation’s attention at this time, but I have been doing this work for years. I marched when Trayvon Martin was killed and that was years ago. I’m excited that people are catching wind to this now, but this is my life’s work. This is what I do. Something that I focused on while we were filming is getting Black women out to vote. That’s something I’m passionate about — not just to get out and vote but to know the power of their vote, and we shot some scenes around that. I think this group is very engaged with these current issues and I’m excited because I’ve been doing this for a while and I’m glad people are coming on board. We need to propel this movement forward.
You also have three young children. Are they going to be on the show?
They are. It’s funny, I’m actually getting ready to pick up the cake for my daughter’s first birthday and when we started filming she was only 6 weeks old, so people will see her as a baby baby and now she’s basically running around the house. And my two little boys: Karter is 7 and Kruz is 5. I’m a mother of three. You’re going to see them on the show because that’s part of my story. I’m doing homework with them; I’m breastfeeding and trying to juggle a lot of things and still trying to be a good wife and a professor. So my kids are a big part of that.
Obviously, your work these days involves some heavy topics. Have you discussed BLM with your kids?
My husband and I have had the conversation with our two older boys, just talking about why they’re seeing certain things on the news. Because Mommy is on the news and if you walk into my house, you’ll see a TV tuned into a national news network. They’re hearing people protesting, they’re hearing “no justice, no peace,” so we had to explain to them why these people are in the streets and why they’re seeing these images on the television. But in a few months, we’re probably going to have to have “the talk” with our sons. That’s a conversation that every Black household with boys has. My husband’s father had that talk with him and my brother got that conversation as well. The talk is about what happens when you’re pulled over by a police officer. That in-depth conversation we have not had, but we’ve let them know why the current climate in the country is the way it is and the history of racism in this country.
Have you thought about how you’re going to approach that conversation with them?
To be honest, no. I can’t yet because even the first conversation about racism and Blackness and what that means, I was so emotional. I was crying through the whole thing. Because this is a 7-year-old and 5-year-old, and my older son’s first question was, “So people won’t like me because my skin is different than theirs?” As a mom, that’s heartbreaking. It’s so emotionally taxing to be honest with you.
I wish you luck when you do decide to have that conversation and I’m so sorry that you must have it. Shifting gears back to the Bravo side of things, who are you closest to on the show?
Out of the whole cast at the start of filming, definitely Candiace [Dillard Bassett]. She and I were close. Ironically for Season 4, last season, Candiace invited me to the premiere party. … I was there, heavily pregnant, supporting my friend, so we’ve been close.
If you could be on any other Bravo show, which one would it be?
I love to travel, so I would be on “Below Deck Mediterranean.” I would get a free trip through that for sure. And you know what, I’d love to be on “Million Dollar Listing.” Those houses are beyond! I want to do that in my next life. I want to be on “Million Dollar Listing” and I want to do the interior design. I love decorating.
Do you watch any of the other “Housewives” shows? Which one is your favorite?
I love old school Jersey. “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” — I think Teresa is a freaking icon, c’mon! And “Beverly Hills” is so fabulous with the glitz and the glamour there. “Atlanta” is a good one, too.
Do you and the Potomac ladies spend a lot of time in D.C.? What are some of your favorite spots?
Yes, D.C. is our playground! We love D.C. There’s this African restaurant called Bukom down by Adams Morgan and their food is to die for. I’m Nigerian so of course I love Bukom. And Joe’s Seafood for their cold crab legs.
How have you been spending time these last four to five months as things have slowed down?
Oh, you know, besides being an elementary school teacher to my boys and a cook for my family and now a summer camp counselor — yeah, that takes up a lot of time! I’ve been home really focusing on the kids and even though it’s been pretty intense, I have enjoyed the special moments because I haven’t missed a beat. I saw my daughter’s first steps, and I got to watch her first teeth come in and be there when my 5-year-old lost his first tooth. Because I’m so busy sometimes I miss these moments, but being home now I’ve been reveling and enjoying all of my kids’ firsts and all of their big moments. And having date nights with my husband has been great, too.