Enthusiasm. Eclecticism. Energetic.
Those were the three words that jumped out at me from the moment I laid my eyes on the ‘Secret Life of Bees’, ‘Déjà vu’ and ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ star as she walked into the Newscafe, venue of our meeting, with her sister-in-law in tow.
Her down-to-earth nature and friendliness immediately warmed me to her. She has no airs about her, and addresses every single person with the same delight, charm and warm regard. I knew I was going to enjoy telling her story right from our very first conversation and I’m certain that by the time you’re through reading this, you’ll understand why.
Shondrella Avery grew up in South Central, Los Angeles; the first child in a large Middle-class family. Her benevolent Mother was a Foster Mum for 33 years, and so Shondrella was always the big-sister to tons of Foster children who lived with them all through her growing up years.
As a result, leadership came to her very easily, aside from the fact that she was a gawky, 6-footed teenager, and would have looked absolutely ridiculous lagging behind as a Follower. Boys were out of the question for the young Shondrella; which teenage boy could step up to a girl he’d have to ‘look up’ to?!
The Avery home was a very structured one; not the stereotype African-American family living in South Central. Her parents were educated, and understood the importance of giving their children the invaluable gift of a good education.
The Avery’s believed that a person did not have to become a product of their environment, and so made sure their children had the right foundation to rise above all that their environment expected of them.
Shondrella attended Private schools and from a tender age, was already being tutored in the Arts. She studied Chopin, Bach and performed in Shakespearean classics like Macbeth.
Her passion for Acting was ignited by her Education. However, her fine Education didn’t make her professional journey any easier, as she still had to work years and years of being an Extra, before getting any substantial roles.
The pressure to get a ‘Proper Job’ was soon upon her as being an Extra could definitely not pay the bills. The standard job for any Actress waiting on the ‘Big Break’ is to wait tables, but Shondrella was determined not to go through that Lane, and so decided to get a Corporate job while still pursuing her Acting career.
Patience is one virtue Shondrella has had to learn a great deal of, as trying to get ahead in Hollywood is no small feat, especially as she had determined within herself not to tow the path of Compromise.
Roles had to have purpose before she would accept them. Even the tiniest role as an Extra, had to have some meaning to it; and if it didn’t, Shondrella worked on that little role so hard that it stood out and was remembered by the audience.
It’s this same principle which also inspired her to take on the unconventional role of ‘LaFawnduh Lucas’ in the 2004 indie-comedy film, Napoleon Dynamite. Shondrella has refused roles that depicted the Stereotype and often mis-interpreted ‘Black Woman’, even though the money was good and tempting to her at the time.
She strongly believes in being purposeful in whatever she does, and acknowledges that “You can be on camera and not be purposeful”.
Judging by her Role choices and career progression, Shondrella sees herself as a ‘Black Meryl Streep’. The ‘Devil Wears Prada’ star is one of Shondrella’s all-time Hollywood Heroines, for many reasons including the fact that Meryl never conformed to the Hollywood mould of how she should look. Shondrella relates with Meryl Streep in that dimension, as she has also stood her ground to maintain her Individuality and remain true to herself.
Academy Award winner, Forrest Whitaker is also a personal hero of Shondrella’s. Her face lights up with affection and admiration as she speaks about their experiences together and the advice he had given her. She had followed Forrest’s acting journey from childhood and remains impressed by his choice of roles and Career direction.
Whitaker’s success inspires her that being true to who she is, even in her selection of roles, does pay off eventually. Like Forrest, she believes in feeding the soul by performing great material.
Her passion and dedication to the Art doesn’t go unnoticed, as she receives fan-mail from as far as Ukraine and Japan, from fans who appreciate the uniqueness of her choices and the purpose she gives to her characters.
Shondrella is happily married to a Nigerian gentleman, hence the Kester name, which she very proudly bears.
He has been a Rock to her and together they have built a healthy, honest relationship rooted in love and mutual respect of each other. They are still learning each other’s cultures, and Shondrella admits that it’s been quite interesting being assimilated into her new Nigerian heritage.
She calls her husband an Equalizer, and is happy about the fact that he is in an entirely different Industry, which allows him to take very good care of her and the family when she is out of work. She recognizes that at home she is a Wife first, and does not in any way bring up her Celebrity status around the house.
Shondrella is currently working on what she calls ‘The Shondrella Adventures’, a docu-series which is aimed at dispelling all the misconceptions African-Americans have of African women and Africa in general. According to her, we are all the same. Our experiences, our desires, our perceptions, are all the same. She wants people on both sides to see that through her experience.
As if to corroborate her claim about 'Sameness', there's my Toenails and Shondrella's fingernails boldly flying the 'Green' flag!!
She seeks to give people an African experience from the perspective of the people, and let them understand that all the negative ideas they have formed of Africa are false.
She is also excited about the soon to be released 2nd season of ‘Gillian In Georgia’, which also stars Jill Marie-Jones of ‘Girlfriends’.
Shondrella has a solid faith in God, which has been the foundation of all that she is and will become. She believes in completely letting go of the reins of life and allowing God to take over.
“Discontentment comes with going out of God’s way; Sustainability is from God”, she says thoughtfully.
This is the story of Shondrella Avery-Kester, a woman of the greatest substance. A true Nigerian.
Shondrella & Sister-In-Law, Toun Kester
You can follow Shondrella on Twitter
6 years ago