“I think it's really important for more people of color to get involved, especially in global health.”

By Adrienne Farr
September 10, 2020
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Yvonne Orji, the Emmy nominated actress of HBO’s Insecure, stopped by :Blackprint Meredith’s Instagram series entitled #NoFilter. She talked with publicist Paula Ngon about her path to success, work in the health field and the importance of diversity.

Orji’s Nigerian born parents instilled in her a strong work ethic that has served her well in everything she’s done. However, she steered away from following the exact path they hoped for, which was a job in health care. Orji joked about how she stalled their efforts to have her become a doctor. “The only thing African parents love more than education is more education.” To keep med-school at bay, Orji had a private talk with herself. “So I said, ‘Let me just go ahead and get this masters right quick!” While Orji respects the employment path her family took, noting that her mom was a nurse and her uncles are doctors, it just wasn’t the right fit for her. “I mean listen, we need doctors. [But] I couldn’t be a great one. Maybe I’ll play one on TV.”

The hilarious actress’ first foray into the spotlight was at her brother’s urging to enter a pageant. She mindlessly said yes and then started to panic when they asked what her talent would be. “I was like, I don’t want no parts of this.” With the contest about two weeks away Orji, who became a devout Christian in her freshman year of college, turned to prayer. “God, you got to come through for me. What can I do? I can't sing, I can't play the piano. What's popping? And I heard the Holy Spirit say, ‘Do comedy.’ I was like, Nah son. Stop, what are you talking about? And he was just like, ‘Well, what else you got?’ Orji decided to listen and eventually the path led her to writer/producer Issa Rae’s house, after an impromptu chat on Twitter.

A few years later Orji, who is Team Lawrence, has seen her career steadily gain momentum. She’s been nominated for an Emmy award for her character portrayal of Molly. What’s Orji going to be doing on the day of the Emmy’s? “[I’ll have] the whole entire outfit on, a red carpet and some hired friends as photographers [screaming] ‘Yvonne, look this way. Yvonne, over here’” she jokes.

During her rise to fame, Orji has worked extensively as a (RED) Ambassador, which is the organization developed to help finance the fight for AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Orji explains that when she went to South Africa, she saw firsthand how they were trying to help patients stricken with the virus. Says Orji, “they're able to communicate the messaging of medicating, but also remove stigmas.” While doing this work, Orji realized how important it is for people of color to get involved. “I want somebody that looks like me to come into my home and tell me I can be better in terms of health and in adopting healthy behaviors. So I think it's really important for more people of color to get involved, especially in global health.”

Diversity is big on Orji’s mind—not just in the public health arena, but also in entertainment. “I mean listen, I feel like diversity should not just be a buzz word. It should be a way of being. Because diverse stories are the best when they're told most authentically, right? Even in the Insecure Writer's Room. There's no way you can tell a really coherent and cohesive story with just a fraction of representation across the board.”

Orji recognizes the irony of some of the social justice movements happening today, and the toll it’s taking on Black people. “It's so funny, I have a friend in corporate America and with everything that happened with social unrest, they started all these diversity and inclusion councils. She's on four of them and not being paid. It’s in addition to all the work that she has to do. So she's like, ‘Let me get this straight. In response to Black people being killed I got to be on four councils, not get paid and still try to do well in my job in order to help you all understand the plight of Black people? This is the plight of Black people!”

After so much success, including the acclaimed HBO comedy special Momma I Made It, Orji’s next pursuit is a career behind the camera. “I want to run stuff. I know I want to direct and I love producing. I want to get to a point where I'm able to kind of pass the baton back and be able to skyrocket other people's careers, kind of like how Issa did for me.”

Always about helping others, it’s no wonder why the thread of community has been with Orji everywhere, even with her public health advocacy. Orji worked with Population Services International, a non-profit global health organization committed to health care for everyone that needs it. She put boots to the ground during the teen pregnancy and HIV spike in Liberia. Orji wanted to make sure that the programs put in place were actually functioning as tools to help make a difference. “For me, it’s about the connection between community health and wellness. I'm like, how are we addressing how the community feels about people who are infected? That's one of the things I was passionate about.”

With her career and health advocacy, Orji’s cup runneth over. But what keeps her grounded and ties everything together is her faith. “The blessings of God don't need no permission. They just need you to be anointed.”

Watch the :BLACKPRINT #NoFilter live interviews every Wednesday on Instagram at 5 p.m. ET/2 p.m. PT.

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