We had the good fortune of connecting with Nija Okoro and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Nija, how has your background shaped the person you are today?
I’m from the South Bronx (NY). Growing up there I quickly realized that not much was expected of us kids. The public school system was awful. The books were all outdated. The classrooms were overcrowded. I’m talking 35-40 students to one teacher. We were definitely not set up for success. To say the least. I felt that. And it always bothered me. Don’t get me wrong, there was a lot of wonderful things about growing up out there. The community was tight. Everyone knew each other, maybe not always by name but by story. There was always someone in your business, so to speak. And that was a great thing. You never felt alone in the Bronx. Yes, there was street violence (I’ve dodged my fair share of stray bullets) but there was always someone looking out for you. Always. Whether you knew it or not. I’m extremely grateful to my mother, who was a single working parent. She knew I needed something to keep me busy and off of the streets. She enrolled me in the Harlem School of Arts. I took classes in acting and all kinds of dance. Since I wasn’t challenged academically, the complexity of acting hooked me. I mean, it was hard! And I loved every moment of being on stage. I still remember the smell of the theatre there. It was a sweet (to me) smell of freshly cut wood and dust. . When I decided I wanted to go to LaGuardia HS (the school the movie Fame was based on) I was told by a guidance counselor I should apply to other schools because “no one from here ever gets into there” I decided I’d ONLY apply to LaGuardia. No back up plan. When I got in it felt like a victory for all of us kids. My friends were screaming and running up and down the halls when the announced it on the loudspeaker. Eventually I went on to get a BA in psychology from City College (I graduated with honors despite working full-time and doing plays). Later I went to Juilliard on a merit-based full scholarship for Acting. I mention all of these happenings because it points to the resiliency the Bronx taught me. You gotta keep pushing no matter what. I mean, when you survive a shootout or two (or five) your perspective shifts. You’d better make something out of yourself! If not for you, for the countless people around you. Whether you knew their name or not. Their story meant something to you. So it almost feels like you carry everyone. And they carry you. I guess that why people from the Bronx are so proud to tell you where they’re from. The Boogie Down Bronx. Yes indeed…

Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I was trained in the theatre. It taught me about discipline and how the story is a collaborative effort. Everyone has a hand in the outcome. There is no hierarchy in the theatre. I mean, even the audience affects the story. It’s truly magical. In this business I have learned so much about the art of simply putting foot in front of the other. Talk about faith! This career choice is a daily act of faith. And I am deeply grateful for it. I’d offer to anyone, no matter what you’re doing, just keep going. There’s a power in not giving up.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I would definitely go for a walk/hike in Kenneth Hahn Park. Go to Cafe Gratitude for some yummy vegan eats. Watch the sunset on Dockweiler Beach and make a bonfire. Oh and definitely catch a play at the Taper. I’ve worked there three times now. It’s definitely my favorite theatre in LA. Gosh, I look forward to post-COVID life!

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
The Harlem School of the Arts! I’m grateful for the world it exposed me to.

Website: www.NijaOkoro.com
Instagram: @nijaokoro
Facebook: @nijaokoro

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