The Ladies Of The Real Housewives Of Potomac
Celebrate Iconic Women In Pop Culture

Ashley Darby

Ashley discusses portraying the iconic Dorothy Dandridge and the life-changing benefits that practicing yoga has afforded her.

MONARCH: You are a very beautiful lady. Please share some of your background so our readers can begin to know the real Ashley Darby.

ASHLEY DARBY: I was born in DC and I was raised in Maryland, so I’m a DMV girl through and through. I grew up in smalltown Sandy Spring, Maryland. However, in the last maybe 20 years, Sandy Springs has seen an economic boom, and the house I grew up in that my grandfather built now is one of the only remaining on the block and it’s surrounded by multimillion dollar homes.

MONARCH: How did you get involved with the Real Housewives franchise?

ASHLEY DARBY: Initially I had been approached to do a show about my life because it was fairly unconventional. I was married to a gentleman who was 29 years my senior, and actually, at that time, I think we were engaged when they first proposed this to me. We filmed a sizzle reel. They spent three days with me and met my family. Ultimately, it didn’t get greenlit by a production company. But once ladies were ensembled for Potomac—it wasn’t called Real Housewives—they remembered seeing my sizzle reel previously and thought I’d be a good addition.

MONARCH: Was a television career something that you were always interested in pursuing?

ASHLEY DARBY: Actually, yes, I wanted to be a news anchor. When I ran for Miss DC, one of the things that enticed me to run for the title was that there was scholarship money available and a lot of Miss DC contestants and Miss America contestants go on to work in news. I thought that would be a great opportunity. So I ran for Miss DC, and I thought I was going to be a news anchor.

MONARCH: When did it dawn on you that you’ve become a brand?

ASHLEY DARBY: It’s taken some time for me to actually come to that conclusion because I’m just being me; I’m just Ashley. But in actuality, so much of what I say and do represents a lot of who I am. At the same time, being on a public platform like Real Housewives, where we interact with millions of people and I’m showcasing myself, my children, and my family, it started to compute to me that I am representing what I stand for and my lifestyle.
So it’s been a learning process for me, but it’s really cool. I feel like it’s a huge honor to be able to say that based on my experience and the work I put into my career and who I am, I’m now a brand.

MONARCH: How do you handle so many people commenting on your personal life?

ASHLEY DARBY: When I first started season one, I was 27, and I felt I wasn’t really ready at that time. But once we filmed the show and I was vulnerable and started to trust the process, I realized that irrespective of what other people had to say, no one has to live with me except me. So as much as there was criticism and critiques and everyone was speculating about this or analyzing me, if I really moved with the current of everyone else’s opinions, I would be miserable. So I’ve learned to sift between the things that are constructive that can help me grow, especially in my motherhood journey. So many women connected with me when I had postpartum depression. Many women gave me very helpful suggestions, so there are ways that it’s been beneficial to connect and get some input. But then, at the same time, I don’t live my life to necessarily conform to the status quo. So I really learned to just silence out the things that don’t matter and take in the things that can be helpful.

MONARCH: So you are a yogi. How long have you been a practitioner? What would you say practicing yoga has done for your life?

ASHLEY DARBY: Yoga came to me. There’s a saying that goes, “The teacher appears when the student is ready,” and the teacher in this instance is yoga. Yoga came to me when I separated from my husband back in, I believe, 2017. I was really down and trying to hide the fact that I was separated from the world. At the same time, I was just going through a metamorphosis within myself. Then something told me to go to YouTube and look into yoga. When I began practicing, I realized how much it was centering me and how good I felt, not just mentally and emotionally but physically. I felt much more limber, like I could handle anything. So I decided to pursue obtaining a yoga certification and ultimately becoming a teacher because I saw the benefit of what yoga did for me at that hard time in my life. When my husband and I got back together, I just felt a renewed sense of life.

MONARCH: Is this part of the inspiration behind ZenGem?

ASHLEY DARBY: I started ZenGem when I was pregnant. At that time, I was reading articles and different yogic textbooks that are just so timely. I realized the power of words and how they can shift your perspective so much. If you’re having a bad day and you see or read something that changes your train of thought, it can really change the trajectory of your day. So that was where my idea came from. I wanted ZenGem to have inspirational quotes so that if someone was walking on the street and they were feeling down in the dumps, they would look at you and see what you’re wearing, and then, all of a sudden, you could change that person’s day.

MONARCH: My understanding is that you totally embodied the late, great Dorothy Dandridge. Those are some big shoes to fill. Were you nervous? How was this experience? As a woman of influence, what other women inspire you?

ASHLEY DARBY: Well, this was sort of a surreal moment that I got picked to be Dorothy Dandridge because as a kid, I was obsessed with the movie when Halle Berry played Dorothy Dandridge. I was fascinated by her style, her voice, the way she approached life, her life story, and the fashion—so much so that even the prom dress I wore was inspired by Dorothy Dandridge.

MONARCH: What is the most challenging thing in your life?

ASHLEY DARBY: Definitely the most challenging thing for me is adjusting to life as a single person. I was with my husband from the time I was 22, and now I’m 35. I’m still technically married; however, we have been separated for two years now. So I’ve been living alone for a year and a half, and I’m still just adjusting to that part of life while also being a mom to two toddlers and developing professionally. When I first began this journey of motherhood, I thought I was going to be a dutiful wife and stay-at-home mom. I could never have predicted that I’d be on the road I’m traveling down now. But thankfully there are a lot of people, not just women, along the way who are helping me.

MONARCH: What are you most thankful for?

ASHLEY DARBY: I do a gratitude journal every morning. I do a five-minute gratitude journal, which I’ve done for the last two months. My confidence coach gave it to me, and it’s amazing. One of the things that I constantly say that I’m thankful for is my ability to be flexible. As my viewpoints have changed with life experiences, I realized that the thoughts and the way that I operated when I was, let’s say, fourteen for example, would not serve me at 35. But I’m thankful that I’ve been given the ability to adapt and learn how to integrate those lessons into my life.

MONARCH: What does the future hold for Ashely Darby?

ASHLEY DARBY: It’s still unknown; however, I will speak some things into existence because I believe manifestation is a beautiful thing. I really want my clothing line that Gizelle and I are working on to be successful and an avenue for other things. I want to expand my philanthropic arm and what I can do and who I can help. I love to sing, dance, and act. Those are the biggest things that I’m dedicating my time to: my athleisure line, music and dancing, and philanthropy.

MONARCH: Well, this has been awesome. Ashley, thank you for taking time to speak with me.

ASHLEY DARBY: Absolutely. I’m very thankful that I’m on this platform.

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Candiace Dillard Bassett
Stars as the Iconic DIANA ROSS

Candiace discusses portraying the iconic Diana Ross, her connection to God, the importance of family, and her relationship to music and acting.

MONARCH: How did you get involved with the Real Housewives franchise?

CANDIACE DILLARD BASSETT: I’m from the Atlanta area, but I came to what we call the DMV—or the DC, Maryland, Virginia area—for college. I built a life here. I met my husband here. Many of my friends are still here. I bought my first and my second home here. I built businesses here, and I worked for the White House here. So I was a part of the community, and it’s something I’m really proud of, the network I have amassed in my almost 20 years in the DMV.

So when The Real Housewives of Potomac aired, I literally said, “Where was I when they were casting this show?” I remember saying to Chris, who at the time was not my husband, “I’m going to be on the show.” I remember praying about it and saying, “Lord, if there’s a way, if there’s a path for me to be on this show, I promise to use the platform to glorify you.” I remember saying that prayer. There’s a casting director, who’s now a great friend of mine, who’s always looking for new talent for all of the shows, and I was one of the people that had a loose connection to Ashley Darby due to the pageant circuit. The producers sent me an email, I responded to the email, and the rest is kind of history.

MONARCH: What do you enjoy more, singing or acting?

CANDIACE DILLARD BASSETT: I can never answer this question, because for me, they run in tandem. They’ve always gone hand in hand. People may not believe this, but growing up, I was very shy, and I think that to survive in certain spaces, I had to pretend to be someone that was not shy. I had to take on the persona of someone who was braver than maybe I felt at the time, and that’s a form of acting. I was always making up stories in my head. I would write stories. Acting is storytelling to me, and at the same time, I was always singing. I was in choir my whole life, from elementary school until college. So they both somehow found their way to me, which is, I think, a result of me praying and manifesting for opportunities to lead into these spaces. So it’s always both acting and singing. They’re both the best to me. I think they are almost like a symbiotic relationship in my opinion.

MONARCH: Speaking of acting, my understanding is that you portrayed another singer and actor,
the legendary and iconic Diana Ross.

CANDIACE DILLARD BASSETT: It was an honor. Diana Ross is a singer, an actor. She has sort of this mystery about her. She comes off as shy but is also very powerful, and I really felt connected to so many of the traits of Diana Ross that were described to me. She has big, beautiful eyes, and I remember being young and competing in pageants and makeup artists always telling me that I have such beautiful eyes. So I kind of remembered that compliment when thinking about Diana Ross and her always being complimented for her big, beautiful eyes. And of course, her being a renowned singer and an artist, Diana Ross is the epitome of grace, poise, style, and talent. So much of who she is, is what I hope to be as I go on my own personal journey of success. So it was just a great pairing of a shoe I pray to fill.

MONARCH: When did it dawn on you that you’ve become a brand?

CANDIACE DILLARD BASSETT: One of the greatest lessons that I learned in pageantry was that Candiace is a brand. It’s one of the reasons I will always advocate for the pageant industry. When you are forced to look at a sheet of paper and answer a set of questions about how you define success and what three words you would use to describe yourself and where you see yourself in five years, you are forced to define who you are. Moving through these spaces, you learn who you are and you learn what sticks and what you want an audience or a constituency or a group of people to know about, and it becomes you—you become that woman. That is truly where I learned my brand and learned how to brand myself.

MONARCH: You wear a lot of hats. How do you find time for yourself? And when you do, how do you unwind?

CANDIACE DILLARD BASSETT: I will be honest and share that I have neglected a lot of my self-care, and only in the last few months have I made very specific changes to take care of myself in ways that matter to me. One of those is very simple. I got a gym membership, and I hired a trainer. That’s a big deal for me because I’ve been beating myself up a lot over the last few years because I take a lot of pride in my health, and for me, working out has always been an outlet. Taking care of my body is so important to me.

MONARCH: What are you most thankful for?

CANDIACE DILLARD BASSETT: Oh my gosh, my family and their support. Their ability to [see] the real me and remind me of who I am when everyone is telling me who I am not. I’m incredibly grateful for my prayer life and my relationship and my closeness to God, and I feel like it’s gotten stronger as my career grows.

MONARCH: Candiace, this has been a pleasure. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat with me.

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Mia Thornton

Mrs. Thornton discusses becoming the iconic Pam Grier, what she means to culture, the power in self-belief, family, partnership, and the importance of finding balance.

MONARCH: You are a very beautiful lady. Please share some of your background. Are you from the DMV area?

MIA THORNTON: I want to say that Charlotte raised me, but I actually was born in Washington, DC. There have been a lot of obstacles throughout the course of my life, but I make no excuses, [put] one foot in front of the other, and just continue to go through life the best way that is intended for me to.

MONARCH: How did you get involved with the Real Housewives franchise?

MIA THORNTON: Karen Huger and I, we were in similar circles here in the DMV. She does a tremendous amount of charitable work around town, and we had a mutual friend who introduced us and we kind of hit it off. She began to explain about the group of ladies and asked if I would be interested in possibly becoming part of the group. So that kind of is how I got started. In short, I owe my housewife TV career to Karen Huge—oh, the grand dame. Yes, I was her baby protégé. I hope I make her proud.

MONARCH: Was a television career something that you were always interested in pursuing?

MIA THORNTON: Ironically, no. I was not ever interested in putting my life out on the foreground, because I know it’s so crazy and wild. I don’t even know what I’m doing half the time. But I’m so grateful that this opportunity landed across for me, and I feel like it’s more like ordained and destined. There were a couple opportunities that came before Housewives that I did. Didn’t take. And so by the time Bravo was on the line, I was like, “Okay, let me be obedient. Let me listen.”

MONARCH: When did it dawn on you that you’ve become a brand?

MIA THORNTON: It actually hit me after the first season. I thought that I could move about my merry little way and go to Whole Foods and go shopping. But then Whole Foods turned into an entire meet and greet with customers saying hi and so on and so on. At that point I realized, okay, this is going to be different. But I love it; I love everyone that supports us. I was more concerned about the children being overwhelmed, but let me tell you, my kids are little baby superstars and they’re like, “Yeah, photos, let’s go.”

MONARCH: How do you handle so many people commenting on your personal life?

MIA THORNTON: I’m not going to sugarcoat it. It was a little bit challenging because I have had so much constructive criticism at one time. But you know, as the years have progressed, I actually have learned to really appreciate the opinions of everyone.

MONARCH: You have been super successful in your career. How did you get started in the chiropractic industry?

MIA THORNTON: I own Massage Envy Spas, and I am the founder and CEO for the joint. As far as it being so successful for me, franchising in general is my thing. I enjoy it because it’s a network; you’re not in it alone. If given a proven model, I can make it work. I’m a good student, a good listener, and a good team player. So as long as you have a proven model that works, I can make it happen. My grandmother always says something that applies: If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go with someone else.

MONARCH: How did you feel being chosen to reflect the iconic Pam Grier?

MIA THORNTON: I was honored and completely floored. Pam Grier is a trailblazer that has done so much for our culture. She set the standard of how to be strong, beautiful, and authentically yourself. She is such a powerhouse, and I would love for her to be honored that I actually represented her. I thought it was just such a powerful moment for her to be able to exemplify on the show.

MONARCH: As a woman of influence, what other women inspire you?

MIA THORNTON: Surprisingly enough, the women who inspire me are the everyday women, the female entrepreneurs, the single working moms who are out here following their dreams and doing it without fear. I’m inspired by women who just don’t give up. It’s not going to be perfect—there are failures, there are setbacks—but just keep moving and do the best that you can do with life.

MONARCH: What is the most challenging thing in your life?

MIA THORNTON: Trying to balance my career and my personal life and not have guilt. Because I feel like I thrive in my career world, but then I’m lacking in my personal world with my friends and with my family. You have to balance it out. That’s the hardest, most challenging part about everything that we’re doing.

MONARCH: What are you most thankful for?

MIA THORNTON: I am actually extremely thankful that I have such beautiful, healthy children. I think that God has truly blessed me with these little personalities. They’re all so different, with distinct personalities. I see myself in every last one of them.

MONARCH: What does the future hold for Mia Thornton?

MIA THORNTON: I am working on a couple of projects. Actually, the world knows that we are going through a financial situation with our family business, so I am working to branch away from the family business. And I am. That’s exciting. It is exciting, but I will tell you, it’s also one of those fearful moments of, are you sure this is what you want to do? But I’m excited to walk out and step out in faith and to move into a space of being a sole owner of my own franchise.

MONARCH: Mia, this has been such a pleasure chatting with you. Thank you for taking the time.

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Robyn Dixon

Robyn discusses portraying the iconic Mariah Carey, her involvement in the Holistic Life Foundation, and her life on and off camera.

MONARCH: Hello, Robyn. To start, would you mind sharing a little of your backstory?

ROBYN DIXON: I was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. I attended college at the University of Maryland, so I am a Maryland homegirl through and through. I met my future husband in high school, and we attended college together then married. My husband went on to play in the NBA, I became an NBA wife, and we went through all of the ups and downs that couples in those positions experience. That’s an important part to my story, just because I lived, like I said, my early part of my adult life as an NBA wife. So, you know, you’re in the background, where we can’t really have our own career or job per se, because we’re following them around. You do a lot of growing up in that period. Life hit us really hard. We got divorced, went through bankruptcy, and lost all of our money. We didn’t plan well for the future, and we really went from being the people who all of our friends and family looked to for financial support to the people who needed financial support.

And so we hit a little bit rock bottom financially…and going through our divorce. So after we divorced, we hit financial rock bottom, and we have two children, Cory and Carter, who are now fifteen and fourteen. And at some point, we realized that our family and our kids are the most important and we needed to band together to do what was best for our family and for our kids. We knew that the two of us working as a unit together were stronger, especially in a place of dire financial situation. We were stronger together trying in order to build back what we had lost or to get back to a place of being comfortable or establishing new careers.

MONARCH: Was a television career something that you were always interested in pursuing?

ROBYN DIXON: You know, it’s kind of weird; the answer is no. But for whatever reason, I envisioned myself being on TV, especially when the show, Basketball Wives, came out. Although I didn’t want to be on Basketball Wives because I knew that I was not a fit for that show, I envisioned myself on a TV show sharing my story and being real about my life. So when it came to me to be on The Real Housewives of Potomac, I was like, well, okay, that sounds cool. I approached it as you only live once. So when I’m 87 years and old and I’m sitting on a rocking chair, I want to have stories to tell my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren, memories to look back at, like a time when I did something crazy.

MONARCH: When did it dawn on you that you’ve become a brand?

ROBYN DIXON: You know, honestly, I still live in denial. I’m always confused when I see some gossip headline about me, and I’m like, why do people care? But if I had to really pick a moment where I was like, oh wow, people are really paying attention and support what I’m doing,
it was when I started my line of satin-lined hats, Embellished, and it aired on the show. I remember, there’s a scene of me talking about Embellished with my kids in my living room. I’m packing up orders and stuff. After that episode, all of a sudden my phone is going berserk with Shopify notifications. I was blown away. And that is really the time I realized this is for real. That was season five, and now we are in season eight. So it took a good five seasons to realize okay, I am a TV personality, I am a brand, and I am a household name. However, I think it’s very important for me to be the same person that I was before I got on the show. I think a form of protection for myself is to compartmentalize my role. I’m on a reality TV show versus I’m Robyn, I’m Mom, I’m wife, I’m sister, daughter, friend. I keep all of it separate.

MONARCH: You are an advocate of good health and taking care of your inner self as well as outer. Were you always health conscious, and when did this journey begin?

ROBYN DIXON: That began early on. I remember being in high school, and I would read all those magazines, Glamour and Cosmopolitan, to pick up little nuggets of skincare. So I started with putting eye cream on and other stuff that I had seen my mother doing. Then from there, it was haircare and the things my grandmother instilled in me, like brushing my hair 50 times on each side. But I was always interested in skincare. Being an athlete, you focus on your health, your fitness, and your nutrition. We’ve had personal chefs, we’ve had trainers, so early on I was exposed to the importance of taking care of yourself from the inside out. I maintained that regiment and put it into practice today. I work with nutritionist; I get all my blood work, urine, and stool tests—all that stuff—to discover if I am deficient in anything and what I need to work on. I get monthly massages, monthly facials, and cryotherapy. These things are so fascinating to me, and I don’t think people really realize how important these things are. It’s so true; if you feel good, you look good, then you’re going to do good.

MONARCH: What made you get involved in the Holistic Life Foundation?

ROBYN DIXON: The Holistic Life Foundation was founded in Baltimore by three gentlemen; two of them I actually grew up with in Baltimore. I was always so impressed with their mission because it was very hands on, and it’s very effective, what they do. In a nutshell, they teach meditation, mindfulness, and yoga to young kids in the schools to help the children deal with their emotions so that they’re not in detention. This approach has caused stress levels to go down, behavior issues to go down, and they’re able to really [deal] with issues in a different way. Rather than outbursts in the classroom, they’re able to kind of take a pause and take some deep breaths. The sacrifice these men make to go into these schools and help the children has always meant so much to me, so it’s an honor to be on their board and to help push their mission and get them exposure. And hopefully we can have a program like that in every city, in every classroom or every school.

MONARCH: I understand that you were transformed into the icon Mariah Carey, and you rocked the cover. I never really thought this until viewing the image that you have such a striking resemblance to Mariah Carey. How was it being transformed into this icon?

ROBYN DIXON: Thank you. That’s not the first time I’ve heard that I resemble her a little, but I was so happy no one asked me to sing. It was a lot of fun transforming into Mariah Carey. First of all, her voice is amazing. It’s timeless. Her music is timeless. I love Mariah. Her music was definitely played a lot in my house. She’s an Aries and so am I, so we have similar personalities. I think Mariah can appear kind of closed off, but I think once you start to talk to her and listen to her, she’s funny. She doesn’t take herself too seriously. I really admire her personality and the fact that she did not come from the nicest background and she was able to build herself into one of the biggest music icons. So being Mariah Carey was a lot of fun. It was something that I never thought I would be involved in. These women are the ones that have shaped our culture, from past to present, and have represented for our culture. I really appreciate Monarch for putting that shoot together for us because we were really able to represent some amazing things, and it was really fun.

MONARCH: Being a mother, philanthropist, wife, and brand, what is the most challenging thing in your life?

ROBYN DIXON: Time management is definitely very, very challenging for me and offering up my opinion on the show. I’m an introvert, so I’m usually an observer. I sit back and form my opinion in my head, but I usually don’t verbalize it. So having to verbalize my thoughts and opinions on other people’s lives can be challenging.

MONARCH: What are you most thankful for?

ROBYN DIXON: My mental health. Without my mental health, I wouldn’t be able to face or overcome challenges. I thank God for my mental health because that is such a blessing to have.

MONARCH: Robyn, this has been a pleasure. Thank you for making time in your busy schedule to chat with me.

ROBYN DIXON: Thank you, Bianca. I appreciate the time.

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Wendy Osefo
Stars as the Iconic Sheryl Lee Ralph

This lady is the essence of excellence: a professor, author, political commentator, and mother and one of the ladies of the rural housewives of Potomac.

MONARCH: To get started, please share some of your background so we can begin to know the real Wendy Osefo.

WENDY OSEFO: I’ll have to begin with a multi-hyphenate in the sense of not just my career but as a family woman. I’m a mom of three and have been married to my husband for twelve years. I’m also a professor and an entrepreneur with my own luxury fragrance line and candles. I am a commentator who gives commentary on books, politics and social justice issues as well as pop culture. And I am an author. I recently released my memoir, Tears of My Mother, the legacy of my Nigerian upbringing. And you know, I’m just a good girl. That’s it—nothing more, nothing less. It’s so interesting when you have to tell people who you are because at the core of me, I just feel like I’m Wendy. And then I’m on The Real Housewives of Potomac, and that’s another layer of me.

MONARCH: How did you get involved with the Real Housewives franchise?

WENDY OSEFO: You know that there is a lockstep format to being on the show. However, for me, it was a little bit different. I was heavy in my political commentary and we were coming up on an election year, so I was just really entrenched in it. And then I had someone in my circle give me a call and ask if I would ever do reality TV. She’s more so a connector type of person. I said, “You know, I never really thought about it, but okay, sure. Why not?” At that point, my friend said, “Well, you’re going to be in New York giving commentary, and while you are there, I want you to meet some people. I’ll never forget it. It was New York City. The lights were everywhere. Christmas was upon us. I do my commentary, I take an Uber, I go to this meeting, and little did I know that the people I was meeting with were the big, big bigwigs for the production company that makes The Real Housewives of Potomac. I had a conversation with them, and a 30-minute meeting turned into a two-hour meeting. And at the end of the meeting, there was just like, “We love you.” And the rest is history.

MONARCH: Was a television career something that you were always interested in pursuing?

WENDY OSEFO: I was interested in television from the lens of wanting to be a journalist or a TV host. Appearing on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, all of those different stations, really was something that I love doing. I loved being able to use my voice to give my opinion on issues that matter. So TV and entertainment were always a part of my life and a part of my long-term goals. I didn’t think I would go down the avenue of reality TV, but you know, sometimes it’s not necessarily the means; sometimes it’s the ends.

MONARCH: When did it dawn on you that you’ve become a brand?

WENDY OSEFO: I believe it was when someone randomly came up to me in public and said, “Hello, Wendy.” Another person heard that and stopped them and said, “Uh, that’s not Wendy; that’s Dr. Wendy.” There’s a certain elevation that comes with Dr. Wendy, and that’s the brand. That’s the brand right there.

MONARCH: Being a proud Nigerian woman, how do you handle the good and bad attention that comes along with reality television?

WENDY OSEFO: That’s a great question. You know, I think that no matter what you do, no matter where you go, you have to remain true to yourself. Even if the world around you is crumbling and the people around you decide that they want to, for lack of a better word, show their tails for a check, you have to remain grounded in your values, your principles, and don’t get lost in it. If you don’t know who you are, you will have thousands of people telling you who you are, so you have to know who you are. So as a Nigerian woman, as a married woman, as a woman who has certain values, it’s very incumbent upon me to stay real to who I am because I never want to look back and say, “Who is that person?” And furthermore, I never want my children to see this show 20 years from now and be like, “Damn, really?” And I say that with some paucity because if my children watch the show 20 years from now and say, “Dang, really?” I want them to say that because whatever I did I believed in it. I would hate for them to say that and have to explain to them.

MONARCH: What made you write your book, Tears of My Mother?

WENDY OSEFO: My book really examines the way in which I was raised and how my Nigerian heritage plays a big part in who I am. It’s also a deep dive into now, as a mother, the things I choose to take away from my childhood but also the things I want to leave behind.

MONARCH: Being a working mom with a tremendous amount of visibility, how do you balance family and career?

WENDY OSEFO: There are days where I’m an amazing wife and I am just doing the darn thing as a wife. But I have 50 unread emails from my job. There’re days where I’m an amazing professor and I just gave the greatest lecture. My grade book is up to date. My students had office hours. I’m killing it in my professional career, but I had to order takeout for my kids for dinner because I couldn’t be home in time to make dinner. Something has to give. But before, the old Wendy would beat herself up because I could not be 100 percent in everything all the time. The new Wendy gives herself grace because you have to know that it’s okay not to be perfect in everything that you do, but more importantly, you have to know that in order to be the best to others, you have to also be the best to yourself.

MONARCH: As a woman of influence, what other women inspire you?

WENDY OSEFO: I would say I’m really inspired by different characteristics of different people, like my mother’s strength is something I have always admired and loved and respected. There is no one in this world stronger than my mother, and I just admire her mental strength and her ability to do whatever she sets her mind to. I’m always inspired by her. I am fully inspired by Phylicia Rashad. She is one person whose spirit and aura was just angelic. It felt like I was among history and among a light bearer. I also really, really, really love Angela Bassett. I just think that she is just amazing.

MONARCH: How was your experience being transformed into the icon Sheryl Lee Ralph?

WENDY OSEFO: Oh my goodness, it was so amazing, so much fun. I enjoyed every single second of it. I was so inspired by just the transformation and the ability to embody someone who I think is an icon. I don’t know if you know this, but Sheryl Lee Ralph, at age nineteen, was the youngest woman ever to graduate from Rutgers University. So when it was announced that I was chosen to become Sheryl Lee Ralph, I was just taken aback because I was the first Black woman to graduate with my Ph.D. in public affairs and community development from Rutgers University. So I have just admired her because, one thing, she is also a multi-hyphenate. She is an educator, a producer, an actress. I mean, she does it all. So it was just the greatest honor to embody the original dream girl.

MONARCH: What are you most thankful for?

WENDY OSEFO: I’m most thankful for life, my children, and my husband. They keep me so grounded. They keep me at peace. When I think of peace and happiness and home, I think of them.

MONARCH: You have accomplished so many things. Could you share what’s next for Dr. Wendy?

WENDY OSEFO: I think the next step now is for me to carve out my own lane and start my own show, where I can talk about issues that I love and issues that I’m very passionate about.

MONARCH: Speak it into existence, and it will happen. This has been a pleasure, and we wish you the best in all of your endeavors. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me.

WENDY OSEFO: Absolutely. Thank you so, so, so much for having me.

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Karen Huger
Stars as the Iconic LENA HORNE

Karen discusses portraying the iconic Lena Horne and the importance of family, history, and legacy.

MONARCH: Let’s start at the beginning. Where are you from?

KAREN HUGER: I’m a proud farmer’s daughter from Surry County, Virginia.

MONARCH: Your family has a rich history.

KAREN HUGER: That’s true. We knew wealth early on because as Black farmers, we owned the plantation that my ancestors toiled on. So when I’m talking about richness or wealth, I’m talking about spiritually and morally wealthy and inheriting a drive to succeed against all odds. And 104 years later, we now own the small town. They call it Wooden Town, which is my maiden name. I’m honored to say I just purchased my grandmother’s estate.

MONARCH: How did you get involved with the Real Housewives franchise?

KAREN HUGER: First let me say, I am a very spiritual person, and I had been watching The Real Housewives of Orange County and would often to joke with my husband that if Bravo ever called me to appear on the show, I was going to say yes. I prayed on it, and that call came. I answered yes and ran with it. At that time, I was at a pivotal point in my life; my children were graduating, and I began thinking of what’s the next chapter. So when the show appeared, I saw the opportunity to rebrand myself and step out of the shadow of being Ray’s wife and the proud mother to Raven and Brandon, to reenter the world and be known as Karen Huger. And The Real Housewives of Potomac is the vehicle God provided. And I took it, and I ran with it.

MONARCH: Was a television career something that you were always interested in pursuing?

KAREN HUGER: I was always very creative. In high school, I was the president of the drama club. I was acting and worked for a foundation in Williamsburg where I was the personality for the foundation. So I was filming long before becoming a housewife. There was always a calling ever since I was a child to be in front of a multitude of people. Looking back, I recognize that each year of my life, I was preparing myself, not knowing when it was going to happen but being ready to move on whatever God wanted me to do.

MONARCH: When did it dawn on you that you’d become a brand?

KAREN HUGER: Well, there were two key moments for me, the first being sworn in, in my hometown as an official county official to Surry County as the ambassador to Surry County. The second is when Bloomingdale’s asked me to put my products within their e-commerce division and executed a national pop-up campaign around the country with them. La’ Dame is a brand; Karen Huger is a brand. I walk humbly within in that grace as I continue to grow as a businesswoman, brand, and entrepreneur.

MONARCH: You are also very giving, donating your time to a number of causes: PAVE, which stands for Promoting Awareness Victim Empowerment; the Alzheimer’s Association; VP of the board of directors for Felicia’s Fund; and a county official. Ms. Karen, where do you find the time to do all of this?

KAREN HUGER: I go back to what I was taught: To whom much is given, much is expected. The organizations I belong or donate to are near to my heart for a number of reasons. My mother struggled for years with Alzheimer’s disease, which ultimately led to her death. I am also committed to my community, both here in Potomac and Surry County, so it’s not a challenge and never a burden. I love my family, Surry County, and Potomac, and I love the charities I work with and hope to do more in the future.

MONARCH: You are beautiful on the inside and outside. How did it feel being picked to portray the iconic Lena Horne?

KAREN HUGER: First of all, it was an honor to portray her. Lena Horne embodied what I represent. She was a strong soul, and I feel like we are somewhat kindred spirits in the sense that it’s not easy when you are called to serve, and she served us not just with her angelic voice. She served us on the front lines for the Black community and suffered so many challenges but did it with grace and dignity, and I think that’s something that we can all learn from. So I’m extremely honored, and I hope I served her well.

MONARCH: What is the most challenging thing in your life?

KAREN HUGER: The most challenging aspect of my life right now is, how can I be an asset to the Black community? What role can I play in moving us, as a whole, into a positive light, into a successful light? When a young person turns that television on and sees Karen Huger, I hope they see that all things are possible, that you can become anything you want, and no is not an answer. I want to make sure that I deliver to the viewers and the community an example that they can live in any house they want. They can drive any car they want; however, the key to all of that is to have a moral compass that dictates it.

MONARCH: We talked about the things that are challenging. What are you most thankful for?

KAREN HUGER: I am most thankful to have been born Benny and Georgia Wooden’s daughter. That is my foundation.

MONARCH: What advice can you provide to anyone who would like to walk in similar footsteps?

KAREN HUGER: No is not an answer. Push until you get the yes. All things are possible—not a little bit, but all things are possible.

MONARCH: Love it, Karen. This has been a pleasure. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat with me.

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Gizelle Bryant

Gizelle discusses portraying the iconic Beyoncé, her family legacy, and her life on and off camera.

Left to Right 
Cassie Baloue—Sydney Jackson—Payton Ann Clark—Ashylnn Jones— Morgan Jones –Jocelyn Mills 
Dakota Wilmore

MONARCH: Give our readers a little background on exactly who Gizelle Bryant is.

GIZELLE BRYANT: I am a mom first and foremost and take a lot of pride in that—an entrepreneur, a fun girl, and someone who just really understands who she is and what she’s made of who’s taking life one day at a time.

MONARCH: How did you get involved with The Real Housewives of Potomac?

GIZELLE BRYANT: Good question. Years ago, there was The Real Housewives of D.C. You probably don’t remember it. Well, I made a cameo on the show, participating in a fashion show that the CW hosted over at the convention center. We were filming there, and one of the guests was a good friend of mine, Paul Wharton. That show did not work out. Well, later Bravo wanted to come back to this area, and the casting director, whom I’ve known for 20 years, called me and was like, “Hey, there’s a show that’s coming, and I think that you would be perfect.” I happened to be moving back to this area from Baltimore. I told him to give me a minute, so he called me later that week and I was like, “All right, I’m in.” After they started casting, we were green lit and off to the races. I kind of feel like when things in your life happen, there’s no reason not to take advantage of whatever door opens and make it your own.

MONARCH: On The Real Housewives of Potomac, you come across as no nonsense—I mean really no nonsense. Is this your true personality or maybe a heightened version of yourself?

GIZELLE BRYANT: When I first started this, I decided that if I make up a person, I can’t keep up with that. So I’m just me, whether you like it or you don’t; it is what it is. Now I know that perception is reality.

MONARCH: From the outside looking in, your life seems filled with, let’s say, unforeseen and unexpected occurrences, misconceptions, and people believing they know you. How do you decompress or deal with this?

GIZELLE BRYANT: Unfortunately, it is what it is. It comes with the territory. I used to get a little frustrated when we would film something for four hours, and within those four hours, I’m hungry, sweaty, and tired, and I want to go home. Then for fifteen seconds, I went the hell off or I looked at somebody like I want to go off. And it’s those fifteen seconds of those four hours that are kept and aired on the show. So sometimes a narrative is created that may not necessarily reflect your true feelings. But I was like, you know, you sign up for these shows, and whatever it is, you kind of got to own it.

MONARCH: What are three things about you that people would be surprised by?

GIZELLE BRYANT: I really like being home sitting on my couch, I really like the sanctity of my peace, and I was raised kind of tomboyish. I played varsity basketball.

MONARCH: Where are you from?

GIZELLE BRYANT: I was born in Houston, and then I moved to DC. We moved to DC when I was very little, so I’m a DC girl.

MONARCH: Speaking of Texas, I understand that just like all of us, you are a Beyoncé fan. What do you like most about her?

GIZELLE BRYANT: She’s an amazing performer and amazing entertainer. You know you’re definitely going to get your money’s worth with Beyoncé. I admire the fact that she stands on who and what she is and doesn’t back down. Every time a new project comes out, here come the haters, but she stands on what she believes in. And I love the fact that she doesn’t pander or cater to anyone. She brings out her music, and it is what it is. Plus, at the end of the day, she is a mom. Incorporating her daughter, Blue, into her show…that to me was everything. The first time I saw Blue come out to join her mother in a performance, it almost brought me to tears because it just represented her being a mother, and she has her daughter with her. She’s filling stadiums across the world, with her little girl experiencing the whole journey with her. For me, that speaks volumes to who she is.

MONARCH: I hear that we did something special with you—a transformation into the iconic Beyoncé Knowles-Carter. How was that process?

GIZELLE BRYANT: It was fantastic. The whole process was. We did not know who we were going to be transforming into, so when they told me that my person was Beyoncé, I was like, “Oh my God.” I was so excited because of everything I’ve just said. I was honored to even pretend like I was going to act like Beyoncé. She is true royalty! There’s so much more to her than just being a vocalist and an entertainer. The philanthropic portion of her life—she’s done so much good that doesn’t make it into the headlines.

MONARCH: Speaking of philanthropy, you descend from a lineage of community involvement. Your father, Graves, was one of the first African American members of the Texas House of Representatives and also worked alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. How proud you must be.

GIZELLE BRYANT: I am very proud of my father and my family. My dad passed recently, but before he transitioned, we would talk about the challenges he faced as a young man so he could get registered to vote. He would be so excited that he was able to do his part to move our people forward But, on the other hand, so frustrated that this country still has not made the strides in the right direction that it should when it comes to Black people. It makes you appreciate the gift our ancestors gave us with their participation within the fight for civil rights and exercising their civic duties. It kind of makes you look sideways at those who refuse to vote or believe voting doesn’t matter. No, it actually does matter. But this is the crazy part in comparison to when I was growing up: Racism wasn’t as easy to see because it was very hidden, very subtle. I remember when I was in my twenties telling people that I was going to work at the national office for the NAACP, and the response was “Why? For what?” because there wasn’t a sense of urgency about making sure that we’re all being treated fairly. It wasn’t in our faces. But now things have been placed back in our faces. It’s not hard to see see how our community is treated wrong. The world should be able to understand the Black Lives Matter movement.

MONARCH: What does the future hold for Gizelle Bryant?

GIZELLE BRYANT: There’s a lot in the pipeline. Yes, there’s more with the Reasonably Shady podcast, Ashley and I working on some things together, and I’m about to be an empty nester. So I may just run around the house naked, like whoa—freedom. But you know, I don’t know. I’m very open to whatever it is that the universe has for me as it relates to next steps.

MONARCH: I love it. Thank you for joining me today, Gizelle. This has been an incredible conversation.

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