Entertainment powerhouse, proud mother and budding fashion designer, NeNe Leakes shares her personal journey of inner growth and professional success.
By Amanpreet Dhami
“When you step into a public figure role, there are a lot of things that you can and cannot do, and I had to learn that,” says actress NeNe Leakes, reflecting on her seven-year stint on Bravo’s Real Housewives of Atlanta. “And, unfortunately, sometimes I had to learn that on television and in the public eye. It’s tough to grow like that on TV because people are constantly judging you, so it’s really hard to grow and evolve and sometimes you just want to lash out. But I have evolved.”
Indeed she has. Besides her enduring popularity on Real Housewives, Leakes, 46, has appeared on Celebrity Apprentice, The Fashion Police, Dancing with the Stars and showed her acting chops in roles on The New Normal and Glee. But the most important roles of her life are wife to long-time husband, Gregg Leakes, and mother to her sons, Bryson 24, and Brentt, 15.
“If I didn’t have my family and my children I would not be NeNe at all,” Leakes says. “My husband and my two boys are like the world to me. My family just means everything to me. That’s all I can tell you, without them there is no me.”
But family life wasn’t always easy. Leakes had her first son, Bryson, in her early 20s, single and still in college. “Bryson is the reason why I work so hard,” she says. “When he was young I would do whatever I had to do to provide for him. The moment they put that baby in my arms and I looked in his eyes I was like, ‘I have to give him a good life. I have to give him everything.’”
That same feeling of maternal love happened again, 10 years later, with the birth of Brentt.
“Having two kids that are that far apart in age is good and bad,” says Leakes. “One thing that is bad is that they both grew up as if they were the only child. When Bryson was 18, Brentt was nine.
He and his little brother never got to share things. They didn’t get to play together. They won’t have memories saying, ‘We were brothers playing together.’” On the other hand, Leakes points out: “My eldest son could always help me out a lot when Brentt was a baby.”