Knowing Kenya

You may think you know Kenya Bell, but you have no idea.

Earlier this year, the world at large got to meet Detroit native Bell (formerly Howard) via VH-1’s hit reality show “Basketball Wives.” From the jump, the Michigan State grad was painted as the scary, wannabe-the woman who in her mid-30s was too old to pursue her dreams of music superstardom, and the new wife who flapped her lips too much about one of the show’s stars, Evelyn Lozada.

But the truth is-and I can write this as someone who’s known Bell for years-she’s perfectly normal. I talk with Bell about her music, the show and how much her life has changed because of it.

What even made you want to jump into the reality TV space?

There were a couple of things. I’ve always wanted to sing and to write a book and what better way to do those things than with an audience of 5 million viewers? So just the thought of me sitting here doing the things that I’ve dreamed about doing and then having an outlet of viewers from a reality TV show was a great idea to me.

And then another reason is to basically let people know who I really was-at least, that’s what I thought was gonna happen-because there was news out that I had stabbed my estranged husband and all of this crazy stuff. And I’m like, you know, These are lies. This is not who I am. So if I have a chance to do this show then maybe people can start to learn who I really am and not who the media’s portraying me to be.


Judging by the slight laughter in your voice, it sounds like you don’t think you got to really show who Kenya Bell is?

Exactly. I mean, if you watched the show…you would think I’m just some kind of psycho, crazy girl that is just living in la-la land or something. But the reality is I have a bachelor’s in engineering, I worked for a major corporation for years, I have a master’s in business, I’ve lived all over the world, I’ve married, I have two kids.

Last season, Evelyn Lozada threw a bottle of wine at you, and some of the other women weren’t exactly welcoming…

It was very difficult for me just because as a kid I was – and I still am, I should say – a big nerd. I had the big, thick glasses. I ended up graduating, getting my bachelor’s and master’s at the same time — I was in all the academic games clubs, and so I was bullied as a kid just because I was smart and I loved to read and I was always in the books. I came from a lower-middle class family, I didn’t have the best clothes, so I was bullied as a kid for that very reason. It was almost like a revisit of my past, but with grown women. It was very difficult for me, and I had some nights where I just went home and questioned myself, ‘Should I even be trying to do this?’

And what kept you coming back?

I just never give up. You know what I mean?

That’s the Detroit in you, right?

That’s the Detroit in me. Exactly. Yes. And I got a little bit of gangsta, too. So if you saw me shaking at the table with Evelyn, it was like, ‘You know what, you don’t want to see the crazy come out.’ I took so much that whole season and at that very moment somebody was about to get beat! I had had enough. You know how, like, the person’s bullied so much and then all of a sudden they go off? And, you’re like, ‘Dang. You see the little kid just beat up the big bully?!’ That was that moment for me.

I found myself wondering sometimes-because you really displayed poise-was this because you are a former Miss Michigan? Did you feel that you had some responsibility to represent?

Yes! And it’s so funny, right before that scene where Evelyn threw the wine bottle at me, I was watching ‘Dr. Phil’ and there was two little girls from Detroit on that show, and they had a little game in the school-called 30 seconds or something- where a girl would beat up another little girl for 30 seconds and they put it on camera. And I saw that and I just said to myself ‘African-American women are already getting a bad rap on television shows as stereotypical loudmouths, can’t control their temper,’ and I did not want to be a part of that or represent that for black women. You don’t have to fight.

How has life changed for you since being a part of the show?

My life is moving in a great direction now. I just moved down to Miami with my children and I actually love the school in Miami and I have a fabulous place.

And it seems like you’re on track with the music career, too.

Yes! The best thing that happened was that Jazzy Pha actually agreed to work with me and we did an amazing song called ‘Hate Me’ and it’s getting a lot of positive attention and we’re about to start working on the video. I’m so excited!


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