Sitting across the table from Remi Adeleke is a pretty powerful experience. This is a man who exudes charisma and excellence.
You'd never know that he was born into African royalty, lost his father and everything his family owned, relocated to the Bronx, got caught up in illegal and dangerous activities, and found his way out not just in the military but as a United States Navy SEAL — one of the most elite military programs in the world.
Now, he gives back, helping at-risk youths the same way he was once helped: by believing in them.
"If you're not uncomfortable when you're training, you're not training."
(Photo courtesy of Remi Adeleke)
In his new book Transformed, Adeleke details his unlikely journey where he is both unflinching while admitting his mistakes and unsparing while reflecting on the people who helped him. As we spoke, he observed that many of the critical guides in his life were women — starting with his mother and his military recruiter.
In his book he details how Petty Officer Tiana Reyes managed to help a poor kid from the Bronx — with a record and an outstanding warrant for his arrest — qualify for the Navy SEALs. I don't mean to spoil one of my favorite moments, but Reyes personally accompanied Adeleke to multiple court hearings to advocate for him.
"She knew that no one would take a chance on a kid from the Bronx," he told me when I asked why she did it. It turned out that Reyes was from the Bronx, too, and she knew the obstacles facing families there. He promised her that he wouldn't let her down and that promise guided him through boot camp, into BUD/S, and beyond.
The assistance she gave him would also inspire him to return to inner cities to help others.
"Strategic mentorship is how we can improve inner city environments. If military veterans, doctors, or successful actors came to the inner cities to mentor children, we could change their lives," he said when I asked how we can make a difference for at risk youths.
Taking on a broken system — one kid at a time
Behind-the-scenes on 'Transformers: The Last Knight.'
(Photo courtesy of Remi Adeleke)
"Honor, courage, and commitment were instilled into me by the Navy, as well as excellence. In SEAL training, just meeting the standard wasn't enough. Now, my character is built on excellence: keeping my word, being on time, and pushing myself." After his military career, Adeleke pursued writing, speaking, and acting, notably including a role in Transformers: The Last Knight.
He has climbed high but he hasn't forgotten his roots.
"If make a mistake as a youth, you get marked," he noted, adding that African American males who grow up in single-parent households are nine times more likely to drop out of high school and twenty times more likely to end up in prison than any other demographic. This becomes a cycle for these families — but it doesn't have to be.
Now, the message he gives to inner-city youths is that they can be whatever they want to be — if they do the work. He tells them his own story, sharing the deficiencies he had to overcome. "You have to do the extra hard work. You have to. And if you do that, you really can be anything you want to become."
"Everything that happens in our lives leads us to where we are today."
He began with the drive to help and he hasn't stopped.
"Ten years ago, I was living in San Diego and I decided to go find kids who needed help. I went to ministries and non-profits and asked if there were kids who needed to hear my message." Now, Adeleke partners with non-profits like La Mesa City Hope, continuing to serve after his service.
His book details his incredible journey, but ultimately, it is about overcoming the odds — any odds, for anyone, anywhere. He has embodied that message and now he encourages others to do the same.
Transformed comes out on May 14, 2019, and is now available for pre-order.
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