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Meet Ariel D. King

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ariel D. King.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Ariel D. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
My story began on the Southside of Chicago in a quiet suburb, Riverdale, IL. Mentioning the Southside to most people who have never been is like referring to a war zone but I assure you, my neighborhood was a quaint suburb of hardworking middle-class families and I have yet to witness gun or gang violence in all of my years.

My mother was a CNA for over 30 years and my father a machinist, ordained minister and weapons instructor, they met at Kennedy King College in a music theory class. I will acknowledge that the title of minister and weapons instructor is not the usual combo!

While no one in my family had been successful in the performing arts, my home was filled with music and charity. It’s what brought my parents together, if my mother wasn’t working long hours she was singing in the choir, feeding strangers or telling someone about the Lord and when my father wasn’t making the presidents list at Triton College while working a full-time job, he was lecturing us to death on economics, giving sermons or blasting music genre’s ranging from movie soundtracks like Last of the Mohicans, Dances with Wolves, Vangelis to Brothers Johnson, James Brown, John Denver and everything in between.

Fast forward to the key moment who made me who I am today, there was a month of great financial strain placed on my parents which threatened the loss of our home. In the middle of it, my parents had gotten wind of a homeless camp under Lower Wacker Drive in Chicago. We started packing sandwiches and hygiene products. I was about 13 at the time, we drove downtown and parked in this dark and seemingly desolate part of the bridge, exposing the goods and waited. A homeless man emerged out of the darkness. I stood posted up ready to pass out sandwiches and witnessed one homeless man turn into seven homeless, I wondered how my parents weren’t afraid at first, seven turned into a dozen and the next thing I saw was in all dark corners of the bridge, word was spreading and homeless people hidden in darkness started to file towards the van, like the walking dead. My father ministered to them, my mother encouraged them and focused on getting everyone, one of everything.

That night, sitting in my room all I could think about was how many points in Heaven they must have, I felt like I was coming up short and how I could measure up to such service. I thought “well, I don’t have much money to “out do” them on giving.. so I’ll have to get some. Who’re the richest people in the world? People in Hollywood!” I was young, I had no knowledge of the salary differences of doctors, lawyers etc. nor the reality of the artistic journey ahead but, my vision was clear. I’m going to be an actress and I am going to beat my parents giving because that is a life worth living, that is how you get points and that would make them proud of me. My parents have always believed in me and never pressured me to such a life but their example became my life fuel.

In 2010, I entered a talent competition called the “Hollywood Discovery Award”, at the Hollywood Film Festival created by Carlos de Abreu. At the time, I was majoring in theater and working but I wanted to suddenly go full speed into film. They requested actors upload a monologue of their choice or a two-person scene on “Cast It Talent”. I wrote a monologue and submitted. The top 5 were to be chosen by the Casting Society of America, uploaded to Yahoo Movies and voted on by the public. My parents, relatives and friends campaigned fiercely on my behalf to get votes but underneath I had doubts…this had escalated from me thinking this must be a scam to being ushered into the top 5 girls on a popular internet search engine!

Longer story short, the public voted me the winner, the contest was stopped early because cheating ensued during the last hours of the competition. I received a call from Carlos de Abreu that I had won and they were flying me out to the Beverly Hilton to get my award. Needless to say, we were shocked. We had never been in such a grand place. At the awards show me and the male winner Tyler Langdon were told to go to the green room to wait for our turn to receive our awards. We went up to the room where we saw Arnold Schwarzenneger and Sylvestor Stallone leaning on either side chatting it up, that was enough for me and Tyler to stop in our tracks without a word and exit the area to catch our breathes. Upon entering, I remember seeing Sam Rockwell watching the screen of the show and the cast of the Social Network having drinks.

Suddenly we were informed that we were going to have two minutes to give a speech, once gathered we were guided to the stage where Sean Penn had just received his humanitarian award, to follow Jennifer Lawrence, Morgan Freeman, Josh Brolin and many others were in attendance to receive honors. Shook is not the word; from the Southside of Chicago with middle-class parents, I went from recording myself in my bedroom on a camcorder to being transported like Star Trek into a seemingly unattainable Universe.

The next day after the speeches and awards, we were meant to leave but my mother had a feeling that we should stay so we checked into the Roosevelt Hotel by way of and while I was in the shower my mother picked up the phone to Carlos de Abreu telling her Vincent Cirrcinione who formerly discovered Halle Berry and represented Taraji P. Henson and Candice Patton wanted to meet with me. Well, me and my mother met with him and he told me “I had something special” but he would only take me on if I moved to California. This is the beginning to my “Once Upon a Time”, this is how it all began and it humbles me to this day.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
The road has not been smooth and in fact the bumps play a major factor in all of the high points I’ve had in my career. While I did live in a peaceful neighborhood, attending school was a completely different story.

I was bullied by a group of girls that followed me from kindergarten to high school. My reaction to bullying was to lash out verbally to defend myself and to show as little weakness as possible but underneath it was confusing and hurtful. I never understood why I stood out enough to be the point of their wrath but considering where I am now, perhaps I just smelled different from the moment they laid eyes on me.

They had it out for me to the point I could not enjoy my lunch or simply walking down the hallway, so to protect myself, I would sit near the Latin Kings in our school because I knew they would not start anything on their side of the cafeteria. When I really didn’t want to be bothered, I would eat my lunch in the bathroom.

One of the biggest blows of my life came from a male friend. Out of nowhere, he wanted to be a girlfriend and boyfriend. At the time, it made sense to me because he made me laugh more than anyone, well besides my best friend Deanna.

It was great, it worked, we never had sex but we did make out quite publicly. Then there came the very strange day when he confronted me in the girl’s bathroom, he backed me into it and pointed violently in my face “You’ve been spreading rumors about me being gay!” He berated me and it seemed every shred of love and friendship we shared in the past had disappeared out of every bone in his body.

Looking back on it, I understand he was scared. We went to a school in Harvey, IL and it was predominantly African American, at the time, being labeled gay was a high school death sentence to him and he apologized to me on myspace years later, he was in fact gay and had pursued a male friend who was not “out”. Till this day I’m not sure if there were rumors, I never heard them.

Unfortunately, this does not take away from the fact that one of my greatest friends had turned into my greatest enemy. He threatened to have girls come to our school to beat me up. I was shellshocked and reported this to the school counselor, nothing was done… later that night I tried to convince him I had no idea what he was talking about and even if he was gay, I would pretend and still be his girlfriend because I loved him. He wasn’t hearing me. Later that night, calm as I tried to be on the phone, I became angry, beyond angry, seething. More than I had ever been at this time, I decided everyone would know that I am not an easy target.

Lunchtime came, he was seated among our friends at which I could see, I had been ostracized. I marched up to him and in front of the cafeteria, I yelled “You want to threaten me the way you threatened me in the bathroom?” I threatened to cut him, I beckoned him on to show his true face when I could defend myself. He was humorously apologetic in front of everyone, he mocked me and my “friends” went along with it.

Looking back on it, it wasn’t a smart move and I do not believe in standing up in this manner presently but at the time, I had enough. It also didn’t help that he was the school president of “Students Against Violence Everywhere” or a star pupil on our speech team and my former friends backed him on everything. Except, my best friends Deanna and Crystal.

Instead of being expelled, yeah, I’m going to fast forward to the process of breaking my parent’s hearts. A deal was struck and I was sent to a school to finish out my education in a place for troubled juveniles. I didn’t fit in there either, the education seemed to be dumbed down, it was a place to throw away kids, their futures had been summed up. On my second day, I knew to keep my head down as much as possible. While at lunch a boy came and pulled my hair. This was the test, I was new and in this place, weakness mattered like it mattered in prison. I ran aka jogged quickly after him to show I wasn’t weak but ultimately, I had no intention of confronting him. Later on, there was commotion while returning to class, a girl was being pulled to the principal’s office yelling and screaming, when she saw me she yelled “I got him for you boo! I got him for you”, she had smashed the boys head into a thermometer. Till this day, I’m not sure why she “got him” but I suspected this was also, not good because now, I owed her a favor or maybe she just didn’t like bullies. If that was the case, how did she end up there?

After hearing of this debacle my mother marched up to the school to the principal’s office and proceeding to tell him that her daughter was smart and did not belong there. He tried to convince her that it would be good for me to do my time at the school. She told him she was going to find a way to take me out of that school.

I’m not sure how she did it, you’ll have to ask her but I didn’t spend another full week in that school before I found myself in a program at South Suburban College. I excelled in all things but math! My father’s strong point. I was relieved, honestly I feel emotional as I write this, after the first day, I remember saying to myself, “This is school”. I could walk down the hallway with my shoulders relaxed, there were students there of all walks of life who just wanted to get their degree, I binged on movies in the cafeteria at lunch, I sat where I wanted, I was happier than I’d ever been in the education system and I never wanted to leave at the end of the day.

While there, I met my favorite professor, Bobbie Saltzman, the Theatre Program Head and SSC Playhouse Director. The mission statement, “Talent Doesn’t Discriminate”. She fostered the creativity of all of her students like a fierce but nurturing Mother Goose, whenever she saw an honest dedication to the craft, she lit it with fire. I threw myself into the theater arts and was awarded the J. Albert Kindig Memorial Scholarship in recognition.

Thanks mom.

Today, I’d say the road still isn’t easy and this WAS half of it, but I can handle the other half because of this first part. Financial, any form of ridicule or disbelief in my abilities, the path of resistance, I got this. “It’s handled”, as Olivia Pope would say, thus far I’d define this as a beautiful process of never-ending growth.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
I am my business, I’ve come to understand that I specialize in ideas and potential within the entertainment industry. I can see the potential in people, any opportunity and expand on it, even predict success not only for myself but in other talent.

I’ve been a working model for Microsoft, BMW, Lenovo, AT&T and more. Not only did I win the Hollywood Discovery Award, I won the Queen of the Universe pageant which is another story of bumps in the road but that title awarded me with a scholarship to Aaron Speiser’s Acting Studio (now Speiser/Sturges Acting Studio). Those classes helped me book my first major acting role where I recurred on American Crime Story: The People v. OJ Simpson where I portrayed his daughter Arnelle Simpson. Directed by Ryan Murphy and Anthony Hemingway, it received 22 Emmy nominations and won many of them.

Today I am writing and producing my own independent films, alongside being a working actress. I have a fantastic time casting as well… What sets me apart is what drives me, the fact I haven’t forgotten where I come from and I’m still in this for points, I smell another victory lap on the way and I’ll never stop running.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
My plans for the future haven’t changed, I want to help my parents unleash their hearts on the world, though they never asked for it and are doing a profound job, I want to add my two cents anyway. I’m pursuing a 501(c)(3) and as much influence in the world of entertainment as possible to shed light on the ministry they have to offer. I want to feed it and as many people as possible. This is why I exist and why I pursue growth in my field. I suppose our Mission Statement might be, “Ministry doesn’t discriminate, we are not here to fleece the flock but to feed the flock”. My parents may get me for taking this initiative on their behalf but I see potential!

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Image Credit:
Delaney DelPonti, Ana Ochoa

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