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Ngo Okafor, Ladybrille Man of the Month June 2011 (Exclusive Interview)

Ngo Okafor technically needs no introduction. In fact, we thought about writing a really elaborate intro. but saw that his biography (bio) on his website captures, succinctly, where he has been and is headed. We share his bio with you as we would at a virtual Ladybrilleproduced African version of the CFDA Awards. The room is filled with you all, the movers and shakers within Africa, UK and the USA fashion and entertainment industries. Supermodel Ngo Okafor is seated with yours truly and here we go with our interview which comes subsequent to the wonderful bio of this accomplished Supermodel and our Ladybrille Man of the Month, Ngo Okafor!

“He has been called one of the best boxers of his generation, a powerful yet graceful presence in the ring and one of the quickest studies the fight world has ever seen. Within three years of beginning his career in 2005, Ngoli Onyeka Okafor, became a two-time heavyweight champion, winning back-to-back Golden Gloves, amateur boxing’s highest distinction. His accomplishments are even more impressive when one considers Ngo’s background. Raised in the Ibo speaking region of Nigeria, the second child of a Harvard academic and a teacher, sports were frowned upon in his house; brains were always valued over brawn. “My dad used to say athletes are like jesters in a kings court,” recalls Ngo, whose name means joy in Ibo. “I’ve always appreciated the value of a good education, but him saying that used to really piss me off, because I felt like I could have both.” He attended the University of Connecticut in the US and studied computer science, eventually landing a job with the Connecticut Department of Transportation, where he taught engineers and architects how to draw using computers. “I’ve always loved computers and there’s a part of me that will always be a bit of a nerd,” says Ngo. “But I also knew that I was naturally athletic and I wanted to see where that side would take me. I was curious to see if I could play at the highest level.”

He accidentally stumbled into boxing five years ago, at the ripe old age of 31 (around the time when most fighters hang up their gloves). What began as a simple workout routine (punching the bag, jumping rope, etc) quickly grew into an all-consuming passion for Ngo, who, at the urging of several fashion photographers, had relocated to New York City to pursue modeling. Professional fighters who watched him sparring noticed his innate talent and encouraged him to develop his skill. With the fierce dedication he’s applied to his work throughout his life, he immersed himself in the ring, training five to six hours a day…every day. “Boxing became my life,” he says. “I wanted to be one of the best that ever did it. I started later than most fighters, so I know I had to make up for lost time.”

After winning the Golden Gloves by unanimous decision in 2008 and 2009, Ngo, never one to rest on his laurels, turned his sites towards modeling and acting. With his boyish good looks, chiseled physique and quiet intensity, he was a natural. Over the years, he’s posed with supermodels like Gisele Bundchen (V Magazine) and superstars like Mary J. Blige (MAC Cosmetic’s Viva Glam campaign). He’s appeared in more than a dozen issues of Men’s Health Magazine, has produced two best-selling calendars and has been featured in publications ranging from Vogue and W to ESPN and Fortune.

Most recently, he was celebrated alongside five Olympians in the Spring issue of the Wall Street Journal Magazine. As a result of all of his efforts, he is now considered to be the most downloaded black male model in the world. Ngo’s acting career is also taking off. His television work has included stints on soap operas and TV series. He just wrapped work on a feature film titled “Jeremy Fink and The Meaning of Life”. Ngo also worked on “The Rebound”, starring Catherine Zeta Jones, which opens in theaters in summer 2010 and he’s currently at work on, “Triumph of the Will,” a feature-length documentary, which chronicles his journey from Nigeria to the top of the boxing world. “I really want the film to inspire people to dream big and work hard,” says Ngo. “That’s always been my mantra and so far so good.”

LADYBRILLEmag.com: Hi Ngo, how are you doing?
I’m doing very well. Thank you

LADYBRILLEmag.com: I feel like this interview has been long overdue. From way back at the African Vibes event, a long time ago, to seeing you at the NEA event, last year; it feels very good to be able to take a moment to speak with you about your career and your life in general.
It’s definitely long overdue. We’ve spoken about it a few times in the past and (I am) happy that we are finally making this interview. Congrats on the success with the magazine.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: (Thank you). First, congratulations on being honored as Ladybrille Man of the Month for our Special Anniversary issue. You embody the kind of man we celebrate from your accomplishments to the way you seem to live your life in the public eye. How does it feel to be honored?
Thank you for selecting me for this (recognition). I’m very honored. I’ve put in a lot of hard in my career and it’s great to be recognized for it.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: I know you are in the middle of a very tough time in your life right now. So, let’s go there and at least talk about it, and then we can get into discussions about your career. You just lost your brother. Share with us what happened to him?
It is a very tough time. I lost my youngest brother, Ogbogu Anthony Okafor on Easter Sunday, a little over a month ago. He unfortunately died of a pulmonary embolism which is blood clots in the lungs.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: (I am very sorry to hear that) What kind of a man was your brother?
My brother was a beautiful (man) inside and out. He was great father and husband. He wanted to make everybody happy. He once took in a young Nigerian man who came up to him at the bus stop and asked for help. He didn’t even know the guy, but Ogbogu took him into his home.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: How have you been able to cope with such loss? Do you plan on seeing a grief counselor?
I’ve been coping with the pain of my loss by writing a blog and working out when I can. I feel that as long as I have an outlet, I don’t need a grief counselor. I think that a grief counselor is a great idea for people, but I have no problems expressing my pain. I never hold it in. If I need to cry, I do.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: (Speaking of the blog) I do read your entries periodically. One of the recent entries I read was the concern of sharing your intimate personal detail with the world. Could you address that?
I think that we are all put on this earth for a reason. We have all been given gifts, talents etc. We have a duty to ourselves and other human beings to share. Our thoughts and ideas are energy that we must share. If we try to hoard our ideas and gifts, they will be taken from us. Many people do not share because of fear of being judged, but worse judgment will come from not being open to share. Sharing is caring!!

LADYBRILLEmag.com: You mentioned that you are learning a lot about yourself since the loss of your brother. Share with us a few things; that you can share, about what you are learning about yourself?
I have been in London for over a month and in this time, I have learned to put others ahead of my needs. My family needed me to step up in this difficult time and I could not do it from New York. I had to drop everything and come to London. That is growth for me. I’m very intense and focused on my work that I thought this would be difficult to do, but it turned out that it was not.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: Ngo, so much has been said about you as a model and the many accolades you have garnered along the way. For fear of redundancy, I will not get into the story of how you became a model. But, what I’d like to discuss is your career and sustaining yourself as a successful model. What was the first thing you did in managing your career as a model?

The most important thing to me in my career is to be as hands on as possible. A model/actor must see themselves as a product and a brand. You must invest in building and developing that brand, the same all the big brands such as Nike, Reebok etc do. No one cares about my success as much as I do. I believe in tirelessly promoting oneself by using all media, online, TV, print and radio.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: To get the kind of buzz you have succeeded in having means you are always involved in public relationships i.e. having a public relations person. What are the tips you have for many models and model hopefuls who will read this and are wondering how to keep their names buzzing during and after their modeling career ends?
Ngo: Hiring a PR rep is expensive but important. It’s definitely a worthy investment. You have to keep yourself relevant and hot in order to work in the entertainment business. There are ways to get around the expense. You can barter with some PR reps.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: You have successfully transitioned or still straddle modeling and boxing. What were the skill sets you learned, running or managing yourself as a model, that you found transferred into your job as a boxer?
The amount of intensity and focus required to compete in the modeling industry transfers to the ring. It takes a lot of hard work to stay in top shape and that translates to the ring as well.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: (Speaking of staying in shape as a boxer), you entered boxing at a later stage in your life. Why?
It just happened that way. I never had any dreams of being a boxer. I started boxing just a fitness regimen and I ended up falling in love with the sport. As a kid, I always wanted to play sports at a high level, but parents were not big fans of their children playing sports. So, when I discovered and fell in love with boxing, I knew that it would be my chance to live out my childhood dream.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: Even as a boxer you have excelled. What do you think it is about you that makes you successful with the endeavors that you choose?
I have strong belief in myself that there is nothing I can not do. I was also blessed with an intense work ethic. No one can out work me. I’ve always believed that if I work hard, I can be great at anything.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: As an ex-personal trainer and also a fellow fashion model, although not at the level that you have worked, I know both industries have intense pressure to keep a lean sexy physique. Both industries often deal with issues of drugs, from substance abuse in modeling to steroid use in boxing. How were you able to stay away from all of that?
Many people do drugs and abuse all kinds of other substances in order to fit in. I’ve always done my own thing and do not believe in fitting in.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: What does your diet and daily routine look like in maintaining your physique and staying fit for your boxing competitions?
I try to keep my carbohydrate intake low and my protein consumption high. This helps me stay lean. I also do cardio everyday. I usually train twice a day. I do my conditioning training in the morning. For this I either run or do interval training on exercise bike or on the rowing machine. I then do my strength training afterwards. Later on in the day, I do my boxing specific training.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: In both industries, and as an entrepreneur that you are, there is a level of confidence that is absolutely required to succeed. You seem to have always had it. Where did you get it from?
It probably came from being raised by my parents in Nigeria. People, both the men and women in my family were very confident and I guess I learned from them.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: (Laughs) (As a fellow Nigerian, I totally get what you speak of.) Have there ever been times you doubted yourself? How did you overcome your doubt?
There have been plenty of times that I have doubted myself. I do so many things that no one else has done and sometimes I wonder whether it will work. The way I get over the doubt is that I know that I will feel worse if I don’t do it. I’d rather try it and have it not work out than not try at all.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: Let me ask you about money management. What are some of the tips you have for our current models on how to manage their money, from investing to savings?
As a Nigerian, it has been drilled into me to buy real estate, so I did. You have to have an active savings plan. Always put money away and know that modeling and acting does not last forever.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: Let me finish our interview by delving into two areas: 1) your personal life philosophy and 2) the history of the African fashion male model.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: What are the value systems and principles that guide and have guided you in life so far?
The most important principle that guides me is that you have you have to be nice to people you meet on the way up, because you might see them on the way down. All this superficial adoration does not last. That’s a fact and I keep that in the back of mind at all times.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: Good stuff, really. What drives you Ngo? I sense a burning hunger still, even after all you have accomplished. What drives you in life?
What drives me is to leave my mark in this world. I want to affect the world in my lifetime, no matter how long or short it is. I have a hunger to be the best that I can be. When I’m on my death bed, I want to know that I’ve done everything I ever dreamed of doing.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: What next for you? I was surprised to see you are an editor also. As in video editor. Cool! What next for you?
The next frontier for me is filmmaking. I’m currently working on my documentary titled ‘The Triumph of The Will.’ It is a story of my journey from Nigeria to the top of the modeling and boxing worlds. Once I’m done with it, we’ll submit to film festivals and then go ahead and make more films.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: Beautiful. When people say the name Ngo, 10years from now and beyond, what is the one word you hope they say that best describes the legacy you would like to leave?

LADYBRILLEmag.com: (Pretty ambitious but can totally become reality given your history.) I noticed that you are now doing charity outreach work in Nigeria. Please expand on that.
I want to share the joy that boxing has given to me with children I believe that sports is a great outlet for children, especially boys. My job will be to provide the kids with boxing equipment that will protect them while they move towards greatness.

LADYBRILLmag.com: (Let me take you a different route as we conclude). How do you define a brilliant man?
A brilliant is a man that understands what is currently going on and can anticipate and react to the future while caring for other people’s needs.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: I told you I’d ask about African models. I am particularly fascinated with the history and impact of African models in the fashion industry. I feel that African models within and outside Africa’s fashion industry do not get the praises they really deserve for trailblazing and opening doors for fashion designers and a lot of fashion professionals, particularly in the African fashion industry. Can you speak to the impact African models have had in fashion’s history?

Ngo: Alek Wek, Liya Kebede, Iman have all been trailblazers. Due to the fact that they were African and understood life’s hardship, they didn’t get swept up in the hype. These girls were not about just the glamour, they were very good business women as well. That is the key to longevity in the modeling business and the entertainment business as a whole.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: You are an inspiration to many and it is indeed and honor to celebrate you and your accomplishments as our Man of the Month. Thank you for the privilege and honor and enjoy your month!
Thank you so much for having me. I look forward to great things for your magazine. Keep pushing forward. All the best.

For information about Ngo, visit his website at www.getingo.com

-Uduak Oduok
-Photos courtesy Ngo Okafor

Ladybrille Magazine

Founded in 2007, Ladybrille® Magazine is a California based pioneer digital publication demystifying the image of Africans in the west through contemporary African fashion and celebrating the brilliant woman in business and leadership, with an emphasis on the African woman in the diaspora. Our coverage includes stories on capital, access to markets, expertise, hiring and retention, sales, marketing, and promotions.

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