How Second Chances Transformed Actor and SEAL Remi Adeleke

BY Catherine Yang TIMEJuly 24, 2019 PRINT

Remi Adeleke is gifted. He is a writer, actor, mentor, former Navy SEAL, and father of three. When people hear his story, their eyes widen in awe and exclamations soon follow. For years, people have asked Adeleke to write a book.

After telling his story on The Today Show, Kathie Lee Gifford said he had to turn it into a book and movie. He laughed it off. After the segment, she pulled him aside to tell him she was serious—this was a story that could inspire countless people. And then she took him straight to a publisher.

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“Transformed” by Remi Adeleke. (Thomas Nelson)

“I transformed from a kid who was rich in Africa to a kid who was poor in the Bronx, I transformed from a hustler selling drugs to a Navy sailor, and from that transformed into a Navy SEAL. I transformed from an atheist into a person of faith, transformed from a Navy SEAL into an actor—and now a writer,” Adeleke said. “I transformed from a boy who didn’t have a father to a father of three boys. A man who had never been faithful to a woman in his life to a man who’s been faithful to his wife for eight years.

“I think there’s a lot of transformations in the book, and I think ongoing, I think I’ll continue to evolve into the man that is within me,” Adeleke said. “I think I’m always going to be transforming into the person that I’m called to be until the day I die.”

Silver Spoon to Life of Crime

Fatherhood is the through-line of Adeleke’s story. He says in order to understand where he’s coming from, you have to know about his grandfather. As he lays out the beginning of the book, he notes that his grandfather was the chief of the Yoruba tribe in Nigeria, the equivalent of a king. Adeleke’s father was the eldest son.

His father’s life was a tremendous success story; after meeting Christian missionaries in West Africa and impressing them with how quickly he learned, he earned a scholarship to study engineering in London and returned to Nigeria to become the creator of one of the first man-made islands in the world.

Adeleke, whose mother is American, was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He, his brother, and their parents traveled the world and had a comfortable life. His mother saw the corruption of the Nigerian government and urged his father to move their assets to the United States, but it was important for Adeleke’s father to invest in his home country, where he felt almost a parental responsibility.

The corrupt government indeed seized his father’s assets. When Adeleke was 5 years old, his father died in Nigeria under suspicious circumstances, and they were left with nothing.

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From African Royalty, to Bronx Hustler📞💊 to Navy SEAL, to Entrepreneur & Writer, to At-Risk Youth Mentor = TRANSFORMED . . Remi’s story/book, #Transformed is the real version of Black Panther’s Kilmonger, and an odds defying story of transformation, failure, redemption and success. . . Book drops May 14th, but Pre-order now at Amazon link in bio, then go to the Transformed story website, and put in your order number to immediately unlock exclusive video stories that didn’t make it into the book😤. . . #transformation #story #inspiration #motivation #transformational #book #bookstagram #authorsofinstagram #author #goals #bronx #newyork #startedfromthebottom #grind #inspire #motivate #gymmotivation #nevergiveup #neverquit #inspirational #motivational #navy #navyseals #veteran #actor #writer #writersofinstagram #atriskyouth #giveback

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They moved to the Bronx, New York. Adeleke’s mother worked hard as a single parent to provide for her two sons, but he remembers her asking for advances even after having stretched every dollar.

Without fully comprehending it at the time, he turned to the streets to fill the void of fatherhood. He saw gangsters and rappers who had, in his mind, “made it,” and sought to emulate their behavior.

It started out with stealing cash from his mother’s purse and escalated to selling drugs and cellphones.

Faith Comes Knocking

Though he would fluctuate between agnosticism and atheism for several more years, Adeleke says it was the voice of God that prompted him to join the military.

It took a leap of faith on the recruiter’s part, and many tiny miracles that came together, but Adeleke, who didn’t even know how to swim, joined the Navy.

Though he now believes it was God’s plan, he didn’t give it too much thought at that point. The military brought him a better life, and he thought it was his turn to live it up.

“I graduated from SEAL training, I was making tons of money, I had girlfriends all over the place, I had a nice car and nice place,” Adeleke said. “But I was still empty. I was still empty, I was still scratching for more. I was still seeking that affirmation that I never got from my father.”

“I just really hit a rock bottom point in my life,” Adeleke said.

It was that drop that led him to opening his eyes to God. His brother had turned to faith years ago and his mother is a devout Christian, but Adeleke had rejected religion for most of his life. Deeply depressed and without recourse, he finally cried out to God.

Once he found his faith, nothing was ever the same.

“I didn’t feel hopeless anymore, I felt like I was fulfilled, I felt like I had hope,” he said. “I felt that even if things are going wrong, there’s a plan that I may not understand.”

“To this day,” he said, “things go bad in my life, I fail, I make mistakes, things don’t go the way I intend them to. But every morning I wake up, I just have hope.”

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Remi Adeleke at the Men’s Fitness Game Changers event in Beverly Hills, Calif., in September 2017. (Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Men’s Fitness)


His foray into Hollywood also came out of the blue.

Adeleke’s first exposure to Navy SEALs had been seeing a Michael Bay film; little did he know, years down the line during his military career, he would get a call to play an extra in a “Transformers” film.

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“Transformers: The Last Knight.” (Paramount Pictures)

It was supposed to be a small appearance, but he kept getting more directions and more lines, and it grew into a bigger part.

As a SEAL turned actor and model, he started telling his story, and it started gaining traction. Eventually, he committed to writing it all into a book so others could benefit from his lessons.

At first, he planned to write the book together with his mother. She wrote the first two chapters and he read them over.

He realized it wouldn’t work—the book needed to be in his voice.

He got halfway through the book when his publisher got worried it was going to turn into a big 200,000-word ordeal. They had him hire a ghostwriter for the second half, and the results, Adeleke said, had him “turn red.”

He started rewriting the chapters he was sent. When the writer read them, he agreed Adeleke was the only one who could tell this story.

“I had five weeks to turn in the book,” Adeleke said. “I worked until 2 in the morning, woke up at 6 in the morning, and got back at it, and was able to turn it in a week before my due date.”

The process just flowed, he said, and he would think of stories and events he’d forgotten as he was writing. He also did extensive interviews, including with people with whom he had sold drugs and cellphones, because it wasn’t just personal for him, and he wanted to represent everything correctly. As a member of the military, the book needed to be vetted as well, so as to not disclose confidential information.

The book isn’t the only thing he’s written: Adeleke has an espionage thriller screenplay coming out to market soon, and is now finishing up a black historical military screenplay.


Despite his tremendous arc, he says a main theme of his story is failure.

“The whole book is about a man who failed over and over and over and over again, but who eventually learn to take those failures, turn them into lessons and those lessons for successes,” Adeleke said.

“I want people to realize that, you know, none of us are immune to failure,” he said. The important part is to not be defined by failure, but use it as a lesson.

There is another takeaway of compassion he hopes people can glean from the book.

“There were so many times that I did not deserve a second chance at all. But people came along, along the way, and gave me a second chance,” Adeleke said. “And along with that, the importance of giving yourself second chances—nobody’s harder on me than me … sometimes you just have to be willing to give yourself a second chance, a third chance, or a fifth chance, and never give up on yourself.”

Adeleke says it’s also been a redemptive arc.

“I’m a father of three boys. My oldest is 5, my middle is 4, my youngest is 4 months,” Adeleke said. “My dad died when I was 5, and my oldest is now 5, he’s actually older than I was when my dad died by a few months.”

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Remi and Jessica Adeleke with their three sons. (Courtesy of Remi Adeleke)

Everything he does now, Adeleke said, is to give his sons what he never had, and more.

“That’s why I work as hard as I work,” he said. “I know that they have the potential to be very, very great men.”

Parenting has been an interesting journey for Adeleke. He and his wife, Jessica, come from very different backgrounds and families, and have to negotiate how they will raise their kids, which he realizes is a common thing for parents.

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Remi and Jessica Adeleke attend the U.S. premiere of “Transformers: The Last Knight” at the Civic Opera House in Chicago on June 20, 2017. (Timothy Hiatt/Getty Images for Paramount Pictures)

He wants to be able to instill in them values like integrity, keeping your word, and leading by example. His eldest just started kindergarten, and they turn frustration into a lesson on perseverance.

“It’s okay to get frustrated. You’re not going to have all the answers, I get it. But don’t quit, just keep trying, keep trying, keep pushing,” he said.

His children are the greatest joy in his life. Adeleke said he realized even before he became a father how crucial it was for him. He’s been volunteering as a mentor for more than a decade now, which came out of his own volition without any organization asking him to. He knew he wanted to be able to give back somehow, and one day found himself going to an inner-city church to volunteer his time for the local youth.

“People ask me all the time, who’s the most famous person you’ve ever met or would like to meet, and I always go back to my kids,” he said. “Sometimes when I’m looking at them, I am in awe. I can’t believe that I’m blessed to have three boys and just have them and have them love me and just be with me.”


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