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ATLANTA — Keke Palmer is an irrepressible mound of energy. She came through the doors like a blast of sunrays that lit up the Urban League of Greater Atlanta during a tour of their downtown headquarters offices. On the eve of the “Spirit of the League” awards gala, The Akeela and the Bee and Brotherly Love star was striking, not just because of her stunning visage and stunting with a new look, but because she was amazingly devoid of any pretense as she hugged staff members as if they were members of her family.

Nancy Flake Johnson, president of the Urban Leauge of Greater Atlanta, and Keke Palmer.

Nancy Flake Johnson, president of the Urban League of Greater Atlanta, and Keke Palmer.

Lauren Keyana “Keke” Palmer has this “front-porch, around-the-way-girl” vibe that enabled her to immediately connect with the school-aged students whom she inspired as she regaled them with her journey of uncertainty from suburban Chicago to eventual stardom in Hollywood. She let them know that she was one of them, that she is them.

Palmer traded in the tresses that usually cascades down her shoulders like a black waterfall for a carefully cropped coiffure befitting of the multifaceted maven and businesswoman she has blossomed into. She is a star, but she is also about her business.

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With her mother, the single member of her “entourage,” at her flank, Palmer and ULGA president and CEO discussed the many programs the ULGA has to uplift and embolden the youth. This is a favorite topic of Palmer’s. The 22-year-old works with the Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs of the American charity Cool To Be Smart program, speaking to children about the importance of learning. She is also a supporter of Urban Farming, the Girl Scouts and the YWCA & Saving Our Daughters to tackle the issue of bullying in our nation.

Afterward, Palmer took a tour of the Urban League before talking to the kids about embryonic stage of her career, when she was just dreaming, and how she put those dreams into motion.

“I started when I was about 9 years old. And growing up I always had a very creative family. We would have movie night, and my parents would always talk about their life in college, and how they met, and that they were both in theater. So I had a very big imagination and I used to sing in church. I grew up around music and sang and just had this urge to entertain,” Palmer began.

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Palmer’s dream to sing began to take flight when Palmer’s mother found an ad in the paper about “Lion King” auditions in Chicago where she was asked to sing. Palmer made it down to the final 13 out of about 400 children. She was stung and hurt that she didn’t get the part, but it birthed something else within her, something she didn’t expect.

“I discovered that I really loved acting,” Palmer told the children.

She pressed her mother to help her to find more audition opportunities to harness her second love, acting, and soon found it with her debut role in Barbershop 2. “So I went down and auditioned in front of Ice Cube; I was so nervous. And that ended up being the first thing I ever did.”

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After the exhilaration of that experience of being in a hit movie at the age of 10, Palmer was now ravenous for more, she said. So she kept begging and pestering her mother to do more. Finally, her mother capitulated to her daughter’s insatiable desire to act and packed up and moved the family to Los Angeles to meet up with a few agents.

They were living in hotel after hotel until they were able to get big parts and features in commercials. That sacrifice enabled them to get enough parts to move into an apartment. Soon thereafter, Palmer landed the life-changing and career-altering role of Akeelah and the Bee, and it was on and popping after that in her career that includes the blockbuster TV movie “CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story” and her historic role as the first black Cinderella on Broadway.

Palmer told the young teens they have a choice on how to live their lives. “If you live your life with jealously, you will always live your life in fear. That is not what God is about. He is not the author of fear. so when you see yourself going there, know that it is not the truth,” she said. “Remember when you get to that place to calm yourself. Ask yourself, ‘what is really bothering me? What is it that I really want? What is it that really makes me happy?’

“Remember to ask yourself those questions,” Palmer continued, “because those are the questions that are going to allow you to reach that place that we’re all on this Earth searching for. We’re all looking for that freedom, for that love, that thing that tells me ‘Ahhh, this is me!'”

“You have to be truthful to yourself and you have to be truthful to the people around you.”

Take a look at the photographic highlights of Keke Palmer’s tour of the Atlanta Urban League.

 

Photos: Terry Shropshire

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