I first met Boris Kodjoe in 1994 in New York when we were both modeling with Ford Models. In less than 20 years, he’s come a long way. Boris is a busy actor, but more importantly, he has become a father and an activist, bringing important research and hospital facilities to Ghana to treat birth defects like spina bifida for the very first time.
Boris grew up in Germany with a German mother, a psychologist, and a Ghanaian father, a physician. His parents divorced when he was six years old, but Boris visited Ghana often and still keeps in touch with a lot of family there. He has always believed in the importance of his Ghanaian heritage and today, he is making sure that his own children are exposed to the same history and culture.
Boris came to the United States as a high school athlete on a tennis scholarship. Soon he became a successful model. He started taking acting classes to lose his German accent and in 2000, he moved to Los Angeles and landed his first job on Showtime’s comedy, “Soul Food.”
He met and married Nicole Ari Parker, another successful actor and model, and together they have two children: Sophie Tei-Naaki Lee Kodjoe and Nicholas Nerunda Kodjoe.
Boris’ story took a turn when their eldest daughter, Sophie, was born with spina bifida in 2005.
Spina bifida is one of the most common birth defects, with about one to two cases per 1,000 births worldwide on average. It is a congenital developmental birth defect and occurs when there is an incomplete closing of the embryonic neural tube. Some vertebrae overlying the spinal cord are not fully formed and remain unfused and open. Spina bifida can be surgically closed after birth, but this does not restore normal function to the affected part of the spinal cord.
When Sophie was born with the condition, Boris and Nicole started the Sophie’s Voice Foundation, or SVF. They opened a Ghanaian chapter of SVF in 2009 and sent volunteers there to collect data on child mortality related to birth defects in order to better serve the spina bifida community in Ghana. They are also working with the health department in Ghana to build the first spina bifida Clinic in Accra, which will be the first of its kind in Africa. SVF is also building its first center for spina bifida in Atlanta, Georgia in the United States.
Today, Sophie and her parents live in Los Angeles and the family is thriving.
Nicole is rehearsing for her big Broadway debut in March 2012, when she will become the first African-American actress in history to star in Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire,” as Blanche Dubois. Boris just starred in the film “Resident Evil: Retribution,” which will be in theaters in September. On the entrepreneurial front, they have launched a custom clothing company called World of Alfa, which is available all over Africa, and enables people to design their own custom shirts and suits and receive them within 21 days of ordering.
I asked Boris, if like me, he feels that this is Africa’s moment. He said:
I’ve been watching Africa take big strides in the past ten years and I’ve also noticed an increased awareness here in the United States about opportunities to generate economic growth with Africa. It’s exciting to see how the world has gotten closer through the internet and social media and how people worldwide connect with one another now. I love Africa and hope to be able to spend more time there in the future working on various projects.
I couldn’t agree more.