Remi Adeleke: “Be intentional about reaching across the fence to better understand those with whom we disagree with”

While writing the book, I kept thinking of a young black kid who grew up in a single-parent home in the Bronx, ergo, me. I wanted to inspire kids who came from where I came from to reach for the stars. I wanted them to realize that though the road maybe rough, they can make […]

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While writing the book, I kept thinking of a young black kid who grew up in a single-parent home in the Bronx, ergo, me. I wanted to inspire kids who came from where I came from to reach for the stars. I wanted them to realize that though the road maybe rough, they can make it and be somebody. It may not be a Navy SEAL, writer or entrepreneur, but it may be an engineer like my brother; or it may be an ER doctor like my half-brother who grew up down the street from me; or it may be an MBA executive at a major corporation like my half-sister who grew up in Queens.


As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Remi Adeleke.

Remi Adeleke was born in Western Africa, but following the death of his father, he, his mother, and his brother relocated permanently to the Bronx, New York. After years of making regrettable decisions, Remi joined the Navy in 2002 and later became a Navy SEAL. Ending his successful naval career in 2016, he was led to pursue careers in writing, speaking and acting, including the 2017 franchise film Transformers: The Last Knight, SEAL Team CBS, and the 2022 Universal thriller Ambulance. Remi also served as a consultant on Netflix’s 6 Underground and Apple+ TV series Invasion (Summer 2021). Remi is currently in a Talent Hold Deal with Nat Geo/Disney as the studio giant searches for an adventure series for him to helm. As a screenwriter, Remi, penned the adapted teleplay for Slave Stealers, which highlights abolitionist Harriet Jacobs. He holds a BS in organizational leadership and an MS in strategic leadership, both from the University of Charleston West Virginia. Remi resides in Southern California with his wife, Jessica, their three sons, Cayden, Caleb & Carter and their daughter, Ciana.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I was born in Nigeria, but following the death of my father and the seizing of his assets by the Nigerian government, my mother moved my brother and me to Bronx, NYC. Our transition took place in 1987, which was the height of the crack epidemic, so it was extremely rough on my family. We faced a lot of struggles, a lot of setbacks, but all in all I’m so grateful for that time period because it helped shape me into the man I am today.

When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?

I can’t think of a book that I read that inspired me to take action. But I can say there were two films that indeed inspired my transformation. We didn’t have much, but my mother would save up her pennies, put them aside and when she accumulated enough she would take us to the upper westside Manhattan to watch a movie or two. In 1995 a movie by the name of Bad Boys came out. That was the first time I saw two men who look like me and were playing heroes. I also loved the idea that they were cool and had swag. Because of what I saw, that was the first time I said to myself, I can be a hero or I can do something hero-like. A year later a film by the name of the Rock came out. There were Navy SEALs in that film. Prior to watching the film, I had never heard of these men with abilities to do things that far exceed the capabilities of the common man. It was after watching that film that I decided the type of hero I’d like to be if I could ever get out of my environment and turn my life around.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

When I showed up to SEAL training the first time I wasn’t as prepared as I should have been. During training, we were tasked to complete a two-mile timed ocean swim with fins and in under 85 minutes. This particulate evolution took place once a week. Now prior to showing up to training I had never trained with fins, as I didn’t think I needed to. This ended up biting me in the butt big time! My first swim time was 120 minutes, my next one 121, followed by 119. I was miserable and because I had little to no body fat, I was close to hypothermia or either hypothermic at the end of each swim. All the instructors expected me to quit but I didn’t. Long story short, after making it through Hell week I was put into a swimming program and then classed back up with another class. I passed my swim times in the first phase and graduated to the second phase. However, in the second phase the swim times dropped to 80 minutes. I failed my first 3 swims and a dive test, which subsequently led to me getting kicked out of training. The biggest lesson I learned from that experience was, a failure is only a failure if you dont learn from it. However, if we learn from our failure, that it becomes a lesson. And the lesson that I got out of my SEAL training failure was: never show up to anything unprepared. I applied that lesson, went back to SEAL training a year and a half later and made it through.

Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?

While writing the book, I kept thinking of a young black kid who grew up in a single-parent home in the Bronx, ergo, me. I wanted to inspire kids who came from where I came from to reach for the stars. I wanted them to realize that though the road maybe rough, they can make it and be somebody. It may not be a Navy SEAL, writer or entrepreneur, but it may be an engineer like my brother; or it may be an ER doctor like my half-brother who grew up down the street from me; or it may be an MBA executive at a major corporation like my half-sister who grew up in Queens.

Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

Without giving away too much, I flew to Nigeria to finish writing my book, and that’s where the book actually ends. The most interesting story has to do with a full circle moment that came between me and a Nigerian boy who I met while in Nigeria. I won’t give it away. You’ll have to read the book to find out what happened and also find out how that moment connected to other key moments in the story.

What was the aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?

In 2017 I went on the Today Show to promote Transformers The Last Knight. During the interview, Kathie and Hoda asked me to share my story. While sharing they both said, “Your story is amazing! It needs to be told in a book and then a film.” I nodded and laughed. When we got backstage, Kathie pulled aside and said, “I’m serious. You need to write a book. Your story can inspire so many people.” That was the Ah-ha moment for me and the moment I decided to tell my story in book form.

Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

I always say, “Story has the ability to change lives and save lives.” The biggest impact had to do with the latter of my quote. I shared my story at an event one time and after my talk, a woman came up to me and said she wanted to commit suicide, but felt the need to hear my story. Long story short, she was inspired by my story and had a change of heart. This was about 7 Years ago. We’ve stayed in contact and though she’s still faced challenges since our fist encounter, the most important thing is, she’s still alive.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

1. Be intentional about reaching across the fence to better understand those with whom we disagree with. As I always say, conversation (if done cordially) can lead to understanding; understanding can lead to empathy; and empathy can lead to unity. 2. Advocate for personal and tribal accountability, ie, have the integrity and courage to challenge those within our tribe when they screw up instead of giving them a pass just because, “they’re us”. Tribalism will not go away, so that’s the best way — in my opinion — to work around it. 3 Stop trying to control those with whom we disagree with.

How do you define Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

A leader — in my opinion — is someone who won’t ask those they lead to do something that they have not done or that they are not willing to do. In essence, setting the example and living it out. The simplest example I’ll use is parenting. How can I expect my kids to respect women if I’m not respecting their mother? It would be hypocritical for me to tell my kids to respect women while I’m being blatantly and consistently disrespectful their mother. Or how can I tell them to keep their word, if I’m not keeping my word? If I’m going to tell my kids to do something, I better have done to or be willing to do it, and that to me is leadership.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Nothing. I say that because if I had the answers to the test, I wouldn’t had made the mistakes that have led to my failures and subsequently the lessons I learned from my failures. And the more painful the failure the more valuable the lesson. Therefore, as I said, I don’t wish that anyone would tell me anything before I started, as I learned a lot of valuable lessons from my mistakes/failures/pain/setbacks that have served me and continue to me.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I shared above and I’ll share it again. “Failure is only a failure if you don’t learn from it, but if you learn from your failure, it becomes a lesson.”

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

In short, I can’t think of anyone.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

@RemiAdeleke at Instagram, twitter and Facebook. Amazon sales link:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/mpc/A9MT75LZ4DVVV

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!


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