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Wendell James on His OWN Terms

By on April 11, 2014

Wendell James is full of character and jokes on the docu-series, Raising Whitley on the Oprah Winfrey Network. But before there was success on reality television, there was the reality of tough times.

At fifteen, Wendell James, now almost 54, voluntarily left his mothers house. He’d grow up quickly, spending the next few years homeless, living on the streets and in shelters, and ultimately enlisting in the U.S. Army. After his military stint, he struggled and found himself on welfare for a time. Things would eventually turn around.

Determined to do better, James started working with adults with developmental disabilities in Oakland, California. Little did he know it’d end up being his calling even leading to him getting his doctoral degree in counseling.

Wendell James was one of the first African Americans and at 26-years-old, definitely one of the youngest professionals, to head an agency focused on assisting developmentally disabled adults to function in a ‘normal’ environment. The idea was to expose clients to ‘real life’ experiences versus simulated ones to help improve their quality of life. He recalled the skeptics during this time because the concept was thought to be unconventional and risky. But Wendell had a vision and he was determined to see it come to pass. In fact, he’s still doing this work today.

“I work with people with developmental disabilities. I work with adults with mental retardation and on top of that, I have several dual-diagnosed clients. Ive been doing this work since I was in my 20’s. I have been in the same job since I was 25.”

So how does one juggle a demanding job with the developmentally disabled and the world of reality television?

James credits his faith, “I believe all things are possible through Christ. The Lord is behind my success. God is not complicated.”

James also affirms the reality in his reality show is 100% real.

“What you see on TV is really what we are like before the cameras even started rolling. We really are a village, and we gather at Kym’s house.”

And one piece of advice he has for others is to be open to opportunity, no matter what it looks like because it could end up being the blessing you’re looking for. “I took things that I did not want, to get to what I did want. I never thought I was too good to do anything.”


Walker Tisdale III, MPH, MA is the editor of Healthyblackmen.org. He resides in Atlanta, Ga. 

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