From left: Peyton Alex Smith (as ball player Damon), Geffri Maya (as tennis star Simone) and Kelly Jenrette (as Amara Patterson, a teacher-activist and Simone's aunt) of All American: Homecoming.
Geffri Maya as Simone in All American: Homecoming.
Nkechi Okoro Carroll
Nkechi Okoro Carroll, showrunner of All American and All American: Homecoming, was raised in New York, Côte d'Ivoire, Nigeria and England. She speaks three languages, has a master's in international economics from NYU and once worked for the Federal Reserve — while writing and producing plays on the side. It might surprise you to learn then, that when she feels nervous, she holes up under her desk.
"I literally hide, for ten minutes," she says. "My assistant will come and say, 'You're on seven; you have three more.' And then I face whatever I was hiding from."
How Carroll, also a mom of two boys, finds time to hide and to mentor dozens of writers, is a mystery. But her coping mechanism makes sense, given the topics of both shows and the responsibility she feels in telling young people's stories.
All American, in its fourth season on The CW, follows football star Spencer James (Daniel Ezra), who leaves his high school in tough South L.A. to play for Beverly Hills High; All American: Homecoming — debuting February 21 — explores life at a fictional historically Black college for tennis star Simone Hicks (Geffri Maya) and baseball phenom Damon Sims (Peyton Alex Smith). The tension is amplified by Black players' underrepresentation in those sports.
HBCU life itself is scarce on TV. Beyond famed Howard, Morehouse and Spellman, there are about 100 other HBCUs, with distinctly different cultures. Carroll hopes viewers will learn about the Black experience: "We're talking about institutions that create game-changers and shape individuals that change the world."
In All American: Homecoming, Simone and Damon experience the challenges of college on multiple levels. "I like to call their time of life the quarter-life crisis. You're not under your parents' roof anymore, and you're in charge of the consequences of your decisions," Carroll says. What's more, they're entering the world at a tumultuous time, as society reckons with systemic racism and other fundamentals. "As a human race, as a society, as a country, I believe we are capable of better," she says. "So I chose to focus on that."
When the world challenges her optimism, Carroll knows just what to do. "I process my feelings, then I get out from under the desk and say, 'All right, what are we going to do about it?'"
All American and All American: Homecoming are available on The CW app and CWTV.com.
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, issue #1, 2022, under the title, "Fast Break."
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