Jabari Banks’ life truly mirrors the character he plays on Bel-Air, the dramatic retelling of the ‘90s hit sitcom. In West Philadelphia, born and raised, it was a phone call from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air OG, Will Smith that had Banks, a recent graduate of the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, heading west to headline the series, which would go on to unabashedly tackle issues such as racism and inequality. 

Now with Bel-Air renewed for a third season, Banks looks back on how this role has changed him, and the people and activities closest to him that keep his life from flipping upside down. 

Image: Keith Major for EBONY Media.

The biggest challenge you can face in Hollywood is self-doubt as a result of false perceptions. But once you concur with what’s happening in your mind, those challenges and obstacles start to become easier to handle.

Jabari Banks

I went through a pretty grueling casting process and had a lot of callbacks and chemistry tests for the show, but they ended up swinging my way. Bel Air has allowed me to create the future that I want for me and my family. My dad has been an amazing example of what it is to be a true, hard-working, intelligent, businessman. He’s taught me a lot about how to handle money and what being a man really means.

Tinseltown’s latest rising star, Jabari Banks. Image: Keith Major for EBONY Media.

I find myself to be a natural empath. Allowing myself to feel is a part of the job that makes it worth it to do it over and over again. With this job comes a lot of responsibility and expectations, so giving myself space to be outside of those as often as I want is how I take care of myself.

We need to take care of our mental health because there is so much warfare in this world and so many targets on Black men just because of how we look, so we must take care of our minds. They can never take that away.

Jabari Banks

For Hollywood to embrace Black stories so that our voices make an impact is an interesting choice of words. To ’embrace'”‘ is to support or accept. I feel my job is to bridge the gap between my humanity and the world’s perception of me. We say all the time, ‘Black is not a monolith.’ Creating stories that help show the full view of our experiences, I pray, will help the collective consciousness have a clearer idea of who we are. But first, we have to learn empathy, kindness and forgiveness. We can’t be afraid to hold each other closer and examine the details of each other’s experiences to embrace them.