With the recent release of Walter Isaacson’s bestselling biography, Steve Jobs (Simon & Schuster; $35), a public fascinated by the mind and habits of the deceased icon got a candid glimpse into a life that not only included history-making innovation, but a challenging entrance in to the world. Jobs, the man behind the Mac, the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad and the motion picture studio Pixar, was an orphan, adopted at birth by a California couple who subsequently raised him. Jobs is not alone. He is among several celebrities who have been either adopted or raised in the foster care system. Take a look at 10 notable African Americans who overcame childhood challenges to become greats in their respective industries. —Janell Hazelwood
VICTORIA ROWELL: Known for her role as Drucilla Winters on the Emmy award-winning The Young & Restless, Rowell had a childhood filled with many challenges, ultimately leading to her, along with her siblings, being surrendered to Child Services. Rowell was only 16 days old. She grew up in the foster care system, raised for 18 years by a varied network of women who she details in her memoir, The Women Who Raised Me (William Morrow; $26). A staunch advocate of support services, awareness, and rights of foster and adopted children, Rowell is founder of Rowell Foster Children’s Positive Plan (RFCPP), a program that enriches foster children through art and athletics.
TONY SHELLMAN: As an infant, the co-founder of popular clothing lines ENYCE and Mecca, was left in the care of Catholic Charities because his parents felt they could not adequately provide for him. In December 1968, Shellman was adopted, and in 2007, after success with the urbanwear brands, launched Parish Clothing, a contemporary menswear line. Despite his upbringing, Shellman has made his mark on the industry as a fashion, marketing and culture trendsetter.
ICE-T: Born Tracy Marrow, this gangsta rapper-turned-actor lost both of his parents by the age of 12. As a result, he was informally adopted by several of his family members until he was 17. Marrow would later make his mark in the music industry as one of the forefathers of gangsta rap, and went on to land a breakout acting role in the cult classic New Jack City, ultimately finding long-lasting success starring in the popular crime drama, Law & Order: SVU.
EDDIE MURPHY: As a child, Murphy—along with his brother, actor/comedian Charlie Murphy of Chappelle’s Show fame—spent a year in foster care after his birth mother became ill. The comedian, actor, and producer has said in interviews that his time in foster care inspired much of his comedic foundation. Gaining his big break as a cast member on the popular sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live, Murphy would go on to be nominated for an Academy Award for his role in Dreamgirls, as well as star in dozens of blockbuster films, including the Beverly Hills Cop, Dr. Dolittle and The Nutty Professor franchises.
ALONZO MOURNING: This NBA superstar, who played for the Charlotte Hornets, New Jersey Nets and Miami Heat, was in foster care from the age of 13 to 18. He publicly credits his first foster mother with encouraging him to do his best and leading him to become the man he is today. Mourning has been an adoption advocate and philanthropist supporting resources and services for children nationwide through Alonzo Mourning Charities.
TOMMY DAVIDSON: Adopted at the age of 2, Davidson grew up in an interracial household headed by a White couple. He’d go on to comedic and acting success as a cast member on In Living Color and The Proud Family, and with roles in films including the Ace Ventura franchise and Juwanna Man.
REV. JESSE JACKSON: An activist, political leader, and minister, Jackson was born Jesse Louis Burns to a teenage mother, who would later remarry. Jackson would go on to be officially adopted by his stepfather and take on the Jackson surname. He would later become a major figure in the Civil Rights Movement, run for president (twice), and founded the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, a religious and social development organization.
GARY COLEMAN: Before becoming a prominent child star, playing adoptee Arnold on the hit sitcom Diff’rent Strokes, Coleman knew a thing or two about it in real life, having grown up with adopted parents since birth. He would go on to appear in many hit TV series, from Martin to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and then on to reality TV fame as a cast member on The Surreal Life 2. He even ran for governor of California in 2003, and placed 8th in a field of 185 candidates during the infamous recall election. Though he suffered from an autoimmune kidney disease that stunted his growth, and would later die from complications of it, Coleman is one of the most well-known figures in pop culture, spanning generations.