Toni Belafonte: A Tale of Virtue & Versatility
Toni Belafonte: A Tale of Virtue & Versatility
By Phulbert St. Germain
When Toni Belafonte, relative of African-American musician, actor and social activist, Harry Belafonte, was chosen for A.U.D.R.A.’s premiere issue I thought, “Great! Another pretty, pseudo-Hollywood type aiming to be the it-girl of the year in a music video, club or red carpet.” Out of fear of perpetuating those stereotypes and coming off as a publication in support of all the negative thoughts that loom around the young, creative woman on the come-up, I stood corrected. Toni, (pronounced Tah-nee) walked on set, professional and just as cool as cucumber, greeting each member of the A.U.D.R.A. crew with a sturdy handshake, direct eye contact, intimidating physique and offered up one word, “Toni.” A smirk of both surprise and excitement stretched across my face. Toni Belafonte isn’t your usual, run of the mill, in this year out the next, “model chick.” She is a self-branded ingénue that considers all of her talents a trade. When you ask for Toni Belafonte, you get a one-woman show—actress, model, personal trainer, athlete and businesswoman. Heck, at one point she even sold knives! To say that she hustles, would be a grave understatement. I was intrigued to discover her background matched her tough, but beautiful exterior. Toni’s life is about struggle, trying new things, overcoming disappointment and maintaining her climb to the top. If the stars in the sky are aligned just right, or if Toni has anything to do with it, she is destined to be a huge star in 2010, gladly accepting the challenge head on and the full experience, good or bad.
A.U.D.R.A: Who is Toni Belafonte?
Toni: I have finally deemed myself as the ultimate hustler, I do whatever it takes so I can live and be an artist freely. I’ve bartended, catered, worked retail, been a personal trainer, served and sold knives. I’m an actor and a model. I’m capable of doing a lot and I do a lot. I think I’m kind, fun to be around, spontaneous, adventurous and a diva.
You seem very strong and direct, but if you reflected on yourself what would you say?
I guess that’s true. People tend to get that. I don’t even try to but I guess it’s just something that’s in me that I exude. I think I’m a little quirky. If you’re hanging with me, I just say stuff randomly. I’ll make faces and voices. I love to mimic people. Some people just look at me like that’s totally out of left field. I think I have a bit of quirkiness inside of me.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Jamaica. I grew up here in New York. I was in the Bronx for 10 years and then I was in the West Village for 10 years, then I went to school in Philly.
How was your life growing up?
Life was good. I realize that now, looking back. My mom would kill me if I say this, but we didn’t have a lot. We weren’t poor poor, but we were poor. Did I know we were poor? No. Not at one moment in my life did I ever know that we didn’t have a lot. My mom always made it a point to make sure that I had everything that I wanted shoes, clothes or whatever. I went to catholic school. My hair was always done nicely. That was one of her things; she hated seeing kids with their hair a mess. I always had things I wanted. I wasn’t spoiled; she didn’t just give them to me.
Who inspires you?
My mom inspires me. She’s always worked so hard. I am her only daughter, so I find that it’s my duty to give back to her and allow her to be able to put her feet up one day and not have to worry about going to work or paying the bills. I try to just stay focused in what I’m doing. Just knowing that in the time that it is supposed to happen, it will happen.
Do you feel pressure to succeed?
I think I’m just a naturally driven and ambitious person. My mom always told me when I was little you always have to have ambition. I want to be lazy, that’s my favorite thing to do, but I can’t. Something inside of me always goes off, “You didn’t do this and you didn’t do that.” So I have to get stuff done. I do feel pressure to succeed.
Do you feel that pressure stems from being related to Harry Belafonte?
No, not at all. That’s a lineage and your ancestors do hand out to you, but not him particularly. I think it’s in my genetic makeup. I’m a competitor. I’ve been an athlete since I was 10 years old. That helps fuel the fire to be the best. To do better, to do more and there’s always more work to be done. So Harry hasn’t got anything to do with it.
If you could change a major crisis in the world what would it be?
There’s so much. I think anything that has to do with the well being of children would be it—the fact that some kids don’t have a childhood because they have to raise their sisters and brothers because their parents died from AIDS, kids that are sold into slavery as sex slaves, working for other people, not having an education and not being able to go to school; young girls that are looked down upon because they’re not little boys in some cultures; burned or abused children—anything that interferes with the well being of kids I would want to come to end.
What are your current projects and what do you have coming down the pipeline?
Right now I’ve been working on Cope TV, which is an online TV network for Indie artists in entertainment. I’m still modeling and acting. I just booked a gig with Dell. That’s pretty much it. My acting, modeling and my company are my three main goals and that’s what I really focus my time on.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I can’t even look that far ahead. Let see I’d have 2.5 kids. Peanut, oh no, Peanut won’t be here. Peanut is my yorkie and they usually have a life span of 13-14 years and Peanut’s already 5. Married with kids, living the “American dream,” a house, happy, career booming and vacationing when I’m ready. Oh did I mention my fine husband that was going to be next to me [laughs]. Just living a happy life.
Do you have any advice looking back?
Don’t take your youth for granted. I’m still young, but I do wish I had taken the opportunity to explore things. When you’re 21, just getting out of college, you can do whatever you want. You have no responsibilities. It’s okay to not know what you want to do. I just thought that once I came out of school I was going to be this model and actress and I was going to arrive on the scene and they were going to be like, “Okay Toni, you’re here let’s go.” Six years later you’re still waiting. I was doing my modeling and photographers were like, “You’re fabulous, absolutely beautiful, you should go to Europe; you’ll make it.” I didn’t go to Europe. Not because I didn’t want to travel, but because I felt like being in New York was where I needed to be. I should have taken advantage of that. Take as many avenues [as you can] and keep going. Wherever your true passion really is, it will jump out at you.
Images taken by Ivan McCartney