By Bob Highfill The Record, Stockton, Calif
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Actor, writer, and entrepreneur Nakia Burrise shares some words of wisdom, "Sometimes you get derailed off your path because life happens," Burisse said. "But if it's something you are supposed to do, God will put you back on that track, if you are obedient."
Nakia Burrise has beaten long odds professionally and personally.
She had to develop a thick skin to withstand the high rate of rejection in her chosen profession. And that same thick skin helped her cope with and emerge from a life-threatening health scare.
In every sense, the 44-year-old Edison High graduate, class of 1992, is a survivor. She also is an actor, writer and entrepreneur, who has appeared in numerous commercials, music videos, movies and television shows, including "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers."
Burrise will be one of the celebrities at the eighth StocktonCon Saturday and Sunday at Stockton Arena. She will speak and take questions at 1 p.m. Saturday inside the arena's Panel Room. On Monday, she will return to her high school alma mater to speak with students in Edison's drama department.
"My hope is to let them know even when you have obstacles," said Burrise, "you can overcome them to reach what you're destined to reach."
Burrise was born in San Diego and grew up in Stockton. She used to entertain her family re-creating skits from "The Carol Burnett Show" and began performing acrobatics at age 5. She later went into dancing, theater, musical theater, singing, modeling and acted in local theater productions.
"I've had a love for it ever since I was little," Burrise said. "I enjoyed making people smile. It was so fun for me and still is."
Out of high school, Burrise applied to the theater department at the University of California, Los Angeles, which for the first time was admitting incoming freshmen. The entrance requirements included passing an audition in San Francisco before drama professors from the university.
Burrise prepared with help from her high school drama teacher, Sandra Castanon-Ramirez, in the same auditorium where she will speak on Monday. Out of hundreds, if not thousands who applied from across the country, Burrise was one of only 50 accepted, and she was the only black female in her class.
"I felt like it was an honor to be there because it was the school of my dreams," she said. "But later I thought about that (being the only black female in her class). It was a little strange to me, but I rolled with it."
In 1996, during her junior year, Burrise landed her first big role, Tanya Sloan, the Yellow Ranger, in "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers." Her thick skin was tested, as she auditioned for the part with another couple hundred hopefuls, then made it through four callbacks.
"I was beyond thrilled when I got the role," she said.
In the ensuing years, her credits accumulated, though she heard, "No," from casting agents more than she heard them say, "Yes." Burrise said actors deal with a lot of rejection. That's where her thick skin has helped her, along with her faith.
"I feel like I've always had a relationship with God ever since I was little," she said. "I truly believe that I've always been called into the entertainment business."
In 2007, Burrise's thick skin and faith were tested like never before. While on vacation with her family in New Jersey, nagging symptoms she had for months worsened to the point where she flew home to Los Angeles. The swelling in her feet had spread to her knees, a persistent cough hadn't improved and she had an excruciating ear infection. Doctors took X-rays, MRIs and ran tests. Burrise said the inside of her chest looked like a tree on the X-rays, and her lymph nodes were so inflamed and swollen, they resembled large cotton balls. Eventually, doctors determined she had sarcoidosis, the same disease that took the life of comedian/actor Bernie Mac.
The diagnosis and aftermath knocked Burrise and her family off their feet.
"We were just numb," said Nakia's mother, Debbie Burrise, who lives in Stockton with her husband, Cornell. "Thank God she overcame that. She's very strong and being an actress, you have to have a tough skin."
Burrise was put on numerous medications that sapped her energy. She went into substitute teaching and seriously considered giving up acting. Fortunately, her condition improved and she went into remission in 2009. That's when the fire that had burned inside her from the days she impersonated Carol Burnett in her living room reignited. She was ready to get back in the game, but she had been on the bench for two years. It's hard enough to get into acting, but to get back into acting?
"It was just like starting over again," Burrise said.
Like a miracle, "out of the blue," Burrise said, she received a call from a producer/writer who was familiar with her work. That led to a part in the film "Between Kings and Queens," and Burrise has continued to work regularly ever since.
"Sometimes you get derailed off your path because life happens," Burisse said. "But if it's something you are supposed to do, God will put you back on that track, if you are obedient."
Burrise lives in Northridge with her husband, Nick, and their two boys: Nyan, 16, and Nolen, 19. In 2006, she began producing her own projects and in 2012, she launched Sovereignty Entertainment Company, which is dedicated to producing family-friendly content. She also co-owns with her husband a set design company in Glendale, Sets To Go. She donates more than 10 percent of her earnings to nonprofit organizations and appears at 12 to 15 conventions per year around the world. This will be her first time at StocktonCon.
And it all began in a living room in Stockton.
"No one could have told me 23 years ago that my role on 'Power Rangers' would have affected so many people or would have encouraged them to go into martial arts or help them with their bullying situation," Burrise said. "And letting people of color know they can do great things because they've seen my face. It's been extremely blessing."
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