Essence Atkins is an American actor, model, and AIDS activist. She began her career with 'The Cosby Show,' which was the first-ever African–American primetime soap opera. Until the mid-1990s, Essence was mostly seen in brief roles and then began getting more significant roles. Some of her notable series and films are 'Half & Half,' 'Are We There Yet?,' 'A Haunted House,' 'Under One Roof,' 'Malibu Shores,' and 'Smart Guy.' Essence is a trained dancer, and she even once dreamt of becoming a professional dancer. However, destiny had other plans for her. Incidentally, Essence got her breakthrough role because of her dance institute. Essence has been associated with a few AIDS-awareness programs and has contributed a lot to spread positivity about the disease. Essence was earlier married to former Puerto Rican collegiate football free safety Jaime Mendez, with whom she has a son. The two announced their divorce in 2016.
Childhood & Early Life
Essence was born Essence Uhura Atkins, on February 7, 1972, in Brooklyn, New York City, US, to Sandy Nelson and Jeffery Atkins. She grew up in St. Albans, Queens.
Essence attended 'Profession Children School,' which is a school for students who work and continue their studies simultaneously. She has learned her basics of dance from the 'Alvin Ailey Institute.'
Essence got to know about the auditions for 'The Cosby Show' from a job description posted on her dance institute's bulletin board. Following this, she called the casting manager and made it to the show after appearing in a couple of auditions. Essence had initially started her career as a ballet and contemporary dancer but later quit her dance career for acting.
Essence is the only child of her parents. However, between the late 1990s and the early 2000s, a rumor stated that famous Hollywood twins Tia and Tamera Mowry were her sisters.
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Essence was just 13 years old when she began her career as an actor. She was cast in two episodes of the 'NBC' sitcom 'The Cosby Show.' Essence first appeared in the 1986 episode 'Vanessa's Rich.’ She then appeared in ‘I'm "In" with the "In" Crowd,' which aired in 1989. She played the role of ‘Paula Young’ in both the episodes.
Following this, Essence appeared on a few TV shows and in a TV movie titled 'Sunday in Paris.’ She was approached for the role of ‘Danielle Marks’ in the spinoff of the 'NBC' sitcom 'Saved by the Bell.' Essence even filmed a pilot episode for the spinoff, titled 'Saved by the Bell: The College Years,' which aired in 1993. Unfortunately, she was dropped from the show after Tiffani-Amber Thiessen, a leading cast member of the original, rejoined the cast.
Essence was next cast in recurring role of Charlotte “Charlie” Langston in the 'CBS' drama 'Under One Roof,' which aired in 1995. Essence is also noted for her recurring role of ‘Julie Tate’ in the 'NBC' primetime teen drama 'Malibu Shores,' which aired in 1996. From 1997 to 1999, Essence was seen as ‘Yvette Henderson’ in the 'The WB' sitcom 'Smart Guy' The series cast her as actor Tahj Mowry‘s older sister, whereas in real life, Essence is almost 10 years junior to the actor.
In 1999, Essence made her movie debut with a short film titled 'Nikita's Blues,' in which she played the titular role. She played the character again in 2001, in the short’s remake, titled 'Nikita Blues.' The same year, Essence was seen as ‘Jamie’ in Jesse Dylan's directorial debut, 'How High,' and as ‘Tamikah Jones’ in 'XCU: Extreme Close Up.' Between acting in films, Essence appeared on a few TV shows, such as 'Sabrina the Teenage Witch' and 'Moesha.' She came back on the small screen as a recurring star in the 'UPN' sitcom 'Half & Half.' She played the role of ‘Dee Dee Thorne’ in a total of 91 episodes of the show, from 2002 to 2006. The role earned Essence her first 'NAACP Image Award' nomination for ‘Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series.’ Her second 'NAACP' nomination in the same category came for her recurring role (73 episodes, from 2010 to 2012) of ‘Suzanne Kingston-Persons’ in the 'TBS' sitcom 'Are We There Yet?'
Some of Essence’s notable big-screen projects are 'Love for Sale' (2008), 'Dance Flick' (2009), 'Preacher's Kid' (2010), 'N-Secure' (2010), and 'Dysfunctional Friends' (2012). She appeared as ‘Kisha Davis’ in the found-footage parody/comedy–horror film 'A Haunted House' and its sequel, 'A Haunted House 2,' released in 2013 and 2014, respectively. Essence will be seen in the role again the third installment of the series, the release dates of which are yet to be announced. In 2018, she announced her debut film as an executive producer, 'Same Difference.' The movie will feature her in a double role of estranged twin sisters named ‘Tonya’ and ‘Shauna.’
Essence was again seen on TV in the role of ‘Samantha Owens’ in the 'MyNetworkTV' sitcom 'Mr. Box Office.' In 2017, she began appearing as ‘Ashley Wayne’ in the series 'Marlon.' Essence’s character in the series is the former wife of the character ‘Marlon Wayne,’ which is modeled on the life of actor Marlon Wayans.
Essence will be seen as a lawyer named ‘Amara’ in the upcoming multigenerational family drama 'Ambitions.' The show will be aired on 'Oprah Winfrey Network.'
Essence is signed with two talent agencies, namely, 'Kathy McComb Management' and 'Don Buchwald & Associates.'
Relationship & Marriage
Essence was earlier married to former Puerto Rican collegiate football free safety Jaime Mendez. The two met through a dating site called 'Match.com' on Valentine’s Day 2008. Essence was above 35 when she met Jaime. In one of her interviews, Essence revealed that she was tired of her past flings and did not want to waste time. Hence, she relied on a dating-service provider to find her soulmate, and it worked. In 2009, Essence and Jaime got married at the 'Ambassador Mansion and Gardens.'
Essence chose a ‘Stephen Yearick’ gown for her wedding ceremony and wore an ‘Angel Rivera’ dress for the reception. She planned a surprise salsa performance for her Puerto Rican husband. Valarie Pettiford, Essence’s 'Half & Half' co-star, performed at the reception. Keeping Jaime’s heritage in mind, Essence got the wedding menu specially designed by chef G Garvin. The menu consisted of several Puerto Rican and traditional soul food dishes, such as mac and cheese, roasted pork, peach cobbler, and plantains. Essence and Jaime gifted their guests matchbooks and travel-sized candles. Interestingly, the newlywed couple gifted a 6-month membership voucher of 'Match.com' to each of their single guests.
On August 9, 2011, Essence and Jaime announced that they were expecting their first child. They welcomed their son, Varro Blair Mendez, in December 2011. The two shared their joy through a "tweet."
Essence separated from Jaime in 2016. Just 3 weeks after the divorce was filed, Essence signed for her role in 'Marlon,' in which she played a divorcee still in love with her former husband but choosing to find love again through a dating site.
Essence has been associated with a few AIDS-awareness programs. While growing up, in the 1980s, Essence had seen the distressing impact of AIDS on the arts community. Her experience triggered her motivation to spread awareness about the disease. She is one of the first celebrities to become an HIV/AIDS ambassador. Essence contributed a lot in spreading awareness about the disease, especially among the African–American community, which was majorly affected by AIDS back then.
Essence has volunteered for the 'Greater Than AIDS' campaign. The campaign was backed by 'The Black AIDS Institute,' which is a co-founding partner of the 'Kaiser Family Foundation' of 'Greater Than AIDS.' While working for the campaign, Essence was heavily pregnant. Her new journey toward motherhood was also one of the reasons that made her support the cause. The campaign continued even after Varro was born, and Essence balanced her motherhood, her campaign, and her career perfectly. While giving interviews and doing photo shoots for the 'Greater Than AIDS' campaign, Essence once stated that labor would have been the only thing to prevent her from being in the studio that day.
Family & Personal Life
Essence might have quit her dance career, but she still finds time to dance, as it is one of her favorite hobbies.
Additionally, she likes reading, horseback riding, and swimming. Some of Essence’s favorite movies are 'Aliens' (1986), 'Alien' (1979), and 'A Nightmare on Elm Street' (1984).