ARTIST + ACTOR JAHI WINSTON ON: WINNING, MENTAL HEALTH WALKS + 'WE HAVE A GHOST'!
EDITOR IN CHIEF + PHOTOGRAPHY: COREY GUEVARRA
WARDROBE: KIMBERLY GOODNIGHT
GROOMING: KATHY SANTIAGO
WARDOBE ASSISTANT: MICHAELA REED
JAHI WHERE ARE YOU FROM/WHERE DID YOU GROW UP?
I was born and raised in Atlanta, GA. I lived in the suburbs for most of my childhood, but I would commute into the city a few times a week for Church. So, a part of me feels like I was partially raised in the city even though I lived about 20 minutes further North. I love Atlanta. Even though I’ve spent a lot of time away because of my work, I always credit Atlanta as the place that grounds me and allows me to appreciate my family and the way that I was brought up.
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN ENTERTAINMENT? WHAT WAS YOUR “BIG” BREAK?
I started working professionally when I was fairly young. I had always dreamt of being on stage and performing in front of people, and when I was ten, I got an opportunity to audition for the Broadway production of The Lion King. I ended up getting the job and I moved to New York with my mom a month later to start working. The ball kind of started rolling from there.
WHEN DID YOU DISCOVER THAT YOU COULD SING AND ALSO ACT?
My mom says that I sang before I talked – not sure how accurate that is, haha! I don’t think there was ever a specific moment when I discovered that I could sing or act, I just remember being obsessed with every aspect of entertainment at a very young age. When I was 5 or 6, someone showed me the film adaptation of The Wiz, and I just couldn’t shut up about it. I wanted to be like Diana Ross and Michael Jackson, singing and going on a magical adventure. I sort of made music and performing a part of my personality. I was probably insufferable and a little strange to my peers, but I didn’t care. I just loved it and clung to it in a way that I didn’t do with anything else.
WALK ME THROUGH HOW IT FELT THE FIRST TIME YOU WENT TO YOUR FIRST MOVIE SET OR LEGENDARY THEATER AS ‘TALENT’…
My first time on an actual set was kind of a mundane experience. I had a recurring role on this AMC show, and I think I just sat in my tiny little honey-wagon for most of the day, shot my scene in an hour, then went home. It was the most authentic on-set experience a person could ask for, not what many people anticipate it to be. Even though it was mostly just a lot of sitting around, I was still so excited to be there. I would’ve waited ten hours to say one line, I loved it!
YOU HAVE THE BEST NAME! ‘JAHI DI'ALLO WINSTON’ DOES JAHI OR DI’ALLO HAVE ANY SPECIFIC MEANINGS?
Yes! My first name is East African, it means ‘dignity’ and my middle name is West African it means ‘bold.’
AS A SINGER, DESCRIBE YOUR SOUND/VIBE FOR US AND AND WILL WE EVER GET A FULL EP FROM YOU?
I would say that my music is alternative pop/alt R&B. I’m influenced by a little bit of everything because I pretty much listen to everything.
Absolutely. I’m at a really exciting place right now where I’m very clear on what I want to say in my music and how I want to present myself outside of my work on screen. I think the past couple of years of my life have allowed me to reflect on who I am as an artist and the direction that I want to go in creatively as it relates to my music. I’ve been very adamant throughout my career about not being boxed in or restricted in anyway, and I’m excited for people to see another side of myself.
WHO ARE YOU HEROES, JAHI?
I don’t know if I have any specific “heroes,” per se. I admire so many different people for different reasons. I look up to people like James Baldwin because he was an unabashed truth-teller, I love Prince because he was a provocateur and unapologetically himself, Denzel Washington, Maya Angelou, and Al Pacino – to name a few. I think I’m mostly inspired by my family. My parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins…those are my everyday heroes
NOW, TELL US ALL ABOUT ‘WE HAVE A GHOST!” WHAT’S IT ABOUT & WHO IS YOUR CHARACTER?
We Have a Ghost is a movie about a family that moves into a house haunted by a ghost named Ernest. After posting him on social media, he becomes an internet celebrity and a subsequent target of the CIA. I play Kevin in the movie, and he’s an old soul and a little bit of an outsider amongst his peers and even within his own family. The film follows him on this wild adventure to protect Ernest from the chaos around him and help him discover the truth about his past.
WHAT DREW YOU TO THIS ROLE?
I was interested in doing the movie because it was such a stark contrast to most of the work I’ve done up until this point in my career. For the most part, I’ve been a part of pieces that are a bit darker in subject matter and while I’ve loved being a part of those projects, a lot of my younger fans can’t watch them because the content is a bit too mature. However, this was an opportunity to do something everyone of all ages could enjoy and be excited about.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE ACTING WITH GREATS LIKE ANTHONY MACKIE, DAVID HARBOUR, JENNIFER COOLIDGE & TIG NOTARO?
I had so much fun working with the entire cast! To have an opportunity to work with people who I’ve admired for so long and learn from them was really exciting. They were all so willing to play and have fun and I think that was the coolest part about the experience; no one felt like they were above what we were doing – it was just a good time.
WAIT SO WE READ THAT YOU GREW UP WITH BOTH PARENTS RUNNING A CHURCH? PLEASE TELL US ALL ABOUT IT AND IF/HOW YOUR UPBRINGING INFLUENCES YOUR CAREER CHOICES AS YOU NAVIGATE THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY….
I grew up in church as both of my parents are ministers. My faith played a huge part in my upbringing, and I still hold a lot of those values today. I grew up singing and performing in church productions, which laid the groundwork for my current life of constantly being in front of people. Even though I sometimes hated it as a child, I'm now grateful for those principles because they ground me and remind me of where I come from in a way that nothing else really does. I'm truly blessed to be doing what I love at this level.
WHAT ARE 6 THINGS YOU CAN'T LIVE WITHOUT?
My guitar, bike, headphones, books, food and family.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE TIME OF DAY? IF SO, WHEN & WHY?
I like midnight, I’m a night owl, and for some reason, my brain works better after or right before midnight.
WHERE DO YOU HOPE TO BE BY AGE 26, JAHI?
I hope to be living independently in a place that I can really call my home. I want to be producing films as well as starring in them and making music that has just as much reach and cultural presence as the work that I do on screen.
WHAT MESSAGE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHER YOUNG BLACK BOYS COMING UP BEHIND YOU, JAHI?
Do you, be you, don’t let anyone dim your light!
YOU WERE ONCE QUOTED AS SAYING THAT YOUR CREATIVE MANIFESTO IS TO ‘CHALLENGE THE STATUS QUO THROUGH YOUR WORK, AS WELL AS TO SPARK CONVERSATIONS ABOUT BLACK MASCULINITY IN A WAY THAT HASN’T BEEN DONE BEFORE’. CAN YOU ELABORATE ON THAT FOR US?
I don’t know if I’m interested in challenging any particular social or political misdeed through my work as much as I am in just telling the truth. With anything I do, I want to tell the raw, honest truth because I think the only way we’ll ever understand each other better is if we aren’t afraid to reveal who we are. I want to be candid about my struggle to define my masculinity as a black man. I also want other black boys to be comfortable expressing themselves however they feel without being unfairly ridiculed. I hope that by being transparent about my own journey with my masculinity, other young men, specifically young black men, can be open and honest about theirs as well.
‘WE HAVE A GHOST’ IS A REALLY LIGHT DEPARTURE FROM THE USUAL DRAMATIC ROLES WE’VE GROWN ACCUSTOMED TO SEEING YOU IN. WHAT INSPIRED THE CHANGE OF PACE? (& IS THIS THE START OF MORE COMEDIC PROJECTS FOR YOU?) WAIT…ALSO… DO YOU BELIEVE IN GHOSTS, JAHI?
I just wanted to do something fun. This was the first project I had worked on since coming out of the pandemic, and I just wanted to do something that felt like a good dose of escapism from all the chaos in the world. I’m also totally open to doing more comedies, hopefully, a dark comedy next! Not convinced yet about ghosts. Not completely ruling it out but, not 100% sold just yet.
I KNOW MENTAL HEALTH ADVOCACY IS REALLY BIG FOR YOU…. WHAT ARE SOME THINGS THAT YOU DO OR INCORPORATE INTO YOUR DAILY LIFE TO SERVE & PROTECT YOUR PEACE & MENTAL HEALTH JAHI?
I love to take walks. Being amongst nature has always been a nice balm for me, plus doing things like walking, reading, or riding my bike helps me release tension and anxiety when I’m mentally in a dark place. Also, social media breaks – If you’re reading this while you’re having a bad day, put the darn phone down and see what happens! Haha!
OUR FAVORITE, STAPLE QUESTION; THE ANSWERS HAVE RANGED TO EVERYTHING FROM A PASTIME TO AN ITEM, TO A STATE OF MIND….WHAT’S YOUR DEFINITION OF LUXURY JAHI?
I define luxury as having everything you could ever want, and longing for nothing! You don’t have to be the wealthiest person in the world to live your version of a luxurious life.
FINALLY, TELL US WHY WE’VE ALL ABSOLUTELY GOTTA GO STREAM ‘WE HAVE A GHOST’ LIKE RIGHT NOW?!
You should all watch We Have a Ghost because it has everything a good movie needs! Comedy, adventure, mystery, action, loads of heart, and the most essential thing…David Harbour in a comb-over :)