Amber Riley talks past struggles with poverty: 'I know what it's like to not eat'

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BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 23: Singer Amber Riley attends the Culture Creators Awards Brunch at The Beverly Hilton on June 23, 2022 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Jerritt Clark/Getty Images for Culture Creators)
Amber Riley talks past struggles with poverty, not being able to afford food and bills. (Photo: Jerritt Clark/Getty Images for Culture Creators)

It's a true rags to riches story.

Glee alum Amber Riley, 36, recently sat down with host Natalie Manuel Lee for an interview on behalf of the multicultural skincare line Buttah Skin, during which she opened up about overcoming poverty as a child — including, she explained, going without food and lights at times — and how it all continues to shape her relationship with God.

“I’m grateful to be able to tell my story and I hope my sharing really helps someone out there!” the actor captioned a clip of the interview, which she shared on her Instagram page. “This part of the convo was particularly interesting to me. Having reverence and appreciating the struggle.”

The part she’s referencing was a section in the interview in which Lee said, “We think God only orders the sunshine, but he sometimes orders the rain.”

The line inspired Riley to share some of the lessons she learned from her past struggles with poverty.

“There were so many struggles that I had as a kid,” she explained. “So many struggles I had as a child that I went through that has prepared me for where I am now. I didn’t act a fool when I got into Hollywood the way that others did because of the foundation that I came from.”

“I can’t lose this,” she said of her life and career, which recently included a successful West End run of the musical Dreamgirls, in which she played Effie White — a character made famous by Tony-winners Jennifer Holliday and Jennifer Hudson, who won an Oscar for the role.

“I’ve been broke,” she continued. “I know what it’s like to not eat. I know what it’s like to not have hot water. I know what it’s like to not have lights and having to light a bunch of candles so that I can pick out my clothes for school the next day. I know what that’s like. I can’t go back to that.

“When I finally started to walk... in the blessings that God was giving me I never [wanted] to go back,” she said. “If I didn’t have the experience of knowing what the lowest felt like I would have no healthy fear of it — which is respect. I respect the position that God put me in.”

Indeed, Riley is anything if not appreciative of her blessings.

In a recent interview with Yahoo Life, the actor opened up about her journey towards self-love and how it's, what she calls, an "everyday decision."

"I don't think it's a complete destination where somebody just sits in it and then they're confident all the time, they love themselves all the time," she explained. "It's an ongoing journey and it's a decision that you make every single day.

"I've really learned to be patient with myself, and I've really learned to acknowledge my feelings and investigate them," she added. "Feelings are OK, but they're not facts. No feeling lasts forever. [I also learned that] I have more control in my life than I thought that I had. I'm [learning] to take care of myself."

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