Raymond Karago is a UK-educated Kenyan living in Los Angeles and pursuing his dream career as an actor. In spite of many adversities typical of the industry Raymond has done some great work, his latest being his recent short film “Stand Up” which was screened at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival in May last year to great reviews and was also accepted into the LA International Film Festival, winning the Bronze award for best film.
Our special interview will delve into a topic so taboo to many immigrant cultures it almost destroyed Raymond. Mental illness is one of the leading causes of suicide in our immigrant communities in the USA and yet we fail to recognize the symptoms and to seek help for those who suffer. At the time of this interview I know of at least one African immigrant who has taken his life and many others in other immigrant communities who suffer as well.
Today Raymond Karago a thriving actor, writer and producer in Hollywood sits down with us to discuss his challenges with mental illness, how it has affected him and how he lives with this condition.
- Great to have you Raymond and thank you for sharing your story with our audience.Tell me about your childhood.
I was born in 1995 and I was raised in Nairobi Kenya. My father is an architect and my mother is a fashion designer. I have two brothers, a younger brother and an older brother who is adopted. I was raised in the suburbs, I remember it being very quiet but we also lived close to the National Park (Nairobi National Park) so from time to time on the way to school we would see zebra, wildebeest, warthogs and even giraffes.
- When did you come to the USA?
I moved to the United States in 2015 to study acting at the New York Film Academy graduating in 2018 with a Bachelors in Fine Arts Degree.
- How did you know that you wanted to pursue acting and entertainment in general?
From a very young age I was always enthralled by movies and my initial passion was to pursue a job in wildlife conservation because of movies such as The Lion King, The Jungle Book, Tarzan, Brother Bear etc. It was at around the age of 17 when I was living in England that I fell in love with performing for an audience by doing school plays and by being part of my school’s drama club. I did summer courses in London at drama schools such as Guildhall and LAMDA and was even part of the cast that performed Sister Act at her Majesty’s Theatre.
- Tell us about your film “Stand uP” and what you have been able to accomplish with it.
Stand uP is a short film I wrote, produced and starred in. It tells the story of a young man from Kenya called Henry Kamau who has been sent to the United States to study business by his traditional family but he discovers his true gift, doing stand up comedy. With new career opportunities coming up, he must tell his parents about his dream, he must “stand up” to them. The film has been screened at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival and the 2018 Burbank Film Festival. It was a semi-finalist at the 2018 Cine-Fest film festival, as well the LA Shorts award where it won the Bronze Award for Best Film.
- Congratulations and yet with all of this success you struggle with mental illness?
Since childhood I have always been prone to mood swings, times when I could feel very happy one minute and incredibly sad the next. I have also felt suicidal thoughts throughout my childhood and teenage years.
- How did you know that there was something wrong with you?
When I was 16, I was molested and that also created deep mental and emotional scars that I am still working through to this day. My lowest point came when, at the age of 22, I contemplated suicide and it got to the point where I spent time in a suicide home. This was a wake up call, and I remember one particular morning, while still at the institute, when I saw the most beautiful sunrise. I couldn’t see the sunrise from my apartment so this felt like a second chance from God. Since then I have been very passionate about mental health and for people, especially men of color to come forward about their mental health and let go of the ridiculous notion that we must all be “stoic”.
- As an African we know how difficult it is to talk about this, walk me through your journey.
At first incredibly difficult. Growing up, all the male influences in my life would internalize their pain and this example has been passed down from generation to generation. Coming forward with this, particularly the suicide attempt has been hard, especially to my family and close friends who always see me as a “happy” person, but I am happy to have opened this dialogue and many close friends (many of them being black men) have come to me in secret saying that they experienced many of the same things as me, from childhood molestation to suicide attempts.
- You have managed to accomplish so much at your young age in Hollywood where many struggle, how are you able to do so much in spite of this condition? Do you have a support system?
I am proud of how far I have come. As well as the success of Stand uP, I am also proud of the project Gansgters which as of now has been accepted into over 12 different festivals, including the Diversity of Cannes Film Festival; and I am proud to say that I have won two awards; acting award, the LA Edge awards and the LA Guild Awards for Best Supporting Actor. I was also in the short film Ashes which premiered at the historic Chinese Theatre at the Indie Night Film Award and won best Experimental film at the international film of the Reel film festival in London. A particularly rewarding project was the short Niara, which is set to screen at the Hollywood international Reel film festival. For me, I let my pain fuel me forward, I think to the little boy that was bullied or the teenager that went through that trauma, I want to be able to look back to them and say “I know it’s hard but don’t give up”, I want to be able to tell anyone “Look at what I went through, and I still made it, you can too”. I have a therapist and a life coach and they have been angels sent by God to my life.
- Why did you want to share your story with the world and what would you like to tell others who might be suffering?
So people out there can know that it is ok not to always be ok. In today’s social media society people are always portrayed as having to be 100% functional, perfect and have everything figured out when that is not always the case. I had to go to very dark places and experience very dark things before I realized that what I’m going through is what thousands of people are going through but no one ever wants to talk about it. Let’s start a conversation, let’s be there for each other and let’s be ok to tell people, at the very least those closest to us that “I’m not ok, can you help me?”
- Raymond Karago, you are a very brave young man. Thank you for sharing your story with us.
Many years ago I had the opportunity of interviewing a fellow immigrant from Ghana, Sam Sarpong, a model, actor, singer and Co-Host of MTV’s ‘Yo Momma show.
Like many immigrants he was pursuing his passion and realizing dreams, and had actually made a name for himself. In spite of his success little did I know that he might have been fighting some demons so strong he took his own life by jumping off a bridge in Pasadena, Calif. May he Rest in peace. I don’t know if he had mental illness or not but I do not know what could have made him feel so unworthy of life.
I hope that we never have to hear something like that again. If you are struggling with depression or have suicidal thoughts or know someone who is *please seek help. Reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Line: 1-800-273-8255 or text HELLO to 741741. They are there to listen, help and support you 24/7.
You are not responsible for your condition and it is treatable. Do not despair. Let Raymond’s story be an example for you to follow. You can lead a happy life and this does not define you.
Goodluck with everything Raymond!