When Niketa Calame was 5 her mom put a microphone in her hand.

It was, says Calame, as if she had suddenly come alive.

Calame would go on to voice the character of “young Nala” in Disney’s animated film The Lion King, act on stage, sing in choirs, appear in commercials, and make documentary films.

But being an African American woman in Hollywood and suffering from Type 1 diabetes, Calame did not always have a smooth path.

There were times, she says, when she had difficulty keeping her confidence because the entertainment industry did not see the beauty of her dark skin, and the constant vigilance she needs in the face of a disease that makes even small decisions a matter of life and death is wearing.

But Calame, 36, is undaunted.

“I was lucky enough to find my purpose at a young age, and I feel like when you live and walk your purpose, the ups and downs, the triumphs and failures, are not as trying,” she says.

Her purpose took her to the Actors Studio Drama School in New York, where she earned her M.F.A. It took her to TV shows and roles like Squeak in The Color Purple at the Celebration Theatre in Los Angeles.

It also has taken her to her job as an assistant director at IV I II Studios in Southern California, where she makes IMPACT brand films and feature documentaries, including the studio’s latest movie, Boxing for Christ, about a woman who runs a gym dedicated to keeping at-risk youth off the streets.

And it took her to a role as a spokeswoman for the American Diabetes Association and to a mentoring program where she is preparing for work as a community college professor.

“I’m consistently working and getting paid to be an artist,” Calame says. “To me, that’s success.”

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