“Skin Deep with Amanza Smith”
Amanza Smith, who is on the hit Netflix reality show, Selling Sunset, is unapologetically standing in her truth. Since coming out publicly about her childhood abuse by two family members in an explosive article for Mr. Warburton magazine, Amanza has forged a formidable path to shine light on a very dark moment in her past.
In a live Instagram interview with editor-in-chief Derek Warburton, Amanza goes skin-deep into her childhood trauma of severe neglect and sexual abuse from the tender ages of three to eleven years old from both her stepfather and step-grandfather.
About telling her truth, Amanza says, “It felt like the right time” in her Instagram live interview. “Because when the world was introduced to me, I already had a missing ex-husband. People were comparing me to Tiger King’s Carole Baskin!” Many know Amanza’s trying tale of ex-husband, former NFL player Ralph Brown. But in March 2019, Season Two of Selling Sunset was premiering, and Amanza was introduced to the world as a savvy interior designer and real estate agent. Social critics immediately compared Amanza’s marriage to Netflix Tiger King’s Carole Baskin marriage, whose husband also disappeared in the docuseries. “It was a cruel comparison,” says Amanza. “My ex-husband dropped the kids off at school one day and never came back.” Former NFL player Ralph Brown and Amanza Smith married in 2010. They had two kids together and divorced in 2012. They shared custody of the children until Brown up and vanished.
Bracing herself for public opinion, she says, “I wasn’t too sure how people would respond knowing my childhood trauma also.” Amanza first revealed shocking allegations of childhood sexual abuse in an intimate interview with Mr. Warburton magazine in December 2022. Her tumultuous life before the hit series show was exposed publicly for the first time. “A lot of my close friends knew,” she says. “They knew about my childhood trauma, but they had no idea of the extent of the abuse.” Although Selling Sunset castmates, Jason and Mary have been the reality star’s best friends for 21 years. “Mary was the only one that knew it was multiple people,” says Amanza. Following the abuse allegations, Amanza received an insurmountable amount of love, support, and response from her castmates. Selling Sunset Co-star Chrishell Stause commented on Amanza’s Instagram, “I love you so much. Such an amazing inspiration to so many. Also, the most gorgeous human inside and out.”
Not only did Amanza receive heartwarming support from all of her cast members, but her revelations had a surprising impact on her fans and victims alike. People from all across the world wrote in, relating to her story. One fan wrote, “You are so brave… I went through something similar and reading this article really touched my heart. I hate that you had to go through it, but it gives me peace knowing I’m not the only one and that it was not right. Thank you for telling your story.”
As she continues to peel back the layers of her vitriol nightmare, Amanza explains on the live interview the pivotal moment when her memories came flooding back to her. At age 34, Amanza returned to her hometown in Indiana to visit family. She was pregnant with her son Braker and already had her daughter Noah, who was almost two years old at the time. Amanza reflects on what happened at her best friend’s house with her stepfather.
“I had a panic attack! I was pregnant at the time with my son; I was in the kitchen with my best friend Jamie, and my stepfather was in the living room with my best friend’s daughters. I saw him playing with them, and I suddenly just envisioned everything that happened to me happening to my daughter,” says Amanza.
According to Jim Hopper, Ph.D., a teaching associate in psychology at Harvard Medical School and nationally recognized expert on psychological trauma, “It’s a common defense mechanism for victims of sexual abuse, of childhood sexual abuse to disassociate, to block out the memories and not think about it. And because of that, it’s not till 10 or 20 or 30 years later that something in their lives, maybe seeing somebody on the street who looks like the perpetrator or hearing a story on the news, sparked something in them. And it comes all back up to the surface.”
Amanza alleges she disassociated the abuse from her step-grandfather and stepfather for most of her life. Living back and forth between her Mom and stepfather’s home to her foster parent’s home didn’t mean anything at the time because she had suppressed the abuse. “I was acting like I was happy to have a dad,” Amanza recalls. “It wasn’t weird for me. It was weird for me once other people knew. I didn’t want people to be mad at him. That’s how fucked up my brain was! He walked me down the aisle at my wedding,” she says.
According to Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), every nine minutes, a child is sexually abused in the U.S. 93% of perpetrators are known to the juvenile.
Born to a mixed Nigerian-American father and a mixed German, Irish and English mother, Amanza was raised in a small town in Indiana. Interracial relationships were not celebrated back then, and the relationship didn’t last. After her parents split, Amanza’s Mom left for a slightly larger town, meeting and marrying an all-American man. Hoping they would experience less racism and have a better life, which couldn’t be further from the life she ultimately experienced.
Amanza experienced a life full of neglect throughout her childhood. She alleges being constantly subjected to a household full of sexual, verbal, and physical abuse. At 11 years old, Amanza’s Mom asked her if she was being abused. Amanza revealed only what her step-grandfather had done to her. It wasn’t until the age of nineteen when a close friend’s mother intervened, that Amanza opened up about her stepfather. Noticing patterns and behavior simulated with abuse victims, the close friend’s mother asked the question. “When my friend’s mother asked me if I had been abused, I said yes,” says Amanza. “Remember, my biological Mom already knew about my step-grandpa abusing me when I was 11. But she chose not to tell my stepfather. Claiming out of respect for him because his father, my step-grandfather, was dying at the time this was discussed.”
Amanza goes on to say once her Mom was informed of the abuse from the second family member, her stepfather, she immediately left the marriage. For a moment, it felt like the relationship between mother and daughter was sprouting a new bond. A bond of protection and compassion that only a mother can provide. But that fleeting moment passed. “She didn’t leave him because of the knowledge of the abuse. If she did, why would she leave my 12-year-old brother to live in the house with him? I think she wanted to leave him for a long time, and the abuse gave her a reason to leave,” says Amanza.
Currently, Amanza does not have a relationship with her mother, and after years of attempts to repair the damage done, they have not spoken in over a year.
Later in life, Amanza reconnected with her biological father via Facebook. “My kids call him Papa Sly,” she says. “He’s so cool. I now see and understand who I’m like.” After surviving cancer, Papa Sly is alive and well; she credits him as an amazing supporter since they reconnected at 36. Throughout their rekindles, Amanza realized her Dad, Sly, did the best he could with the tools he had. Stemming from his generational trauma, Sly was in the foster care system from age 7 until he was adopted at 17. He thought Amanza was in a healthy, stable home with her Mom and stepfather all these years. Never could he imagine the ugly world that was her reality.
There were, however, moments of happiness for Amanza. Reflecting on her 40-year friendship with best friend Jamie Kendal, Amanza says, “We met in the first grade and instantly became friends. Jamie’s Mom, Shirley Sweeney, was like a mom to me. I lived with them for a period of time. Shirley helped me set up for college, got my books, and even came to mom-week during my first semester in college. I began to refer to them as my foster parents.”
Crediting her foster parents for showing her how to love and how to be a great parent, Amanza says, “They saved my childhood and my children’s childhood.” The Sweeneys opened their home to Amanza and supported her throughout the catastrophic period in her life. “They didn’t know about the sexual abuse, but they were aware there was severe neglect,” she says. As if Amanza had not experienced enough trauma in her youth, she lost her foster Mom, Shirley, at nineteen to breast cancer. This was the last close family member to pass away in three months, from August to November of her first year in college. From her grandmother passing to her grandfather two weeks later to Shirley three weeks after that. There seemed to be no escape from pain and loss until motherhood.
Motherhood gave Amanza a new chance at life. “My daughter helped me arrive here. She brought it all to the surface,” she says. “I was going through marriage counseling and revealed the molestation to my then-husband Ralph Brown. Protecting my children at all costs helped me seek therapy for further help.” She refers to Onsite, a customized therapeutic camp based in Cunningham, TN, for being instrumental in her healing journey. She credits their intensive customized workshops as the bridge that helped her unpack years of bottled emotions.
Guided by therapy, Amanza says, “I wrote my stepfather an email. I disclosed what his Dad, my step-grandpa, had also done. He didn’t know.” Although her step-grandfather had long since passed away, she wanted her stepfather to know he would never have a relationship with her or her children again. Mr. Warbuton magazine reached out to the living family member accused, and although he acknowledged their relationship, he did not comment on the accusations.
Who can argue with the obstacles and challenges Amanza had to overcome? From the panic attack resurfacing years of childhood abuse to marriage counseling, trauma therapy, and ultimately divorcing then-husband Ralph Brown. By definition, Amanza is a true survivor.
With Selling Sunset, Season 7, on the horizon, Amanza wants the world to know this is not where her story ends. “This is my story, my truth, and I will continue to use my platform to elevate abuse awareness through public speaking,” says Amanza. “This has opened a door for me to do exactly what I envisioned well before the show.”
An activist, survivor, and now mentor for child trauma victims, Amanza supports numerous organizations and benefits for sexual abuse victims. One of which is called Childhelp, a US non-profit organization based in Palm Springs dedicated to preventing and treating child abuse. “I know how I’ve struggled, and I still struggle as an adult with mental health, anxiety, depression, and emotional trauma. There are children and all kinds of victims out there who need advocates to fight for them,” says Amanza.
The rising star has a book coming out this year and her first keynote speaking engagement in March in Los Angeles.
Amanza says, “As long as there is breath in my lungs, I will be a voice for those who are voiceless.”
If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual abuse, reach out to Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) at 1-800-656- HOPE (4675).
Written by: Ashley Foster
Production Credits: Photographer: Grace Fries | Editor–in–Chief/Creative: Derek Warburton | Hair & Makeup: Daisy Dennis using Derek Fabulous x FACE Stockholm | JR Style Editor: Robin Leiva | Art Director: Alexander Silkin | PR Agency: Modern Day Communications Edited by: Ley Calisang
For more on Amanza Smith:
instagram.com – amanzasmith