A New Bedford native is a featured cast member in a new series premiering tonight at 9 p.m. Eastern on Oprah Winfrey's OWN network. Ladies Who List: Atlanta follows Whaling City transplant Robin Andrade and five other professional Black business women from Atlanta on their capers as acclaimed champions in their field, while dealing with unpredictable work and personal relationships.

“This has really been quite a journey for me,” she said. “Nobody really understands who I am and what makes me tick and how I operate."

Andrade was raised by teenage parents in a New Bedford housing project, and by the time she turned 16, was out on her own with a baby girl of her own. It's not exactly the way you'd expect the story of a real estate star-turned-reality television star to begin.

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At First, Robin Andrade Was Concerned About How She'd Be Portrayed on TV

When reached this morning to discuss tonight's big premiere, Andrade was full of energy and excitement – but that wasn't the case going into her first look at Ladies Who List: Atlanta.

“The day before yesterday, the network – we had done a ton of PR all week, and they wanted us to be in a Zoom meeting with a group of 350 women from a social girls network. They didn’t know, and I didn’t know, what we were about to see," she said. "So I had to uncomfortably sit through a viewing of my episode, and I knew how those tapings went, so I had always had a fear of how they were going to piece it together."

Courtesy of OWN
Courtesy of OWN

"Of course they showed me fighting, arguing and acting out, and what they didn’t do was show my backstory. So I was very upset about that and it knocked me literally back to my knees," she said.

Andrade didn't stay down too long, as her life's experiences taught her to always get right back up, but there was still the initial shock of seeing herself in the first episode, even though she knew as the season goes on, viewers get to know her and her struggles better.

“I didn’t handle it well," she said. "I cried all day yesterday, heavily, like I was mourning the loss of myself. They didn’t understand that my upbringing were the pieces of the puzzle that made me who I was, and my upbringing wasn’t easy so I only knew what I knew, but I definitely converted that into a successful life for myself, and this show is allowing me a platform to explain that story.”

Robin Andrade's Early Struggles Shaped the Path She Would Follow

Andrade was born in 1971 in New Bedford, and grew up at 138 Acushnet Avenue in the Bay Village housing project. Her parents were young. Her mom had her at age 16, and there were three kids in the family. It wasn't an easy childhood.

“I battled depression all my life, I feel like I was born into it. It ran in my family,” she said. “In our culture, it wasn’t something you talked about or dealt with, so we acted out. We were hellions...I got pregnant at 16, that was supposed to be my downfall.”

It was a crisis that would, in years, become an opportunity.

“It was at that moment my mother decided, ‘You want to act like a woman, well you better get out there and be a woman’ and she asked me to leave the house. So I did, and I ran into the arms of the father of my child at the time," Andrade said.

She moved in with Cookie, the mother of her child’s father, who treated her like a loving mother.

“She took me in with open arms. I raised my baby, and while I was living with her, I put my name on the Section 8 list – the very same list to be on in New Bedford, everybody just strives to be on that list if they can," Andrade said. "So I got on that list, I was awarded a certificate and then the hunt began for an apartment, getting denied left and right, left and right."

Andrade tried to keep her school studies going, despite being a young mom, but eventually needed to leave school to care for her young daughter.

"I had to drop out of school because New Bedford High at the time didn’t allow students to be pregnant. There was one other pregnant girl in New Bedford, and we got the boot," she said. "We ended up at New Bedford’s alternative high school, because you were allowed to bring your baby. I would hear my daughter Brooke crying and they wouldn’t allow me to see her. So that was the moment I decided I was out of there.”

There were plenty of obstacles waiting for Andrade ahead.

She asked to take her GED, but having only gotten halfway through ninth grade, school officials were reluctant to allow her to. She did take it, though, and passed. She had already been working an after-school job in the dietary department of St. Luke’s Hospital, so that became her main source of income. Her Section 8 certificate finally arrived, but she struggled to locate a place anywhere in New Bedford.

“I applied for an apartment at 923 Pleasant Street,” she said, noting it was a pivotal address in her life. At first, the woman who owned the property denied her application, so Andrade wrote her a letter explaining her circumstances and asking for a break – and the woman gave her one and allowed her to move in.

“I lived there a couple of months and somebody from New Bedford – I don’t know who it was – called Section 8 to tell them my child’s father was living with me, which was a violation of the program," Andrade said. "When that happened, I immediately got in front of it and asked how to get out of the program. I gave them the Section 8 certificate back and then the struggle began of paying rent on my own, and it only lasted a few months before the bank called and said we had first option to buy because the house was going into foreclosure.”

Robin Andrade's Real Estate Journey Began

Andrade was 21 when she got that phone call, but had no idea how to buy a house. Nobody in her family did, either. The bank helped her out with some information and told her if she could raise $2,000, she could buy the house.

“My baby daddy and I, we raised that money, and we bought that house. We lived for free in that house and rented out the other two levels," she said.

They bought the house for $89,000 and lived there for five years.

“Then we decided, we always wanted to live in a good neighborhood," she said. "The kids were getting older, we had a son together, we wanted to raise the kids in a good neighborhood. Pleasant Street back then wasn’t a nice neighborhood like it is now.”

The couple bought a home at 90 Grant Street for $150,000.

“We finally got our house near Buttonwood Park,” she said. “But now, I was a little older than 30, and we’d grown apart. We were growing in two different directions. I saw something else for myself that I knew this city couldn’t provide me, so I started a plan. I worked at Little People’s College as their transportation director, and developed that transportation department for them, writing the handbook, hiring and training the drivers, I did everything.”

A Business Mindset Begins to Blossom

For 10 years, Andrade ran transportation for Little People’s College, but then one day had an epiphany.

“If I could build that business, why couldn’t I build my own? The thought kept running through my mind,” she said.

Her child’s father bought out her share of the Pleasant Street home they owned, and then she sold the house on Grant Street as well.

“I decided I was going to go for my dream of being a real estate agent,” she said. “I didn’t know about it, but I knew how good it felt to make those transactions. I knew New Bedford wouldn’t support me, though. There wasn’t enough real estate for me to dominate like I (eventually) did in Atlanta.”

Her cousin was living in Atlanta and convinced her to move there and try her hand at real estate there, but she had to get a house first. She was able to obtain a loan in 2006, just before the market was about to crash.

“They were handing out loans like candy. I was trying to figure out how to get a loan for a house, and I ended up getting two,” she said.

Her family wanted to move to Florida, but she laughingly said, “My hair wouldn’t survive there.” So she simultaneously built houses in Florida and Atlanta, and moved into the latter, which she said her kids thought was “a mansion.”

“It was a nine-room house built from the ground up, just for us,” she said.

Meanwhile, she was able to turn around her $150,000 investment in the Grant Street home into a $269,000 sale.

“I took every dime of those earnings and poured it into Atlanta. The mistake I made was living off that money rather than buying more property with it,” she said.

Early Struggles in Atlanta

Andrade said a few years later, she was broke with a plummeting credit score. She had earned her real estate license in 2007, but then the market crashed, putting her new career on hold.

Thankfully, she had obtained a bartending license in New Bedford, so she had something to fall back on, but didn’t like having to tend bar at places like strip clubs and the airport just to make ends meet.

Courtesy of OWN
Courtesy of OWN

A Spiritual Connection to Home Fueled Her Success

Andrade soon found herself missing her hometown of New Bedford.

“There was a connection that I missed, but I couldn’t go back,” she said. “So the only way to combat that was to find a place in Atlanta that reminded me of home, so I discovered downtown Atlanta in 2010, and there were no other real estate agents working that area. I remember in real estate school they said ‘find a neighborhood, plant your seeds and then own it.’ And I own downtown Atlanta today.”

She said it “smelled like home, looked like home and even had a couple of cobblestone streets.”

“It was home for me. It was the closest thing,” she said.

Andrade kept her house, but said she rented a small space downtown that she could live in and work out of, to experience what it was like living there for a year without things like parking or a washer and dryer.

“Everything just fell into place," she said. "In 2016, the year I moved downtown, it was my biggest year in real estate. In 2017, it was bigger than that. Then in 2018, I opened my brokerage and started working for myself.”

TV Comes Calling

It was also in 2017 that the production company first discovered Andrade and her success as a realtor.

“The show found me on my social media, because I had started using it as a tool. I was going to search for any way to win," she said. "When the show came to me in 2017, nobody wanted to see black women on TV. We shopped it around to different networks and nobody was interested."

Andrade wanted desperately to see a show about Black female realtors succeed, because of the struggles Black people historically had with owning homes, going back to the days of "redlining."

"When the world exploded and Black Lives Matter became a thing, now networks wanted to see what was underneath all of those layers that white people were trying to suppress, sit on us so we couldn't be seen, and here we are," she said. "So my story on the show is battling the demons of the real estate market, how it was created and how it was against Black people.”

Using the Platform of a TV Show to Make a Difference

“I’m bringing to the forefront the racist experiences of the National Association of Realtors, my fight with being a teen mom, my success with owning real estate at 21, my mental instability because of my childhood trauma, my depression, my anxiety. People say I’m bi-polar, they say I’m crazy, they say I act out, but you know what? I’m brilliant," she said confidently. "When faced with all that, they’re going to see my brilliance, but before they see it, the show is going to show them my other side, the old Robin that came out that day when they put me in an uncomfortable environment.”

Andrade said being friends with girls was never her thing; she stuck with her family and “didn’t need anybody else."

“There was a lot of mental anguish that I dealt with, being molested, being abused,” she said. “It was a struggle and it took a toll on me, and I had a couple of breakdowns in the middle of all this.”

Andrade said being vulnerable like that made her a “vessel” and that seeing the real-life trauma play out screen will help women become stronger.

“I will be a motivation for girls who feel like they are stuck in New Bedford,” she said. “You’ll be able to show them that winning is an option for you, and this is how it’s done.”

Courtesy of OWN
Courtesy of OWN

Robin Andrade Wants to Return to New Bedford and Share What She's Learned

Andrade plans to come back to New Bedford and offer motivation and inspiration to the next generation, to share her story and help others achieve their dreams. Everything she does supports the rags to riches life she created, finding in herself the meaning of strength.

“I always say, I walked barefoot over glass and rocks to get here. My feet are all cut up, they have bandages on them, I can’t even walk straight in high heels,” she said. “But I’ll tell you what – I came out here and I found out that I’m a winner, and I’m going to teach you to be one. My city needs to see that and hear that.”

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