CNN anchor Zain Asher tells her family’s story
A story of tragedy, sacrifices and success, Zain Asher’s new book, “Where the Children Take Us,” pays tribute to her mother and shines light on her journey to becoming a CNN anchor.
Asher, a Montclair resident, was born in London to Nigerian parents and is the third of four children. Currently the anchor of “One World With Zain Asher” on CNN, she is not the only successful sibling: Her older brother is Academy Award winner Chiwetel Ejiofor, her younger sister is a doctor, and her oldest brother is an entrepreneur.
The memoir, which was released in April, begins with the death of her father in a car accident in Nigeria in 1988. The family had visited Nigeria for a wedding, but Asher’s father and brother Chiwetel stayed behind for a father-son road trip.
“And then the phone finally rings at about 6:30 in the evening, and the voice on the other end of the line is not my Dad, it’s a voice from an extended relative of ours in Nigeria,” Asher said when recounting the worst day in her mother’s life.
“And the voice basically said, ‘Your husband and your son had been involved in a car crash, one of them is dead, and we don’t know which one.’”
Her brother was the survivor, and her mother, Obiajulu, rushed to Nigeria to care for him and bury her husband.
“You know, she's completely heartbroken,” Asher said. “My parents were the loves of each other's lives.”
Asher had previously shared the story of her family tragedy, in a TedX talk in 2015 entitled “Trust Your Struggle.” In her talk, she discusses her path to success and how she and her family were able to find hope despite tragedy.
That theme is echoed throughout her memoir. Asher emphasizes that although the book acts as a thank-you to her mother, it also outlines the parenting strategies that her mom used to raise and mold four successful children alone.
For a time after her father’s death, Asher says, her mother retreated into herself, and the children felt that they had lost both parents, but a short while later one of Asher’s brothers was kicked out of school and started on a negative path. In response to her son’s expulsion, Obiajulu realized she needed to pull her family together again.
“And so she really implemented a lot of love, a lot of discipline, a lot of routine, a lot of focus,” Asher said. “So that we kind of ended up surpassing, I think, all expectations for a family in those circumstances.”
Obiajulu became more involved with her children’s education by teaching them lessons from their school syllabus ahead of time and creating a family book club to stimulate a love of literature. In addition, Obiajulu made sure to stress the importance of her children’s cultural connections and highlight Black success by cutting out articles and hanging photos of successful Black people.
Asher says that the reaction to the memoir has been overwhelmingly positive, particularly from her mother, whom she interviewed when writing it. The interview process was taxing on both of them; they had to set time limits for talking because the emotions were overwhelming. But she says that the book has been and is therapeutic for both of them.
“The idea behind it was really just I wanted to write an inspirational memoir that can really show that the worst of circumstances, no matter what you're going through, everybody goes through some degree of trauma in their lives, that there's always hope,” Asher said. “And you know, my mother found that hope, and that is what she clung to.”