Gelila Bekele was the longtime girlfriend of actor, producer and director Tyler Perry. They were together for more than a decade and have one young son together. On December 16, Perry suggested the two had broken up by describing himself as single and that he was going through a mid-life crisis; read more here.
Bekele works in the entertainment industry as a model and filmmaker. Bekele is also an outspoken activist in her home country of Ethiopia. According to her website, Bekele focuses much of her attention on equal rights and access to education for girls and women.
Here’s what you need to know about Gelila Bekele:
1. Gelila Bekele Began Modeling Professionally After She Was Discovered as a Student at UC Berkeley But Was Hesitant About It at First
Unlike the majority of working models, Bekele did not begin her career as a younger teenager. She was discovered when she was about 19 years old and a freshman student at the University of California Berkeley. Bekele had moved to the United States from Europe after graduating from high school.
Bekele admitted to Cosmopolitan South Africa that she was hesitant about modeling at first. She told the magazine, “I come from an environment where my parents are educated so the idea of using my physical to make a living messed with my head a bit.”
Bekele explains on her professional website that she began working for Ford Models New York and Ford Models Paris in 2006. She has also modeled for designers and companies including Levi’s, Diesel, Tory Burch, Anna Sui, Michael Kors, Mikimoto, H&M, Pinko, Nespresso, Pantene and L’oreal.
2. Bekele Was Born In Ethiopia & Raised By Her Grandmother
Bekele was born in Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia. She explained in a 2018 interview that she spent her early years living in a rural village “climbing trees, drinking goat milk straight from the goat” before the family moved to the city when she was four years old. The family then moved to Europe when Bekele was 8 years old.
Bekele says she was raised primarily by her grandmother, Almaz. Bekele explained to TheCatWalk.com that her mother had been only 16 when Bekele was born. Bekele has described her grandmother as a very strong woman who taught her about the importance of education and how it can change a person’s life.
In January 2018, Bekele shared a photo of her grandmother on her graduation day. She wrote in the caption, “Grandma receiving her diploma from commerce, as a mom of 3. #Ethiopia #Education the greatest equalizer.” According to Amo Mama, Bekele’s grandmother was the first in the family to earn a college degree.
3. Bekele Is a Global Activist & Has Worked to Secure Clean Drinking Water For Communities In Developing Nations
Bekele is a humanitarian and activist. She expanded upon the connections she made in the modeling world in order to give back, especially in her home country of Ethiopia and across Africa.
In 2008, Bekele became an active supporter of an organization called Charity: Water, which was founded by photographer Scott Harrison. The non-profit group uses donations to help secure safe and clean water sources for communities in developing countries. According to the organization’s website, Charity: Water has helped to fund more than 51,000 water projects across Africa, Asia, Central and South America since 2006. Those projects include building water wells.
Bekele says helping communities gain access to basic necessities can pave the way for access to greater opportunities such as education. She was quoted on the charity’s Facebook page in 2017:
We are powerless without water. I am! Our life revolves around water. It’s a necessity most of us take for granted. I saw it firsthand traveling to my homeland. Most families don’t have enough water to cook with or drink. Young girls don’t go to school because they have to walk 4-5 hours a day to get water. Lack of water has a profound effect on the health and growth of a society.
Bekele also explained to Tadias Magazine in 2011: “Life is a perspective, but for me, if a child, a human being, has basic access to clean water, food and school and proper health care, it’s one of those situations where you are not creating for people to wait for foreign aid. Education is always a way to improve yourself. Not only the generation now but the next generation. Education saves people from a lot of things.”
Bekele also advocates for educational opportunities for girls in Africa, according to her website. She told OkayAfrica.com that one of her primary goals was to help establish classrooms in rural areas of Ethiopia. She even discussed these issues during a visit to the United Nations in 2016, which she posted about on Instagram.
Bekele’s activism has expanded to the United States in recent years. She participated in the Women’s March in January 2017 in Washington, D.C. In April 2017, Bekele also participated in a climate march. She posted a photo to Instagram of the sign she held during the march, which read, “Society should worry when models have to demonstrate.”
4. Bekele Traveled Across Ethiopia to Create Her Photography Book, ‘Guzo’
— Gelila Bekele (@iamGelilabekele) October 26, 2016
Bekele has traveled extensively across her home country of Ethiopia for her work as an activist and humanitarian. She explained on her website that those frequent trips gave her the idea to create a book. She published “Guzo,” which means “journey,” in 2015.
The photography documents the lives of people living in six rural Ethiopian tribes: the Hamar, Tigray, Afar, Raya, Harrar, and Lasta Lalibela peoples. Bekele explained, “I created ‘Guzo’ for curious and like-minded people, for Ethiopians like myself who are raised abroad, and for my own children – who I hope will one day have the opportunity to experience living the pure, harmonious and profound existence of Ethiopians.”
Bekele told OkayAfrica in 2018 that when others ask her what it is like to travel to rural parts of Ethiopia, she explains that it is her “base.” For her, it is a homecoming because that is where her story and that of her ancestors began.
5. Bekele & Perry Were Together For More Than a Decade & She Told Him She Was Pregnant Over FaceTime
Gelila Bekele and Tyler Perry never married but they were in a committed relationship since 2009. Their son, Aman Tyler Perry, was born on November 30, 2014.
Perry shared with People in 2017 that Bekele told him she was pregnant in an unexpected fashion. He said Bekele called him over FaceTime and held up the pregnancy test. Perry gushed about Bekele to the magazine. “There’s no other person on this planet that I would want to be involved with or have a child with because she’s amazing.”
Bekele has her own career and is financially independent, but Perry has also said publicly that Bekele would be “getting her share of all” of his wealth as well. He made the remark during an interview for T.I.’s podcast “Expeditiously.” The rapper said fans wanted to know why Perry had never gotten married and whether he was still a bachelor. Perry did not mention Bekele by name but clarified that he was not a single man. “I have someone who is wonderful, and she’s getting her share of all of it.”
Perry added that it was a family decision to keep son Aman out of the public eye as well. “She and I are really good about that, making sure at 5 years old, he’s protected, he’s clear about who he is before people start telling him who he is. I’m good with that.”