ITâ€™S A SPRING NIGHT in Hollywood, and Iâ€™m driving down Sunset to meet Zendaya when my phone rings. Itâ€™s Darnell, her soft-spoken assistant. Though Zendaya is making her movie debut this summer in one of the seasonâ€™s biggest blockbusters, Spider-Man: Homecoming, she is also still filming the Disney sitcom that planted her in the hearts of little tomboys everywhereâ€”K.C. Undercover, in which she plays a teen spy who is both a math whiz and a black belt in karate. Darnell is calling to say she is running late; a fight scene is taking longer than expected. â€œSheâ€™s swinging from a chain right now,â€ he explains politely.
When the elevator opens onto Soho Houseâ€™s lobby, I walk straight into our date for the evening: Zendayaâ€™s father, Kazembe Ajamu, a 64-year-old former P.E. teacher from Oakland. (Her mother, Claire Stoermer, is also a teacher.) Ajamu is tall and sturdy, in jeans and a navy sweatshirt, with thin shoulder-length dreadlocks pulled into a half ponytail.
Weâ€™re here because, having by now spent some time with Zendaya (pronounced â€œZen-day-aâ€), Iâ€™m trying to wrap my mind around how a 20-year-old Disney star could be so insanelynormal. There are clues that her father, who moved with her to Los Angeles when she was thirteen, may be a key piece of the puzzle.