For as long as she can remember, Nicole Walters, 36, has been a problem solver.
“I was the kid who started the trash bag brigade when I was younger, because we all needed to get together and pick up trash to clean up our neighborhood,” Walters, 36, tells "GMA." “You know, I just looked at a problem and knew that I wanted to solve it.”
In an upcoming USA reality show called “She's the Boss,” cameras will follow the lives of Walters and her family.
“It's just good, clean, positive, family fun from a perspective of a family that really does look like America,” she said. “We've got a Jewish lawyer husband and an African Christian mom and three adopted babies ... and a crazy gay nanny from the Bronx!”
Creating her own ladder
Walters, a businesswoman and mom of three, said she grew up poor and slept on a couch until she was 12 in a one-bedroom Washington, D.C. apartment with her family of four.
She went to school with wealthy children at a private school and had different aspirations as a child, such as a house with stairs.
Her father, a cab driver, and mother, a secretary at an insurance company, never let the family’s circumstances limit their opportunities, Walters said. As immigrants from Ghana, Walters said her parents moved to the U.S. in search of opportunity.
“A lot of kids are raised in America with the idea that the American Dream is a house and a pup, you know, picket fence and 2.5 children," she said. " I was actually raised believing that the American Dream is options. It's just having more choices, and the freedom to be able to exercise them.”
Years later after earning her first million, Walters told her parents they could retire in Ghana and she would take care of their expenses.
The problem-solving carried on into her college career and early adult life when she realized people didn’t look at her as a capable and deserving person.
“One particular student looked at me, and he was like, ‘You know, I personally thought you just got in here off of affirmative action, but you're actually really smart,’” she recalled about a conversation with a fellow student during her freshman year at Johns Hopkins University.
“I actually only ever looked at the difference between me and the wealthier, me and the powerful, or me and those with access as just being a problem that needs solved,” she said. “Maybe they had an opportunity or a choice or an option that I just haven't had yet. But I was going to do anything I could to figure it out.”
That also meant figuring out how to become a mom overnight to three young sisters.
From a family of 2 to a family of 5
At age 28, Walters became a top executive at UnitedHealthcare insurance, adding a new international corporate insurance division into the company. She was the youngest person in her division by almost 20 years.
“At that point, I was like, ‘OK, great. I really do love my job. And I'm comfortable here, and I'm making a great salary. The work I'm doing is what I'm supposed to be doing.’”
Walters started her own blog where she shared personal experiences like shaving her hair off and growing it back without chemicals. Soon, her blog was getting ad offers, and she started working with a variety of companies. In 2015, she quit her job in front of thousands of people live on Periscope and went on to lead a successful marketing company.
As this was happening, Walters opened the doors of her home to three sisters: Daya, Krissy and Ally.
“The way I always describe it is when they came out of the room, they looked like wilted flowers … really beautiful, but they clearly needed nurturing,” she said.
Having children was something Walters and her husband, Josh, always talked about, but adoption had never been a topic of conversation.
On a date night in October 2014, the couple saw a mother and her toddler panhandling on the side of a road in Baltimore. They pulled over and learned the mother was in a tough situation raising her kids who were 14, 11 and 3 at the time. Walters and her husband took the woman out to dinner and offered to mentor her kids.
Within a month, their biological mother informed Walters she was going to be incarcerated.
"So we have a choice right now," she said she told her husband. "These girls need people, you know, and I grew up poor. I know what it's like to not have. I also know what it's like for people to make promises and not fulfill them.”
The couple offered to take the girls in. When their biological mom was released, they made a joint decision that the girls would remain with the Walters. By September 2015, they had full legal guardianship of Daya, Krissy and Ally.
“In just five years, I've potty-trained, taught how to read, put into high school, put into kindergarten, graduated from high school into college, to proms, you know, taught how to drive,” Walters said.
Making it work
According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, in 2018, 23% of children in the foster care system were Black, totaling more than 99,000 children.
And while the majority of adoptive parents are white -- 73% according to the Adoption Network -- there is a lack of representation and visibility of Black adoptive families.
In 1972, the National Association of Black Social Workers released a statement calling for Black children to be adopted into Black homes.
“We affirm the inviolable position of Black children in Black families where they belong physically, psychologically and culturally in order that they receive the total sense of themselves and develop a sound projection of their future,” it said, a stance the organization stands by today.
"I would love to see people embrace a little more, because of the fact that adoption is actually woven into our culture; we just have never labeled as that," Walters said.
"A core part of the Black community [is] it takes a village," she added. "I think that we would all benefit by expanding our village to include each other’s children … particularly if that means that that child needs a home.”
Under Walters' care, the girls have thrived, and their future seems bright, according to Krissy, the oldest.
“It was easier living with them,” Krissy tells "GMA." The 18-year-old freshman in college is studying math and hopes to pursue accounting and own her own business, just like Walters.
Krissy added that the journey into a new home wasn’t hard but different. And "The Tinies," as Walters likes to call the girls, still have a great relationship with their biological mother.
As for Walters, thanks to her success, some might say she has it all and call her a "boss," but it's a title she wears reluctantly.
“I'm a mom, and I'm an entrepreneur, and I'm clearly not the boss of anything," she said. "But I'm making it work."