With spring in the air, one usually thinks of the flowers and trees in bloom.…
In life, when the cards are stacked against you from the very start, how do you find the courage and strength to carry on? Viola Davis, for example, persevered through the difficult circumstances of her childhood with hope and a helping hand. Throughout her journey from little girl with big dreams to Triple Crown of Acting winner, Davis was surrounded by people who believed in her potential and encouraged her to pursue and ultimately reach her goals.
In her own words, Viola Davis says she “would have been a statistic if it were not for education.” Growing up, she lived in such extreme poverty, that school became a sanctuary where many of her basic needs were met. When times were especially difficult for her family, her school lunch was the only meal that she would eat in a day. She recalls how her principal would provide her with bags of hand-me-down clothing that she would gratefully accept. As a child, Davis understood that her family was disadvantaged, and the burden of navigating that reality was heavy for someone her age. Her aspirations to someday “be somebody” motivated her to face each day with positivity, no matter what challenges it may bring.
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One of Davis’ first forays into acting was a competition at a local park in Rhode Island when she was just eight years old. She and her sister performed a skit, with Davis serving as both the writer and actor. The pair took the competition seriously; there were multiple rehearsals and even rewrites to the script. Their efforts proved to be successful when they took home the top prize. From that day forward, Davis continued acting in [lays at school and at local Rhode Island drama festivals. It was evident from a young age that Davis had a thirst for the arts, and she credits practicing and performing them with helping her get through difficult times. At the local community center, Davis also took knitting and crocheting classes to keep herself occupied. They proved to be an outlet for her, a place where she could release the “pent-up frustration” that she felt. It was around this same time that her self-confidence began to grow; she blossomed from a shy and unsure girl to the determined, assured, and talented woman she is today.
While in high school, Davis was part of Upward Bound, a federally funded educational program that helps students from low-income families on the road to college. The additional support and expanded opportunities provided by this program helped Davis pursue her dreams of becoming an actress. Her drive in her pursuit of the arts paid off when she caught the eye of Bernard Masterson, the Director at the Young People’s School for the Performing Arts. Davis was awarded a scholarship to attend the school, taking her first big step into the world of drama.
After graduating from Rhode Island College, Davis continued her studies at Juilliard which initiated the launch of her upward trajectory. Still, success did not come easy. Davis felt that she was pigeonholed and limited by the roles available to women of color at the time. In many of the roles she auditioned for, she observed that she was competing against middle-aged women, even though she was in her twenties. Davis didn’t think she would ever have the opportunity to act in a leading role until Doubt came along. The audition process for the supporting character was grueling. In a film where Meryl Streep was the lead actress, Davis knew that she was vying against every Black actress in Hollywood for this scene-stealing role. She nabbed the part as well as widespread critical acclaim, despite only being on screen in one scene. The buzz and demand that this part drew for Davis helped her in landing role after role. She went on to win her first major award – a Tony for Best Leading Actress in a Play – two years later for Fences.
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Today, Davis has an Emmy, a Golden Globe, an Academy Award, and two Tony Awards, just to name a few. She has starred as the lead in multiple films and in the television show, How to Get Away with Murder, which further garnered her two Screen Actors Guild awards. Additionally, she has three Academy Award nominations – tied with Octavia Spencer – for the most nominated Black actress in history. Davis achieved dreams that she once thought were impossible. In addition to her childhood aspiration of becoming an actress, she also hoped she could one day have a home that would be “her sanctuary.. She lives in that home today with her husband and her daughter Genesis, whom she is raising in a world that is perhaps a bit easier to navigate than the one she grew up in.
Davis still thinks about the little girl she used to be – how she felt, the obstacles that she had to overcome and extremely hard work she had to put in.She has taken steps to heal that part of her, and now, she uses her experiences to encourage children who, like her, are faced with difficult circumstances they may not be able to t easily improve. Davis frequently returns to her alma maters to speak to students, encouraging them to never give up, embolden and support each other, and motivate them to chase after any future they want.