Yay for (kind of grainy) iPhone photos!
Being from a little country town was never something I was particularly fond of—until a spur of the moment trip to Rhode Island.
There I met the amazingly talented, Oscar-winning actress Viola Davis, who taught me an important lesson on embracing my roots.
I remember it like it was yesterday: it was the day before my birthday and the night after the last performance of Beyonce’s Formation World Tour (side note: which was AMAZING). I dragged myself out of my bed after only getting three hours of sleep, and somehow found my way to Penn Station without a cup of coffee.
While I knew I was on my way to meet the How to Get Away With Murder powerhouse, I had no clue that the mere 15 minutes we’d spend together would turn out to some of the most reflective moments of my life. From the minute I arrived in her hometown of Central Falls, RI, something just felt...different.
Driving to the event from the train station—a health fair she was co-hosting with a popular skincare brand—I spotted a banner hanging across the street lights boasting the words “Welcome Home Viola Davis.” A small smile crept across my lips, as I thought to myself “wow, she’s really kind of like a hometown hero.” Kind of was an understatement. A big one.
For the first few hours of the event I interacted with the community and watched Viola do the same. Lots of laughing, good food and even some super fun line dancing took place. I shook hands with a few of her family members in attendance who were up mingling. Struggling to adjust to my new home of Brooklyn, NY, I instantly felt like I was back at home in Louisiana. Something about this place screamed familiarity. Family. Home. A sense of comfort. One that I had desperately tried to get away from for years.
Before I knew it, the moment of truth had come. It was time to meet her. I was escorted into the small tent, nervously sweating bullets—but in mere seconds of shaking her hand, and taking in her confidence and authenticity, I relaxed.
We chatted about HTGAWM, but sadly she refused to slip me any deets on who was getting the axe. Although, she did start laughing when I begged her to confirm that it wasn't Nate. Good sign, I assumed. Beyond the fluff, we talked about how she's raising her daughter Genesis and the lessons she's teaching her on embracing her roots—a conversation that I apparently needed to hear as well.
From our conversation, I learned that Viola is very proud of her upbringing. In the past she’s talked about how she grew up in poverty, dumpster-diving for food and more. She experienced racism regularly. But, unlike some people who come from poverty and try to run away from their past and truthfully never return, Viola honors her path and allows those experiences to drive her.
While I didn’t grow up with her particular struggles, I’ve definitely kept parts of my life hidden in order to make it seem more “glamorous.” I hated telling people I was from a town where the majority of the people are related, education is unfortunately lacking, few stoplights can be found, and open fields are everywhere. I was even embarrassed of my accent—but once Viola complimented my personality (and accent!) I knew I was tripping.
The way she spoke about her childhood and graciously returned to give back to her hometown made me remember the little things I love about the little southern place I call home. So many good, supportive memories are rooted in that town from high school, college, and everything in between.
There’s no denying that the feeling you get being surrounded by people “who supported you from the very beginning.” As Viola put it, it's something "you can’t get anywhere else."
And I couldn’t agree more.