Viola Davis on Success and Growing up in Central Falls

Mar 14, 2014

Academy Award Nominee Viola Davis spoke at the 2014 Women's Summit at Bryant University
Credit Elisabeth Harrison

Award-winning actor Viola Davis made a stop at Bryant University on Friday during the annual Women’s Summit.

The theme of this year’s conference: “being the CEO of your own life.”

Davis says part of what has made her successful as an actor is her experience growing up in Central Falls.

"Every experience growing up in a dysfunctional family with alcoholism, with poverty, with being the geek always into theater and the Rhode Island State Drama Festival, that has been the wellspring of me as an actor," Davis said.

Addressing a sell-out crowd of 1,000 people, Davis planned to discuss the difficulty of balancing career and family. She believes women can be better leaders both at home and in their professional lives if they receive the right kind of encouragement.

“We have a tendency to be vicious toward each other," Davis said. "I think we have a tendency to be very hard on ourselves, and I think that a lot of times women are brought up with a sense to marry someone who’s going to give you a stable life rather than to give it to yourself.”

Davis maintains close ties to her family in Rhode Island and her alma mater, Central Falls High School, where her sister is an English teacher. She said she would like to see the school focus on mentoring because that’s something that most people who succeed in getting out of poverty usually have in common.

"They had someone in their lives, usually an educator but not necessarily, who showed them how to master a skill, taught them how to fail, and ultimately liked them," Davis explained. "To me, what that means is mentoring, literally reaching back and showing someone how to navigate themselves through the darkness. That’s what’s sorely missing in Central Falls."