Viola Davis spoke powerfully about growing up in poverty as the keynote speaker of the Attorneys Serving the Community (ASC) luncheon on June 20 at the Hilton Anatole Hotel to a group of 1,000 attendees. The event benefited the Foundation for the Education of Young Women (FEYW), a network of public schools that support single gender, college preparatory education. Specifically, the funds are supporting an internship program at Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School, the first FEYW network school in Dallas, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary.
Gloria Campos, former WFAA news anchor and current FEYW board member, served as the mistress of ceremonies. Campos welcomed everyone to the luncheon and introduced Dena DeNooyer Stroh, co-chairwoman of the ASC.
Stroh said, “Attorneys Serving the Community’s mission is to bring together women lawyers to combine their resources and talents in support of local nonprofit organizations whose programs benefit women, children and families. ASC has raised $3.9 million in its 28-year history, and we are pleased to support the Foundation for the Education of Young Women.” She presented the ASC Friend of the Community Award to American Airlines, Inc. Stroh then introduced honorary chairwoman and a founding member of ASC, Kim J. Askew.
Next, Irma Rangel graduate Karla Guadalupe Garcia Rico told her story of being the first in her family to attend college. This fall she will attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After meeting and touring Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson at her school, Rico’s goal is to run and become U.S. president.
Lynn McBee, CEO of FEYW, added, “Four of our seven FEYW network schools had graduating seniors this year. All of them—146 young women—graduated and received more than $14.6 million in scholarships, and 100% of them are attending a four-year college or university. Personally, this is the most transformative work I’ve done, and it’s moving the needle in education by better equipping these young women for college and leadership positions.”
Campos introduced Viola Davis. “Viola Davis is best known for her Academy-Award nominated performances in ‘The Help’ and ‘Doubt,’ as well as her role opposite Julia Roberts in ‘Eat, Pray, Love.’ Raised in abject poverty, Davis fell in love with theater early in high school as a form of escape. Her passion and acting talent enabled her to earn a full scholarship to the Young People’s School of the Performing Arts, after which she attended the prestigious Juilliard School. Davis translated her hard work and dedication to success on Broadway, in television and film and was named one of TIME Magazine’s ‘most influential people of 2012.’ Her story about going to college and achieving her dreams is similar to many of the girls in the FEYW network of schools.”
Viola Davis spoke powerfully and sadly about her life amidst poverty, domestic violence and racism. “I was born in 1965 on a plantation, and my mom was one of 18 children. We moved from the south to Rhode Island where our building was rat infested. I wore the shame of guilt and poverty like I wore my name.”
At five years old, Davis was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, and she didn’t know, but she knew it wasn’t a life with a father who abused her mother on a regular basis. She threw herself into school and theater as she sought to be the best and to receive accolades and awards for her performances. “I was an overachiever and I sought out competition.” Those competitions led to scholarships and a path different than her parents.
Davis said that she had many who helped her—from teachers to therapists. Davis spoke directly to the young women in the audience and said, “You have to remember that failure exists on the same plane as accomplishments, and you have to work it out. You have to release your fears (of what’s holding you back). It’s okay to fall and bump, but keep moving.”
Kelli M. Hinson, co-chair of Attorneys Serving the Community, thanked Viola Davis for her talk and announced that the FEYW raised more than $400,000 for Irma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School’s internship program.
About the Foundation for the Education of Young Women:
FEYW’s mission is to partner with urban school districts to create a network of all-girls public schools across Texas to give young women the academic and leadership skills to achieve success in college and in life. All FEYW schools have received Exemplary or Recognized ratings from the state of Texas each year. Since the organization’s existence, FEYW has invested funds and resources with impressive results: 100% of seniors graduate from high school and 100% are accepted to college. FEYW first formed a partnership with the Dallas Independent School District and, in 2004, the Irma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School opened. Additional network schools are the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders in Austin; the Young Women’s Leadership Academy in San Antonio; the Talkington School for Young Women Leaders in Lubbock; the Young Women’s Leadership Academy in Fort Worth; the Young Women’s College Preparatory Academy in Houston. In January 2014, the Foundation added a seventh school, the Young Women’s Leadership Academy (YWLA) at Bill Arnold Middle School in Grand Prairie. Combined, the schools’ graduating classes have received more than $17 million in scholarships. More information can be found at http://www.feyw.org/ or by calling 214.824.1400.