Close your eyes and imagine that thing in life you want more than anything else — but you're too scared to go after. For one Academy Award-winning star, that thing was acting. Viola Davis' TIME 100 speech is inspiring on a grand level, because it explains how she got over this fear in her life, all while spreading an empowering message that might help you in yours. At the TIME 100 ceremony on Tuesday, the actor from Fences, How To Get Away With Murder, and pretty much everything you've ever enjoyed was asked to make a toast to someone who influenced her. Davis shared a touching story of her experiences as a young woman just starting at Juilliard, encountering doubt for the first time.
According to the story, she found herself struggling with who she was — feeling like she'd lost her voice as an artist, and in that terrifying low in her life, she decided to go on a trip to Africa to see what she could find. She called it a "cultural arts safari," paid for by the school, and she visited the Mandinka tribe in Gambia, where she encountered a group of infertile women called "Kenyala" who had a powerful message to share. The women performed a ritual that included shouting, drumming, and contortion of their faces, and Davis was struck by the message of their song, amidst the chaos. She recalled,
Apparently, the purpose of the ritual was to draw attention to those women, the Kenyala, who hadn't been able to bear children, which Davis said is "the biggest blessing you could possibly have" in the Gambia. The actor explained,
She said she was overwhelmed by not just the ritual itself, of the women unapologetically raising their voices to get what they wanted, but also the way the community rallied around them in support. Davis said,
You can watch the full speech below:
There are so many lessons in this ritual, all layered on top of each other, and I would be surprised if there isn't one that speaks to you in this story. There's the bravery of asking for what you want, the magic of participating in something, in connecting to it, the beauty of not only surviving but thriving after a trauma, the freedom of letting your voice ring out.
There's so much here, and the fact that Davis manages to spell it all out so perfectly in less than five minutes just speaks even more to her power as an artist, a power that she rediscovered in the Gambia with the Kenyala, and that she blesses the rest of us with every day.