“Everybody in this room, I’m sure at some point, has gone through something in their lives, and you survived it,” Davis said. “But not only did you survive it, you took that trauma, and that hurt, that revelation, or whatever it was, and you used it to connect, to give, to influence, to help, and that is the beauty and the purpose of what we are here on this Earth to do.”
Davis — who stars in How to Get Away With Murder and won an Oscar this year for her role in Fences, based on August Wilson’s play of the same name — shared a story of when she traveled to Gambia when she was studying at Juilliard. Davis said she was on a compound of the Mandinka tribe when women called “Kenyala,” who were infertile, performed a ritual where hundreds of people would gather and scream and sing.
“These women felt like the only reason why they weren’t blessed with a child is because God did not hear their wish,” Davis said. ” And so the whole point of the ritual was to make as much noise as possible so God could hear them, and pour down the blessing.”
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Write to Katie Reilly at Katie.Reilly@time.com