Viola Davis Gives Moving Speech About Hunger: I Had to Dumpster Dive, Steal for Food

Viola Davis
Viola Davis spoke at Variety's Power of Women luncheon about a time in her life when she didn't know where her next meal was coming from Rachel Murray/Getty Images

Viola Davis stepped out for Variety's Power of Women luncheon on Friday, delivering a monologue that left nary a dry eye in the house and is still reverberating on social media.

The How to Get Away With Murder star was honored for her work with the charity Hunger Is, which benefits programs to combat childhood hunger and improve health-related outcomes.

When Davis stepped on stage to accept her award, she had people laughing, crying, and cheering during her five-minute speech. The actress had the audience so transfixed you would have thought you were watching one of her Oscar-nominated performances, but Viola wasn't playing a character, instead she was talking about her own life.

"I didn't join the Hunger Is campaign to save the world," the 49-year-old began. "I didn't. I set out to save myself. They say that you're never too old to have a happy childhood and although my childhood was filled with many happy memories it was also spent in abject poverty.

"I was one of the 17 million kids in this country who didn't know where the next meal was coming from, and I did everything to get food," she continued. "I've stolen for food, I've jumped in huge garbage bins with maggots for food, I have befriended people in the neighborhood who I knew had mothers who cooked three meals a day for food, and I sacrificed a childhood for food and grew up in immense shame."

Davis teamed up with the Safeway Foundation and the Entertainment Industry Foundation to help build awareness and raise funds in an effort to eradicate childhood hunger in America. 

"The word I would like to eradicate today is 'unspeakable,' because I think everything should be spoken," she continued. "I think everybody's testimony should be spoken. I think everybody's shame should be spoken. And the stain that is on this country is that one out of every five children in this country are living in households that are food poor. All the elementary school teachers out there they say that three out of five kids in their class come to school hungry. [This] in the richest country in the world."

Viola then told a story about how the only childhood photo she has ("my mom lost everything else") is a picture from "junior first," which shows her as a little girl with a little ponytail and afro.

"I have to tell you, that's me. That's who I remember every time I wake up. She speaks to me, this little girl. She kind of guides me," Davis said, adding, jokingly, "Sometimes in not so good ways, like with boyfriends and everything, she was really not good."

She continued, "Everyone should be a child and should grow up and have a chance at the American dream. I'm very honored to have this award, honestly. I didn't need it, but I love it," she concluded, which drew laughs from the crowd. "And really, it is my honor to serve. You know, they say, 'To serve is to love,' and I think to serve is to heal, too. My life, you know, and to satisfy the little girl. So thank you so much."

Davis's speech went viral over the weekend, and has drawn tremendous support on social media.

If Viola's mission on Friday was to create awareness, she certainly did just that.

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