Viola Davis takes on poverty in hometown

— You know her as the tough-as-nails defense attorney Analise Keating on the ABC series “How to Get Away with Murder.” But in real life, actress Viola Davis fights for a different cause: ending poverty.

Davis knows all too well what it’s like to live in poverty. “I grew up poor so there is a human face on it for me,” she said.

In 2015, the US Census reported 13.5% of the national population lives in poverty. In Viola’s hometown of Central Falls, Rhode Island, a staggering 31.7% live below the poverty line, and one in three adults report being in fair or poor health.

“What people don’t understand about poverty is that you just don’t have access,” Davis says.

That access to healthcare is something her mother, Mary Alice Davis, spent decades fighting for right in Central Falls.

Her mother was part of the Blackstone Valley Community Action Program (BVCAP), which started out as a small group of working poor women who met weekly to discuss ways they could help the under-served. The group established a local health clinic, and that inspired Viola’s philanthropy.

“My mom has an 8th grade education, but she’s smart,” the actress said. “What I learned from her is, you do what is at your hand to do.”

“You don’t necessarily have to be the most articulate. You don’t necessarily have to have the profile of what it may look like to be an activist. But what you have is a heart to serve.”

Viola’s heart led her back to Rhode Island to make an impact. In early October, the actress visited her hometown to support a free health clinic set up by the Vaseline Healing Project. Through this joint effort between Vaseline, Direct Relief and Davis, vital medical supplies are provided to people struggling with poverty or emergencies around the world.

“For people who live in impoverished communities, a health clinic is a lifeline,” the actress said.

“Hopefully it will be kind of a beacon of hope for other communities.”

Erykah Badu lends her voice to Detroit rape victims

— Seven years after the discovery of 11,341 abandoned and unprocessed rape kits in a Detroit police warehouse, Shahida Mausi-Johnson sought out ways to somehow bring justice to the victims.

Mausi-Johnson is president of The Right Productions, a Detroit-based event management company. She created an event to raise the funds needed to process the kits, partnering with the African American 490 Challenge, the Michigan Women’s Foundation and the Detroit Crime Commission.

But she needed one more element to really make her event sing.

With 81% of those rape kits belonging to black women, Mausi-Johnson looked for an artist whose work inspires empowerment in the African-American community. She reached out to Erykah Badu.

“She as an artist has always demonstrated a great social consciousness, and she brings that to her artistry, she brings that to her life,” Mausi-Johnson told CNN.

Badu gladly accepted the invitation to perform a benefit concert for the cause.

“When I learned about it I thought it was very important, I thought it was at this point in my life it was my responsibility,” the Grammy award winning artist said.

The August 12 concert at Detroit’s Chene Park Amphitheatre raised more than $50,000.

Badu, inspired by the community response, pledged to donate a portion of the proceeds from all of her concerts going forward to the cause, in an effort to help bring the number of unprocessed rape kits to zero.

“Activism and creativity, all these things are very personal things and they are things that warriors know have to be done alone,” Badu told CNN after the concert.

“But when we are in a group together we are so much more powerful. When you find that connection with an organization that can move things in the same way that your heart feels necessary, then you’ve done a wonderful thing,” she added.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy has also been a driving force behind raising funding to get all of the kits tested. Her office released a statement earlier this year saying that roughly 10,000 of the kits have now been tested. The results identified at least 750 suspected serial sexual offenders, and there have been 41 convictions among the cases.


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