Actress Viola Davis ’88 Honored for “Making a Difference”

Academy Award-nominee and RIC alum Viola Davis '88

Academy Award-nominee and RIC alum Viola Davis '88

“I always feel that when I come back to Rhode Island I am home,” said Viola Davis, the award-winning actress and alumna of Rhode Island College who was honored with a “Making a Difference” award.

Davis, a Central Falls native, returned to Rhode Island from her home in Los Angeles to receive the award given by the Rhode Island Tourism Division at its 28th annual Rhode Island Tourism Unity Luncheon on May 8.

She was accompanied by her husband, actor/producer Julius Tennon; her sister, Deloris Grant, a teacher at Central Falls High School in Rhode Island; and their mother, Mary Alice Davis.

Before the awards ceremony, Davis sat with Rhode Island College President Nancy Carriuolo as she answered questions from reporters. She said she was happy to come home to her family and her community.

“Every time I come back to Rhode Island and Central Falls, I see myself in so many kids who want to go out and be somebody,” Davis said. “I feel like I’m giving back to something larger than myself.”

Davis received the “Making a Difference” award for her generous support of Central Falls and many arts and educational organizations throughout the state.

Her many contributions include donations and appearances to help financially troubled Central Falls High School. She also encouraged the involvement and donations of other high-profile Hollywood stars, such as Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin.

She supported a fundraiser for Community Preparatory School, an independent private middle school in South Providence; she headlined Trinity Rep’s Pell Awards in 2012, helping the theater raise hundreds of thousands of dollars; and she donated to Rhode Island College’s Upward Bound Program, which also received matching donations from Streep in honor of Davis.

Davis also has supported Rhode Island College, her alma mater. She earned her undergraduate degree in theater at RIC in 1988 and received an honorary doctorate degree in fine arts in 2002.

Last fall, Davis lent support to the efforts to secure passage of a $50 million bond to renovate buildings at the college.

“Rhode Island College is where I found myself,” Davis said. “At RIC I had great professors and was involved in programs such as the Upward Bound Program and Student Support Services, all of which was instrumental in helping me find my passion.”

The award ceremony opened with a stage performance by six Rhode Island College musical theatre majors. These students were also award winners this year at the American College Theatre Festival.

The performance was followed by the bestowal of regional tourism awards. Finally Gov. Lincoln Chafee introduced Davis.

In her talk, Davis said people always ask her why she comes back to Rhode Island. She said, “The two most important days in a person’s life is the day they were born and they day they discover why they were born.”

For Davis, Rhode Island is where she experienced the two most important days of her life. And though she has had great success, she has never forgotten home.

“I carry you everywhere – around the world – with me,” she said. “I always say, “I’m from Rhode Island. My alma mater is Rhode Island College and Central Falls.’ Thank you for claiming me as your own.”

Video of Rhode Island College musical theatre majors performing for Viola Davis