The wisdom Viola Davis shares with her tween daughter is great advice for women, too

EGOT winner Viola Davis reflects on her journey to success and self-worth and how she’s empowering 13-year-old daughter Genesis.

There are only 19 EGOTs in the world (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony winners), but for Viola Davis, those covetable wins were the manifestation of a dream she maintains was borne of circumstance.

“When you grow up in a certain set of circumstances, you no longer see yourself. And that’s why you dream big because it’s almost like you’re forcing yourself to just believe that something could happen,” Davis told People, as one of several celebrities helping the magazine celebrate its 50th anniversary.

Viola Davis daughter
Julius Tennon, Genesis Tennon, and Viola Davis walk the runway during the “Le Défilé L’Oréal Paris – Walk Your Worth” Show as part of Paris Fashion Week at the Eiffel Tower on Oct. 1, 2023, in Paris. (Photo by Pietro S. D’Aprano/Getty Images for L’Oreal Paris)

At 52, the actress and producer is a long way from her deeply impoverished and abuse-riddled upbringing in Rhode Island, which she chronicled in her bestselling 2022 memoir, “Finding Me.” (Davis’ narration of her memoir coincidentally cemented her EGOT status, as she nabbed the 2023 Grammy for Best Audiobook, Narration, and Storytelling Recording.) While she now enjoys a very stable and elevated lifestyle with her husband, Julius Tennon, and their 13-year-old daughter Genesis, Davis’ journey to stardom wasn’t a dream she believed could come true.

“I never imagined myself getting a lead role like [complicated “How to Get Away With Murder” heroine] Annalise Keating,” said Davis, who also appeared in the DC Comics-based “Suicide Squad” as she launched the Shonda Rhimes-produced hit series. “And I thought to myself, ‘Oh my God, Viola, it really can happen to people like you.’ Because I already made up my mind that the industry put a stamp on me. I understand that people from the outside say, ‘You can’t sell yourself short. You are beautiful, Viola. You’re all those things.’ … [But] I never knew that my career could transpire like this.”

Reflecting on her subsequent 2017 Best Supporting Actress Oscar win for “Fences,” Davis described the full-circle moment of sharing the triumph of that evening with her mother, even before winning. “It was like pulling a rabbit out of the hat. That Viola, you dreamed the biggest dream in your life and you made it happen,” she recalled. “And my mom … I remember her crying because I think she felt the same way that I felt: Little country girl from St. Matthews, South Carolina — that she birthed me, and she birthed this.”

Now, Davis is channeling that same winning energy into Genesis. While her daughter, whom she and Tennon adopted as an infant in 2011, is growing up in very different circumstances than her own, Davis is insistent on doing the work of instilling a strong sense of self in her only child.

“I feel about Genesis the same way I feel about myself when I look at myself when I (was) younger,” said Davis during a 2022 appearance on “TODAY with Hoda & Jenna,” as previously reported by theGrio. “I think it’s a great opportunity to grow and even learn about me because I have to give her affirmations — every day I do it.”

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Raising a now-adolescent daughter means those affirmations have become even more urgent and important, as Davis explains in People’s celebratory issue.

“What I tell my daughter right now is, ‘Genesis, you are the love of your life. You have to start right now to have a radical love affair with yourself, to be in touch with your inner voice, what you like, what you don’t like, what’s crossing the boundaries, and you honor that. And through that, that is the seed where everything grows.’ ” 

These are lessons Davis admits were hard-earned in her own life, as she was forced to learn them herself. And arguably, her advice is useful to women of all ages.

“No one ever told me that I was the love of my life,” she continued. “I just counted myself out. If I have to be small in order to build up a relationship, I’ll make myself small. If I have to sacrifice my needs for others — that’s a big one for women, we are considered stronger when we sacrifice our needs. I said, “Genesis, no, do not do that. You are the love of your life, you and you alone.”