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July 29, 2015 03:50 PM

Viola Davis knows what it’s like to grow up hungry.

“Most of the time, the school lunch was the only meal I had,” the How to Get Away with Murder star, 49, says in the August issue of AARP The Magazine‘s August/September issue. “And I would befriend kids whose mothers cooked three meals a day and go to their homes when I could.”

Growing up in Central Falls, Rhode Island, as the second youngest of six children, Davis admits she was caught shoplifting at the age of 9.

“The store owner screamed at me to get out, looking at me like I was nothing, and the shame of that forced me to stop,” she says.

Often unable to even pay bus fare, Davis says her family was ridiculed because of their poverty: “People would throw things out of cars and call us the N-word. It was constant.”

But now that she’s found professional success and happiness with her husband Julius Tennon and daughter Genesis, Davis says she is extremely grateful for what she has today.

Viola Davis and daughter Genesis
AARP

“When you grow up poor, you dream of just having a home, and a bed that’s clean – that’s a sanctuary,” she says. “Having a really great husband, a child who’s healthy and happy and brings me joy – all of that has been my dream.”

And Davis is now paying her good fortune forward as the spokesperson for the Hunger Is campaign.

“I’ve been so focused on my child, my husband and my career that I never thought of the last step, which is giving back,” says Davis, who says that her upcoming 50th birthday in August is a milestone that has made her reflect on the person she’s become. “[It’s] making me reflect on my life in a way that’s more compassionate and forgiving. I’m able to almost accept the old me.”

AARP The Magazine‘s August/September issue hits homes on Aug. 1.

Viola Davis in AARP The Magazine
AARP

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