How Viola Davis Is Tackling the Tolls of Poverty, Starting with Her Own Hometown
The ABC star tells PEOPLE a recent event she attended was about bringing "whole message of healing to this community"
Viola Davis remembers what it was like growing up in poverty.
Being raised in Central Falls, Rhode Island, the Emmy-winning actress recalls both living in and seeing the effects of limited finances and access to good health care, which is one of the reasons she returned to her hometown to host a one-day health fair.
“They did a free health fair and training. They gave flu shots, blood pressure checks, there was a dermatologist on site. They had food, face painting. It was basically a big health fair because Central Falls is a community [that] lives on or below the poverty line and one out of three people in Central Falls complain of fair to poor health,” Davis, 51, told PEOPLE about the Vaseline Healing Project Health Fair that took place on Saturday. “It was just a beautiful thing. It wasn’t just a time for everyone to gather together, but just really bring that whole message of healing to this community that’s very challenged.”
Davis, who has been a user of Vaseline since childhood, remembers her sister applying the product to her face after she suffered burns from grease.
“Growing up African American and having dry skin, a lot of time after the skin is dry, if it’s not treated with some petroleum jelly, then it cracks,” Davis explained. “And of course my sister, the biggest thing was when she got really burned on the side of her face from splattered grease from making sugar candy on the stove and her face blistered. It was horrible blisters — I had never seen anything like it. We took her to the emergency room, but they couldn’t cover it because the skin was so tender. So one of the things that my mom did for several days was she put petroleum jelly on it.”
The How to Get Away with Murder star said that joining the brand, which partners with Direct Relief to provide dermatological care, medical supplies, Vaseline products and health worker training to help heal the skin of five million people globally by 2020, was a “no-brainer.”
And can HTGAWM audiences expect to see Annalise Keating use the product on the ABC show? “I would encourage them to do it because Annalise already in a few scenes has been putting ointment on the bottom of her feet!” Davis said with a laugh.
How to Get Away with Murder airs Thursdays (10 p.m. ET) on ABC.