Magazine article Newsweek

Using Fame and Fortune to Help Others

Magazine article Newsweek

Using Fame and Fortune to Help Others

Article excerpt

Byline: Rosario Dawson, Actor and Political Activist

I grew up in a squat on the Lower East Side. My mom was 17 when she had me, 18 when she got married and 21 when she broke into the abandoned building. She was a courageous person, always saying to herself, "OK, I'm going to learn how to be a plumber so I can put plumbing lines in, sewage lines in." My dad had done some construction already, and they learned how to do electrical work so they could set up the electricity in the house.

I grew up knowing that if you wanted something better, you had to do it yourself.

Members of my family had HIV, and I was very aware of their mortality and how a little cold that I had meant that I couldn't be around them because it could cost them their lives. So when I read the script for "Kids," I thought it was really powerful. I had never thought about acting before, but it really spoke to me in so many ways, very much mirrored the life that I had around me.

As for my activism, it doesn't always have to be superpersonal to me. But I do have a hard time saying no, because it's easy to find someone in your family who has cancer or HIV or has suffered extreme poverty or homelessness. It's all right there.

I never had any walls up or had any particular idea of what success should look like, and I wasn't acting to go for success; I was just enjoying myself. But I think in both parts of my life, acting and my activism, I'm starting to focus more.

I really want to be doing meaningful things. I think that comes with being 29. That's a natural progression. I was walking in marches with my mom when I was 10, back when Al Sharpton still wore sweatsuits.

It took a long time for me to realize how to commit that celebrity value to something that I really believed in. I don't want to just be the spokesperson for something; I want to be affected by it as well. …

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