By Rewon Shimray | Reporter
“You go out there, and you tell the truth,” Kiami Davael said to herself in the mirror before heading into the Cashion Academic Center 5th floor banquet hall.
Kiami Davael, screenwriter, executive producer andactress, spoke at the 31st Annual Black Heritage Banquet hosted by the Association of Black Students and the Department of Multicultural Affairs Feb. 22.
Davael is best known for her role as “Lavender” in the movie Matilda. She shared her challenges in continuing to work in the media industry after her acting debut at 10-years-old.
After working on “Matilda,” Davael said she continued auditioning for parts. At the age of 16 she began to be called “irrelevant,” and a “has-been,” and lost her agent. She said she felt as though she hit “rock bottom” and her dream was swept from under her.
“The only thing that I knew how to do was pray. It was the only way I was going to make it through,” Davael said.
Members in the audience responded to her words with verbal affirmation. Houston sophomore Jason Nwachukwu said he had to learn to deal with people saying he could not achieve his aspirations of becoming a doctor.
“Since I’ve come to Baylor, my spirituality has gotten a lot bigger,” Nwachukwu said. “I would agree that the best solution I’ve found is praying when I feel the most down, and just keep up the faith.”
Davael said God told her she was worth it, good enough and special. She said she learned to embrace everything she was, and accept everything she was not.
“I had to realize just because I’m not what Hollywood wants me to be, that doesn’t mean that I’m not somebody,” Davael said. “God made each of us unique with our own special gifts, talents, and resources, so therefore we have an earthly purpose to fulfill with those. We’re not meant to be anyone else but a better version of ourselves.”
San Francisco sophomore Shevann Steuben said she is still finding herself, but holds fast to the pursuit of a hopeful perspective. She studies pre-law with the intention of going to law school, but while filling out an internship application just the night before had felt the desire to put “educator” as her interest. Despite the seemingly contrasted career paths, Steuben said she is comforted knowing that God has a plan for her.
“Even when I’m not hopeful for myself, there is someone who is hopeful for me,” Steuben said.
Davael encouraged banquet guests that everyone is “meant to be part of a solution.”
“I realized I knew that God has something better for me. This was not the end. As long as I had breath in my body, I had not served my earthly purpose. I was not finished doing what it is I was meant to do. I was not complete with the assignment on my life,” Davael said.
Davael is now working on a TV show “#Still Got It,” in which she is both a cast member and executive producer. She said the show will feature the stories of herself and other former child actors transitioning into adulthood. According to IMDb, featured actors include Jordan Warkol, Shar Jackson, Gary LeRoi Gray, Ashley Monique Clark, Jeff Wood and Lauren Frost.
“I know sometimes we may feel like our dreams are too big, or even the tasks and the assignments are too big, don’t run from them. Embrace them and learn from them, because I promise if you run every time you’re scared, you will run forever,” Davael said. “We’re allowed to get weary, but we’re not allowed to quit. You can bend, but don’t break. Take it just a step at a time, even if you can’t see the full staircase.”
Round Rock senior Nuri Hubbard, Chair of the 31st Black Heritage Banquet Chair, has helped plan this annual event for the past two years. She said the committee selects speakers who are prominent figures in black culture to share their success story.
In 2017, the guest speaker was Ilyasah Shabazz, author, social activist, motivational speaker and Malcolm X’s third daughter. In 2016, Judge Lynn Toler from Divorce Court spoke at the banquet.
“To me, it’s important for these events and these stories to be circulated because, as African-Americans, it’s nice to look back and see how far we’ve come in history. These events give us a time to reflect on history as a group, just where we were and where we are now,” Hubbard said. “It helps us see that we’re not alone; there’s other people who have transitioned and become these prominent figure in our lives. They’re just people we look up to succeed.”
Hubbard said the banquet was open to the Waco community, including students form Texas State Technical College of Waco and McLennan Community College. She also encouraged people of different ethnicities to come.
San Antonio sophomore Alexia Contreras de Castillo attended the banquet representing Kappa Delta Chi, a service-based Latina sorority. She said representation from all ethnic groups is important for embracing other cultures and promoting diversity.
“With Kiami’s presentation, a lot of people can relate to that regardless of whether you identify as black, or Latino, or Asian,” Steuben said. “I think it’s important to note that we’re different in terms of skin color, but a lot of our experiences can be the same.”
Nwachukwu said because Baylor is a predominantly white institution, there is a need to put focus on certain ethnicities and heritages.
“So in terms of events like this where we get to showcase how great black heritage is, it’s not just for black people to remind themselves. It’s for people also getting to know something they may have never been able to in other instances before,” Nwachukwu said.
The event also provided dinner and a dance performed by Houston junior Adrenita Achane with the routine that won her 2017 Miss Black and Gold of the Tau Alpha Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. After her speech, Davael answered open-mic questions and took pictures with the guests.