Victoria Rowell remembers. She remembers many women who made a huge difference in her life so much that she has written a book about it — The Women Who Raised Me, A Memoir. This actress, best known for recurring roles on The Cosby Show and The Young and the Restless, has convinced HBO to turn her memoir into a series. The stories she shared with us at the Aronoff as one of the SmartTalkWomen series opened my heart.
This talented actress and former ballet dancer told us about her incredible foster mom, Agatha. Agatha already had plenty of children yet she added Victoria as a foster child. She moved her family from the Carolinas to rural Maine but left time to play piano while Victoria learned the basic steps of ballet from a book. Incredibly, at the age of eight, Victoria caught a bus out of state to audition for a scholarship with the Cambridge School of Ballet. Although she was late and improperly dressed, Esther Brooks saw her talent. Victoria won a full scholarship and became a member of the American Ballet Theater.
Victoria was a foster child because her mother suffered from mental illness and was institutionalized much of the time. Agatha, in her compassion as a mother, broke many rules to contact Victoria’s biological mother, Dorothy. She corresponded with her for 25 years and invited Dorothy to visit at the farm several times. Victoria looked back at her “Earth Angels” and wrote a memoir about what she learned from these mentors.
Victoria Rowell is most passionate about the plight of foster children — so much so that in 1990 she founded The Rowell Foster Children’s Positive Plan. She believes the arts saves lives, that children can express themselves through art when other ways are difficult. Since 1998, Rowell has been the National Spokesperson for the Anne E. Casey Foundation’s direct service arm, Casey Family Services.
She reminded us that May is National Foster Care Month. I happened to have as my guest that night, Holly Schlaack who recently wrote Invisible Kids, Marcus Fiesel’s Legacy. After the talk, Victoria was in the lobby, graciously signing books. Holly, who supervises Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs) through ProKids, had brought her book along to give Victoria a copy as she purchased The Women Who Raised Me and got it autographed. When Victoria heard that Holly worked in the foster care field, she exclaimed “Let me give you a hug!” Perhaps this anecdote can serve to highlight the open appreciation Victoria Rowell has toward women in the foster care field who make a difference.
Actress Diane Keaton will be at the Aronoff May 19th as the last speaker in the Smart Talk/Connected Conversations series.