Prof Hopes Success Story of Hardscrabble Start Inspires Others

Aesthetic Studies Instructor to Share Message at Women's Conference

Mar. 29, 2012

Dr. Venus Opal Reese

Dr. Venus Opal Reese's ticket out of a tough life was a first-place entry in an NAACP poetry contest when she was 16 and living on the streets of Baltimore.

At age 16, Dr. Venus Opal Reese was living on the Baltimore streets surrounded by violence, drugs and prostitution. She was quiet; she hardly talked at all.

Today, Reese is an outspoken, accomplished playwright. She has a second master’s degree and a PhD from Stanford University, and she is an associate professor of aesthetic studies at UT Dallas.

Reese will share her story on Friday, March 30, at 8th annual “WOW: Words of Wisdom” Women’s Conference at the Hyatt Regency DFW.

“The predictable outcome of my situation was welfare, addiction and, ultimately, death. My life is a living demonstration that anything is possible. My passion is for inspiring high achievers, from the inside out, to change the world,” Reese said.

In the ninth grade, Reese went to class smelling as if she had slept in an alley the night before – because she had. One teacher intervened when she realized Reese’s situation. Her name was Judy Francis.

“She gave me a love that can’t be earned,” Reese said. 

Francis cared for the 16-year-old Reese with more than warm meals – the teacher also pressed the student to write poetry. When Reese set the pen to the pad, the outcome was first place in a NAACP national poetry contest.

Dr. Venus Opal Reese

Dr. Venus Opal Reese performs Split Ends, a solo piece about black women and hair.

Winning the contest fueled Reese down the path she has taken, and it has also led her to found an organization called Defy Impossible, which aims to motivate and challenge others to break through their inner barriers.

“I allow people to feel and be heard, fulfilled, powerful, peaceful and proud of the difference they make in the quality of life for the human race,” Reese added.

Apart from her motivational speaking, Dr. Reese is an award winning solo performer, playwright, director, choreographer and poet. Her latest solo performance work, Split Ends, a piece about black women and hair, was featured on the cover of the Palo Alto Weekly, showcased at the Black Repertory Theatre in Rhode Island and run off-Broadway at La MaMa ETC.

As a scholar, Dr. Reese’s research re-imagines Africa, the middle passage, antebellum slavery, minstrelsy and popular culture through stories told.

Media Contact: Chaz Lilly, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2158, [email protected]
or the Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

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June 20, 2018