But despite the satisfaction I felt with Jasmine M. and my calling to change the world, I had other goals as well. As a child and young adult, I'd wanted to be an actress, even to the point of spending my summers at theater camp in Minneapolis. But somewhere along the way, I understood that I had only a tiny chance of becoming a working actress. The people who succeeded in this demanding profession lived and died by their desire to do that work. I just didn't want it that much, which I was wise enough to realize meant that I probably wouldn't succeed at it.

So instead of majoring in theater, I got a degree in the business side of the arts and set my sights on going into public relations. I'd been inspired by an article about Terrie M. Williams, who headed the largest public relations firm owned by an African-American woman at the time. Over the course of her impressive career she has represented such clients as Eddie Murphy, Janet Jackson, Johnnie L. Cochran, Essence Communications, Time Warner, and HBO.

I was especially intrigued to read that Terrie had been a clinical social worker before she'd become a publicist. After giving it her all in this field and feeling like she needed a change, she became a successful public relations professional, and when she began her new line of work, her first two clients were Eddie Murphy and Miles Davis. Talk about starting at the top! Terrie had gotten her start by convincing Murphy and Davis to give her a chance, so I thought maybe I could persuade her to do the same for me. My senior year at Howard, I wrote to her, expressing my desire to work for her, and she actually called me personally.

Later I learned that Terrie treated every single letter or phone call the same way, whether it came from the head of HBO or some college student she'd never heard of. No matter who it was, she responded promptly, either in person or by having someone on her team follow up (and if you were the one who was supposed to follow up, you had to prove to her that you did!). That was an important lesson that has stuck with me to this day.

Excerpted from If It Takes a Village, Build One: How I Found Meaning Through a Life of Service and 100+ Ways You Can Too by Malaak Compton-Rock, foreword by Marian Wright Edelman. Copyright © 2010 by Broadway Books. Reprinted by permission of Broadway Books, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


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