Terrie was kind enough to offer me an internship with her company in New York. There was no pay, only a small stipend, but to me it was the opportunity of a lifetime. At the same time, I got a "real" job offer from a fashion merchandising firm in another city, with a substantial salary that would have had me living pretty well as a new college graduate.

Still, whatever the cost, I had to choose Terrie. As a college student, I was no stranger to living on a budget, and I was used to working hard. Choosing the route of greater opportunity seemed worth the challenge of struggling in order to live as my more authentic self. And as luck would have it, Terrie promoted her assistant a few months after I got there. I got to move up into the assistant position, which paid better than the internship had—but just a bit!

Terrie was busy, as always, and she believed in delegating responsibility. She was and continues to be a dynamo who whirls in and out of a room and in and out of town like a tornado. She also judges people by what they can do, not by their age, how long they have been in the business, or what is on their résumé. She just wants to know whether you can do the job. So when the time came for the premiere of Eddie Murphy's film The Distinguished Gentleman, she said to me, "You know what? I really need you to do some serious work on this, so I am going to give you as much to do as you can handle. But you are going to have to work hard."

It was an extraordinary opportunity. I ended up coordinating a lot of the press relations for the premiere with Terrie, doing far more than any assistant would normally have been allowed to do. I loved the work leading up to the premiere and especially loved working the night of the premiere, which was held at a theater downtown that I always went to on the weekends to see movies. All went well, and from there, I just kind of moved on up. Terrie hadn't been lying—I did work hard! I often slept at the agency, but if you are given a chance to be taught by the best and given opportunities that most do not receive, and you are learning a lot to boot, you better take advantage of it!

Of course, I also had a lot of fun. I was invited to amazing events; met interesting and inspiring people; went to great parties with Terrie, or without her when she told me to go in her place; and got to be a part of New York City in a way that I would have never been able to had I not taken the chance to move up there and work for the Terrie Williams Agency. And, just as icing on the cake, it led me to meet my husband, the comedian Chris Rock.

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.


Next Story