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March 28th, 2014
02:45 PM ET

Vanessa Williams on Luptia Nyong'o: "An extraordinary example of a young talent and a true beauty"

It's been more than three decades since Vanessa Williams trailblazed her way across the national landscape, capturing the crown as Miss America 1984, in the process becoming the first ever African-American to win the prestigious pageant.

Thirty-one years later, another woman of color has leaped into the hearts of America, as Lupita Nyong'o – born six months before Williams' win – earned the 2014 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, in the process becoming an instant media darling.

Prior to Nyong'o's win at the Oscars, the 31-year-old with dual Kenyan and Mexican citizenship gave an impassioned speech at the annual Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon in California, admitting that as a young girl she prayed for lighter skin, as her dark complexion subjected her to ridicule and feelings of inadequacy.

Admitting to wishing she “would wake up lighter skinned,” the "12 Years A Slave" actress went on to explain how the emergence of model Alek Wek, who like herself boasted skin "dark as night," helped her to embrace her own beauty.

Listening to a portion of Nyong'o's speech alongside Piers Morgan, Williams reacted with nothing but praise and admiration:

"I think that speech is extremely elegant. I think she is an extraordinary example of a young talent and a true beauty. So the fact that she is a dreamer, and she never thought that she'd be able to win an Academy Award as soon as she did, and she did it, is a fantastic view from people that are trying to make their dream in the United States."

Though 19 years Nyongo's senior, Williams is easily able to relate to the importance of a role model like Wek, as she herself is still being guided by those that came before her, setting the stage for future generations of talented Black entertainers.

"As a woman of color in the United States, she has so many role models, as I did growing up, that she can strive to be like," says Williams, who appeared on Broadway in the Tony Award nominated play, "The Trip to Bountiful." "The fact that I'm working with Miss Cicely Tyson, who paved the way for me, I mean, I remember watching her when I was growing up and seeing her in "Sounder," seeing her in "Roots," seeing her as Miss. Jane Pittman, at the foot of my parents' bed and saying, I want to do that one day."

To hear more of Williams' conversation with Morgan, including details of her involvement with ancestry.com, check out this link. Williams, meanwhile, returns to Broadway in "After Midnight", which begins April 1st and runs through May 11th.
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