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Grace (Gealey) Byers

Actress on Hit TV Show Empire
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Biography

Grace (Gealey) Byers can currently be seen as Anika Calhoun on the hit FOX series Empire, which returns for season three in the fall of 2016. Byers was raised in the Cayman Islands by her African American mother and Caucasian father. Both of her parents are deaf and thus, she was raised learning sign language and understanding what it meant to be a child of deaf adults (CODA). Although people treated her parents as “deaf and dumb” and Byers as “too light” or “too dark,” these challenging experiences made her strong and committed to following her dreams.

Byers moved to America alone to attend the University of South Florida in Tampa, where she received a B.A. in Theater Arts. During her time at USF, acting afforded Byers the opportunity to communicate viscerally – a desire that stemmed from her childhood. Following college, Byers attended the University of California Irvine’s graduate program and obtained her M.F.A in acting. A successful showcase took her from Los Angeles to New York City, where Byers performed professionally. Several theater productions, short films, and national commercials led her to Chicago, where she is currently based. In her free time, Byers is involved in Saving Our Cinderellas, a movement that helps and empowers young girls and women to stand up against bullying, address social issues, and uplift one another in support of positive interests.

From near-death experiences to a unique childhood, Grace (Gealey) Byers shares her personal philosophies with audiences. She believes in taking the time to be still and become aware of oneself, and to have compassion and grace for one another. She feels that there are always opportunities for growth, that each person has their own complex and intricate story. On a more personal level, Byers discusses the discrimination she faced in moving to America, the social and cultural adjustments she made after moving, and the importance of celebrating life in the moment.

Topics

My Story: The Ups, Downs & Challenges

Before she played smart, sexy and ambitious record executive Anika Calhoun on Fox TV's hit series Empire, Grace was a struggling actress in New York City who moved to the United States on her own to pursue higher education and acting. Born in the Cayman Islands to bi-racial parents (her mother is African American and her father is Caucasian; both happen to be deaf) Grace was no stranger to sacrifice and struggle during her formative years. In this candid presentation she shares her challenges growing up in an unconventional home and reveals how this experience helped make her stronger and more individual and self-aware before she struck out on her own in the U.S. Other hurdles — including racial discrimination, a near-death experience and learning to survive as a struggling actor in New York City before landing the TV role of a lifetime — make Grace's story a showbiz happy ending like no other.

My Brush With Death & What It Has Taught Me About Life

Before she became a star on the hit TV drama Empire, Grace experienced several near-death experiences, including a traumatic head-on collision with a truck driver that fractured her skull and left her with multiple stitches in the hospital. During her lengthy recovery, she took time to reflect on life, practicing mindfulness and observing stillness as a means of better understanding herself, the lives of others, and the world that unites us all. In this inspirational presentation, Grace revisits the close calls and convalescent periods that allowed her to transform hard knocks into valuable new beginnings — ultimately discovering that the cultivation of love and gratitude is the most powerful healing force of all.

Saving Our Youth: Empowering Young People To Stand Up Against Bullying

One cause very close to Grace's heart is mentoring young people. Through her involvement with Save Our Cinderellas — a movement empowering young girls age nine to 16 to stand up against bullying, and an offshoot of the Saving Our Daughters organization — Grace speaks regularly to young audiences about social issues and the importance of uplifting and supporting one another during challenging times. Designed for a co-ed audience, and drawing heavily on her work with SOC, which was created to mentor and inspire young people interested in entertainment and the theatrical arts, this presentation is ideally suited for schools and youth clubs that want to bring social issues like bullying into the realm of productive conversation.

Offering Grace In Place of Judgement

Having grown up in the Cayman Islands in a bi-racial household where she learned sign language before she knew how to speak, (as both of her parents happen to be deaf), Grace knows a bit about celebrating differences. It wasn’t until she ventured out into the world that she understood what discrimination was and how terrible it felt. Following a bad car accident, Grace wrote an article for Essence, in which she thoughtfully writes about lessons learned and now appreciated, “We do not know each other's stories. Living the life I have lived, being raised by deaf parents, assimilating to a different culture and the challenges I have faced over time has given me insight to the fact that each person has their own complex, intricate story and it's rarely what I suspect it is. We must have compassion and grace for each other. We MUST. Each person slowly walking up the stairs in front of you that is making you late may be healing from a pelvic injury. Each person who cuts you off in the street could be rushing somewhere else to urgently aid a friend in need. Each person you scream at because they are so 'oblivious' and haven't answered your demands, could simply be deaf. We are all we have. Let's be unwaveringly generous in showering each other with compassion, patience and grace. We need it much more than we think.”

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