I couldn't use my imagination without these women

Busy Without This Woman is a series of articles honoring the women who challenge and change us every day. This month, Oscar-nominated actor Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor, who stars in Ava DuVernay's Origins , reflected on her activist roots.

This is my mother, my sister and my grandmother. Without these women, I would not have the sense of purpose to build and sustain the community around me. I wouldn't be curious and allowed to use my imagination to create things I couldn't see.

My grandmother, Myrtis Taylor, took me in when I was three years old. Her emotions are very restrained and reserved, but she loves me so wholeheartedly, even though she never says it out loud. When I lived with her, not long after Jim Crow Mississippi, She actively voted and tried to get others to vote. This community of women in McComb, Magnolia and Pike counties in Mississippi participated in the effort, knowing it was dangerous.

She and those women were also the foundation of the MBC New Family Church that I went to. I spent my childhood riding in the back seat of my grandmother's car as she visited people who were sick and cooped up in their homes. This is what my grandmother did. She fed people; she cared for people. I follow her example.

The seeds of creativity and imagination in my life came from my mother.”

My mother, Jacqueline Taylor, raised me with magic. She was a contemporary of Angela Davis and Assata Shakur. She abandoned her grandmother's traditional life as a housewife and felt she had to go out and overthrow the strongholds of oppression. As a result, she was kicked out of college and went to Georgia to work for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

She wants to travel around the world. I think of my mother the way Toni Morrison described Sula: an artist without paint or brushes. The seeds of creativity and imagination in my life came from my mother. When I lost her, I lost my home.

Ellis Taylor (left, in green) speaks at a celebration of the film "Origin" directed by director Ava DuVernay (center, right, in black). Arnold Turner/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

But my mother gave the reins to my sister, and she became my resting place. Even though she is actually 12 years younger than me, she is often my "mom sister." She takes care of me. I would feel lonely without her.

She was the one who read with me when I auditioned for the movie King Richard . She was there, reading and recording with me over and over again. When I heard Ava DuVernay was being cast for Origins , I wanted to get involved. I said, "Well, what do I do?"

I looked at a picture of Ms. Isabel Wilkerson and said, "I think I could make myself look like her." I showed my sister a picture of Ms. Wilkerson and she said, "We could Make you look like that.”

"Although she is actually 12 years younger than me, she is often my 'mom sister.'"

Ms. Wilkerson loved to wear pearls. She often wears this burgundy bodycon dress with burgundy lipstick. She wears her hair a certain way. So we started shopping. My sister bought the pearls from Amazon. We went to the local beauty supply store and bought a wig and then ordered a dress from Nordstrom or somewhere like that.

My sister put me in the middle of her living room in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, took a picture of me, and we sent it to the casting director, Aisha Coley. Aisha Coley sent it to Ava DuVernay, who wanted to talk to me about playing Ms. Wilkerson.

So I think it's a trinity. I am here talking to you because of those women: my grandmother, my mother, and my sister. Literally.

As Leila Barghouti says. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.