“I was the kind of poor where I knew right away I had less than everyone around me,” she says. “Our environment, our physical space reflected our income.” At home, “the boards were coming off the walls,” she says, and the family endured “shoddy plumbing and no phone and no food and rats and all of that. That very much was visible to me.”
The family’s rat problem was so bad, she has said, they bit the faces off her dolls and she had to go to sleep with rags tied around her neck to keep them from biting her at night. But the struggle didn’t weigh Davis down — it had the opposite effect.
“It became motivation as opposed to something else — the thing about poverty is that it starts affecting your mind and your spirit because people don’t see you,” Davis says. “I chose from a very young age that I didn’t want that for my life. And it very much has helped me appreciate and value the things that are in my life now because I never had it. A yard, a house, great plumbing, a full refrigerator, things that people take for granted, I don’t.”
This article originally appeared on PEOPLE.com.