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‘My Mother Knew I Had to Get Out of the Ghetto’

Oscar-award winning producer and director Lee Daniels is all too-familiar with the struggles of growing up in a single-parent home with multiple siblings, and he recently credited his hard-working mother for shaping him into the man he has become in spite of their tough times as a family.

Lee took to the stage as an honoree at the TIME 100 gala last month with these words of thanks, praise and admiration for his mother Ciara:

I stand before you a very humble man — a very nervous man. I’ve been to many award shows, but this place is on another level.

I think about my kid, my son. I have twins that I didn’t want to have the life that I had. I didn’t have a great life growing up. I had my mom, who’s here tonight. But it wasn’t a great life.

And so I wanted my kids to have the life that I didn’t have, as all parents do. I wonder now… My son says I don’t have enough time for him.

My mom had five kids. And she came home after working three jobs, and I’d rub her feet. We’d all rub her feet. We were lucky to get any time with her.

My mom knew early on that I was gay, and she knew that I had to get out of the ghetto. And so she hit up my next door neighbor, who was a butler — hence The Butler. And he was the butler for Ed Snyder, who was the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles.

I drove out every day to a world of white people. And that world opened my life into a magical place that I don’t think I would’ve known.

Most of my friends are dead. I watched friends die in my arms at 5, 6, 8. When I grew up the rest of my friends died of AIDS. That I don’t have HIV is a miracle from God.

So this evening is for my mom, because she knew I was destined for something — what that something is, I don’t know. But I love her from the bottom of my heart, and I honor her tonight, because this is really for her.

Clara — Mom — stand up.

Image Credit: TIME

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