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By Stephen Sellner | Citizens Bank Staff
For many, life’s journey is not a straight and narrow path, but instead, is full of twists, turns, false starts, and successes, little and big. This article is one in a series showcasing the many ways people’s experiences bring them to where they are now and prepare them for the future — Furaha Moye is Made Ready, and so are you.
Furaha Moye was 52 years old when she finally figured it out.
She was volunteering at a New York casting agency at the time, months after being laid off from her day job as a picture framer. Moye was determined to learn how these agencies functioned. After all, it had been two years since she closed her own picture framing business, sold her Atlanta condo and Lexus, and moved up north to New York City to chase her dream of becoming an actress. If Furaha wanted to make it, she needed to figure out how these casting agents booked talent.
So Furaha watched. It didn’t take long for her to notice something.
When production companies reached out to the agency for talent, the agent never got up from their desk. The headshots within arm’s reach were the actors being booked for gigs.
Droves of headshots and résumés would funnel into the agency in big envelopes. With so many coming into the agency, these large envelopes had to be filtered by an intern — or volunteer — before making it to an agent’s desk.
Small-sized mail, on the other hand, went directly to the agent’s desk.
“That’s when I understood,” Furaha says, “the value of a postcard.”
Furaha started sending one casting director a postcard on the same day of every month. She was determined to get her first speaking role; two years into her second-act career as an actress, she had only managed to book background work as an extra in commercials. So she continued to pen her postcards, hoping for a chance.
After 15 months, she got a call. There was a speaking role available on the NBC television show “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and the casting director passed along her headshot to the production company. Furaha auditioned and later got the good news: The part was hers. And it was all a credit to her persistence.
“I tend to pursue things that someone else in my age range would be like, ‘Girl, you crazy. There ain’t no way in the world,’” says the 70-year-old Furaha. “But I’m one of those people who believes the energy that you put into the universe is ultimately what you get back.”
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Furaha’s parochial high school just wanted her to go away.
As a stubborn, hard-headed 18-year-old growing up in Rochester, New York, she was always finding ways not to do her schoolwork. Rather than fail her, the school decided to pass Furaha and be done with her.
“Give her a D-plus and she’ll go away,” Furaha laughs.
That drove Furaha’s mother Ernestine nuts. She was a single parent, raising Furaha in the projects of Rochester, yet she sent Furaha to parochial school her entire life. On top of her private school education, Ernestine exposed her daughter to theater, arts, music, choir, and community involvement — all in the hopes of helping Furaha grow.
But her daughter had a need to be rebellious.
“My mother was working in my best interest,” Furaha says, “and I was working against my best interest.”
She paused, thinking about the price she paid for her stubbornness.
“You know the expression ‘Youth is wasted on the young?’” Furaha asks me. “There’s a lot of truth to that.”
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Furaha was working at a photography studio in Atlanta when she met the man who would set her straight.
It was 1973. Alton Bush owned a picture framing business up the block from the studio, and he’d routinely stop by to drink his coffee and chat with Furaha. From there, a friendship blossomed.
One day the photography studio shut down with no notice. Furaha was unexpectedly out of a job and had no idea what to do next.
“Well,” Alton told her, “come see me.”
It took a few weeks, but after finding no other leads for work, Furaha walked into Alton’s picture framing store. He hired her to help with both the wholesale and retail sides of his business.
There was something about picture framing that caused things fall into place for Furaha. She started to find herself. All her life, Furaha had hated math, but she was realizing how second nature it was for her. She discovered the engineer in herself.
It also opened her mind to the possibilities with color. Not only did it impact how she framed, but also how she dressed and presented herself. It was the first time she cared to pay attention to detail or the importance of a filing system. Her attitude even started to shift.
“I got to a place that, just because I got a job that I had never done before, that wasn’t reason to refuse it,” Furaha reflects. “The idea was to take the job and figure it out.”
This transformation didn’t happen overnight, however. Before working for Alton, Furaha wasn’t fazed about showing up late to work. She did it all the time and had been fired for it more than once.
“You know the expression ‘Youth is wasted on the young?’ There’s a lot of truth to that.”
Alton tolerated her tardiness a few times without saying much. Then one day, she was lolly-gagging her way to work, late once again. Furaha’s apartment was walking distance from work, so Alton got in his van to drive around the neighborhood looking for her. When he saw her, Alton tore across the street, threw open the door to the van, and screamed, “Get in this truck!”
He wasn’t one to raise his voice, so Furaha understood how furious he was. “From that point on,” she chuckles, “I never had issues being on time.”
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Alton always looked out for Furaha. He was there when she needed a place to stay while she looked for an apartment, allowing her to move in with him and his wife. Six months later, when Furaha found a place of her own, Alton bought and installed an air conditioning unit in her apartment.
A special bond formed between the two during their 14 years working together. Furaha attended Lamaze class with Alton and his wife for the birth of their first child. Furaha even became godmother to each of his three children.
The two continued to manage the business together. Furaha would run back and forth between the wholesale warehouse and retail shop and also worked the sales counter of the frame shop. That was a big deal in the 1970s; Furaha says black people in the picture framing industry worked in the warehouse, away from customers. She, however, was the face of Alton’s business.
All the while, Alton continued to mentor Furaha. He taught her how to manage accounts, particularly when payments were late. She didn’t know it at the time, but Alton was preparing her to have her own business one day.
That opportunity came in 1987, when Furaha was 36. The property owners of the Alton’s retail shop decided they wanted to sell the land. In 90 days, the building would be torn down.
Alton and Furaha tried to figure out their next steps. Maybe Furaha could run the wholesale business while the retail shop was on hold for a few months?
Furaha knew better.
“I understood that if you put the frame shop on hold for six months, it’s history,” she recalls. “Those customers are going someplace else.”
Plus, Furaha had spent all these years being the defacto face of the business, interacting with customers. She wasn’t about to be forced back into the warehouse. “I didn’t want to be the person in the back room,” Furaha explains. “I wanted to be out front.”
Then Furaha had an idea. What if she leased Alton’s equipment and opened her own picture frame shop?
Alton thought she was nuts. Only 30 days stood in the way of the shop being bulldozed and paved over. There was no way, he told her, that she could find a new space and get all the equipment moved in time.
If Furaha had been told that 15 years earlier, she may have believed Alton and dropped the idea. But if her time with Alton had taught her anything, it was that a challenge shouldn’t be refused because you don’t know what to do. You take on a challenge and figure it out from there.
“All you had to do was tell me that I can’t do something,” she says, “and I was gonna find a way to prove you wrong.”
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By September 29, 1987, she had her new location and all the equipment moved in — one day before the shop was torn down. The two worked out all the details: Alton would continue to run the wholesale business and Furaha would sell the frames at her very own shop.
And all the customers she was afraid would go away? They came with her. The former shop was Alton’s, sure, but the customers knew it was Furaha who managed it. The customer base was committed to her, no matter where she went.
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There’s a lot to Furaha that makes her unique, but her voice might stand out the most.
By the late 1980s, Furaha started using this gift to her benefit. She began singing and performing with local pianist Larry Williams. Larry would play at piano bars all around Atlanta, and four to five nights per week, Furaha would perform with him after working at the frame shop.
Furaha always loved performing, dating back to her childhood when she sang in the angel choir in Rochester. As a teenager, she appeared on a local television show that showcased children lip syncing; Furaha chose Diana Ross’ “Stop in the Name of Love.”
“I didn’t appreciate all the music opportunities I had in Rochester enough,” she says. “But now that they were before me again, I said, ‘OK, you gotta pay attention this time.’”
Alton had always told her that she should do something with her voice. But as it turned out, piano bars weren’t the only place her voice could take her.
It was the mid 1990s when Furaha made a routine trip to a health food store. As she conversed with the cashier, the woman waiting behind her in line couldn’t help but ask, “Do you have a cold? Or do you always sound like that?”
Furaha was befuddled. “Excuse me?” she asked.
It turned out that the woman was working on a commercial for BMW. She thought Furaha’s voice would be perfect for the voiceover and asked her to audition for the part.
Furaha arrived for the audition not really sure what to expect or how she ended up there. The next day, they told her the part was hers and asked her to come in to record.
“I wasn’t even on three minutes and they paid me $750,” Furaha quips.
Furaha could’ve taken the money, counted her blessings, said her goodbyes, and been done with it. But she didn’t. She was intrigued. Furaha watched as the engineer merged the audio with the video. At one point, the engineer turned to her and said, “You have a very James Earl Jones voice. You should do well.”
Fascinated, Furaha started reading up on voiceover work. In her research, she learned that it was advisable to take acting classes.
“That’s what started it,” she says.
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Before long, Furaha started dreaming of life as an actress in New York City.
Furaha threw everything she had into acting. At 46 years old, she enrolled at the Alliance Theater Acting School in Atlanta. She auditioned for roles through the school’s theatre program and was cast twice.
Furaha’s uncle James was living in New York City at that time and knew she was interested in moving there to pursue acting. So Furaha asked him if she could come up for vacation for a few weeks to check it out for herself. He agreed, giving her a key to the apartment so she could come and go as she pleased.
James was a big help to Furaha, but also to her mother.
“She had a lot of trepidation about me leaving the security of Atlanta,” Furaha says. “But because I was going to be living with her brother, she knew somebody would be watching over me.”
Furaha was ready to move to New York right then and there. But that dream had to be put on hold.
“It was very clear in my mind that I could not leave for New York,” she explains, “until I satisfied the debt with Alton.”
Furaha says she owed him $11,000 at the time. She had always promised her mentor that she’d pay him back every penny he lent her. As a result, Furaha put her acting dreams on hold to remain at her picture frame shop in Atlanta.
She slowly chipped away at the debt until, in 1999, one of the warehouse employees came into Furaha’s shop with terrible news. Alton had died unexpectedly from a heart attack.
“I lost it,” Furaha recalls.
She immediately got in touch with Alton’s wife to offer support to her and their three kids. However, Alton’s widow had some support of her own to offer Furaha.
Alton had told his wife long before his passing that if anything were to ever happen to him, she was to forgive Furaha’s debt to him. Furaha was touched by the offer, but thought there was no way she could accept that. Not after all Alton had done for her — and with plenty of the $11,000 debt still to be repaid. But Alton’s wife insisted.
“I choose to believe that everything happens for a specific and finite reason.”
Furaha turned to her mother to ask what she should do.
“Honey, if he thought enough of you to do that, do not insult his family by continuing to push it,” Ernestine told her daughter. “Be gracious, say thank you, and do what you can to help.”
That was all Furaha needed to hear. She eventually sold her Atlanta condo as well as her Lexus, and on September 29, 2000 — Furaha’s 50th birthday — she headed north to New York City to start the second act of her life.
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Furaha was learning on the fly.
She started to pick up freelance work, but mostly worked as an extra — “on background,” as Furaha calls it — in commercials, television shows, and movies. She’d also picked up work as a picture framer for a few years, which brought in additional money until she was laid off in 2002.
“That’s when I really started working full time as an actress,” Furaha says.
In 2003, she became a member of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), a union that represents thousands of actors and other entertainers. It helped her get steady, well-paying background work. She also began volunteering at the casting agency to better understand how agents book talent.
In the meantime, she took acting classes and conversed with fellow actors. Eventually, she got a good grasp of what happens on set.
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The background work was good, but she still wanted her chance at a speaking role. She finally got her big opportunity in 2005 when she landed the speaking role on NBC’s “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.”
“I knew when I started down this road at 50 that it was going to be a challenge,” Furaha says. “That said, I choose to believe that everything happens for a specific and finite reason.”
Like in 2006, when Furaha’s mother started having trouble with her knees. Ernestine was in her 80s, and it was obvious to her daughter that she’d need double knee replacement surgery sooner rather than later.
At the same time, Furaha’s acting work started to dry up. Production companies started hiring fewer and fewer SAG actors for work in an effort to cut costs. Furaha could no longer count on her acting salary to manage. For the first time since moving to New York, she had trouble paying her rent.
If there ever was a time to move back to Rochester to help her mother, this was certainly it.
“I wasn’t going to be able to stay in New York City knowing that she needed that level of support,” she explains. “So I moved up to Rochester to support her.”
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“When I first moved back to Rochester,” Furaha explains, “I was hating it.”
Eventually, she came to her senses. Furaha knew she wasn’t going to leave her mother stranded to recover from her surgery. She needed to make peace with her new situation, no matter how much she missed New York City.
Furaha began taking voice and music theory classes at a local music school. She joined a theatre community. It wasn’t the bright lights of New York City, but it was something.
“I figured out how to make Rochester work for me,” she says.
In the meantime, Furaha’s relationship with her mother started to improve. The two used to butt heads over who was right. Now, Furaha began to realize that their biggest issue was a simple one that neither was willing to admit.
“We were exactly like each other,” she says.
Furaha lived with her mother full time until 2012. By that point, Ernestine was doing so well that the two agreed that she should go back to New York. Still, Furaha returned to Rochester once a month to check on her.
Two years later, Ernestine’s health began to deteriorate. She went to the hospital for issues stemming from high blood pressure. The admitting physician had some bad news: Ernestine would never be able to go home. He diagnosed her with congestive heart failure and dementia.
“Our lives changed irrevocably in less than an hour,” Furaha recalls.
It was during this tough time that Furaha came to peace with her relationship with her mother. Furaha did everything she could to keep Ernestine safe and comfortable until her death in 2017.
Furaha did a lot of praying and reflecting during those days. She came to realize that all the opportunities Furaha was so blessed to have were ones her mother didn’t have when she was her age. And that’s all Ernestine wanted for her daughter: to give her every opportunity to grow into the woman she is today.
“My mother represents the best of me,” Furaha explains. “My goal going forward is to embrace all the love and guidance she shared with me and share it with others.
“Because of her, I am.”
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Today, Furaha shows no signs of slowing down. She may be 70, but the possibilities are more bountiful than ever.
She’s more than an actress; she’s a model, singer, tap dancer, and photographer. The beauty of all these skills, Furaha says, is how well they knit together. She could have an acting gig for two weeks, then get a call from a modeling agency and do that. At night, she can book a singing gig.
“Fortunately,” Furaha says, “I’ve been gifted with more than one thing.”
It’s been almost 20 years since she moved to New York, and there were so many things that had to go right for her to get to this moment of complete, utter peace. What if Alton Bush had never started coming into the photography studio where Furaha worked to have his morning cup of coffee? What if she had gone to the health food store on a different day or 15 minutes earlier? What if Alton and his family hadn’t forgiven Furaha’s debt, keeping her in Atlanta for who knows how long? And what if her mother’s knees hadn’t started to fail?
Each of these “what ifs” could have taken Furaha down a different road. Instead, all of her experiences have turned Furaha Moye into the tenacious, stubborn, motivated, focused, determined, and daring woman she is today. And all those characteristics have made her ready for whatever awaits her in the future.
“The dream is still alive,” she says. “Just as I believed I would succeed then, I believe, know, and have faith that that remains true now.”
Furaha is featured in new Made Ready advertisements for Citizens Bank that can be seen throughout the northeast and the internet. Learn more about how others are Made Ready and how you can be too. Click here.
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