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The daughter of a single mother who gave birth at 15 to her and her twin sister Sidra, actress Tasha Smith grew up around gangs, drugs and poverty in Camden, N.J., a city that one time was named the murder capital of the nation. “I’ve been to the worst place I could ever be,” she says to PEOPLE, “but I always had a dream—I knew I was going to go to Hollywood and be legit.” She’s telling her story now, she explains, to help encourage others. “Your dream,” she says, “is the best thing you’ve got.”

The Tasha Smith many of us know now is the beautiful, never-holding-anything-back woman who usually steals most scenes she is in. Usually playing no-nonsene character that tell it “like it is” is something that Tasha had learned first hand.

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