Within six months of moving to Austin in 2008, Williams had already landed a chair role at Leadership Austin and embedded herself into the community here.
The lobbyist and social impact strategist said she was welcomed with open arms and fell in love with the city early. “Austin is just a place for those who choose to see opportunity,” she said. “There’s always something new emerging here, something that’s innovative, so if you are a person who wants to embrace that, you’ll never be bored, you’ll always have work and you’ll always have a chance to be part of a community where you can make the world a better place,” said Williams.
Austin is just a place for those who choose to see opportunity
Today, she works in her dream position as a social justice lobbyist in Austin’s burgeoning tech industry, a position that didn’t exist, and few imagined would exist when she first arrived in town. The idea that companies would prioritize a social justice and civil rights issue portfolio was unheard of.
“I’ve been saying for the last eight years that this is what I want to do, and all my mentors kept telling me I was crazy,” she said. “I said, one-day companies will embed their [civil rights] and diversity principles into their lobbying strategy. It’s kind of crazy to think that eight years go, I kind of saw it coming, but it took eight years for it to happen, and it took George Floyd to make it happen.”
In the summer of 2020, in the wake of Texas native George Floyd being killed by police in Minneapolis, communities and the companies that call them home across the country began to examine the systems, processes, and beliefs that contributed to an overall sense that Black lives in this country do not matter. Many companies, for the first time, made a commitment to prioritizing civil rights and diversity, equity, and inclusion — which opened the door for those who had long considered this their life’s work, like Williams.
“I really choose to see it from a place of inspiration, opportunity, and possibility,” she said. “So many times when we begin as community organizers, we might be excited but we might quickly become angry because the problems are so large and the resources are so limited.”
Instead, she encourages “fire starters,” as she calls these agents of change, to consider “How might you do this work from a place of strength, resources, and building others up.” From that lens, she said, it becomes easier to combine one’s intellect, strategy, and luck with the knowledge that there is a way forward. “You’re able to take those obstacles into possibilities, take that first step, and use that for good,” said Williams.
…the movements you start are not for yourself.
Williams said “fire starting” is in her blood. Her grandparents built a church in the poor Louisiana town they grew up in, to fill the void of Black Catholic churches in the area. When that church burned down 10 years ago, her parents rebuilt it.
“It’s just a reminder that the movements you start are not for yourself. Sometimes they’re for the people that you know, but oftentimes, they’re for the people you never know and will never meet,” she said.
Williams started a platform, the Movement Maker Collective, to encourage leaders to “turn moments into movements,” much like the moment of the summer transformed into a movement for the country. Through the collective, she provides consulting around public policy and advocacy, as well as philanthropy to help amplify the support for social good.
“If you show people that someone has done the work, you share a story, you share strategies with them, you give them the tools that they need, people are going to magnify that,” she said.
For Williams, these ideas tie into her experience as a lobbyist, and coupled with her passion for promoting more equitable outcomes for those who look like her; and then taking what she’s learned and scaling it to help more people do the same.
“So many times lobbyists get caught up in winning — and winning might be passing a bill or killing a bill. And you get so caught up in that win that you don’t think about the things that might happen once that bill gets passed — the unintended consequences,” she said. “There are so many lobbyists who might be Black, might be brown but are passing laws that might be causing more divides, might be causing greater inequities.”
Follow Williams and connect with other fire starters on her website. To see the full list of 2021 Innovative Leaders — click here.