There is dignity in finding “your way” while helping others find theirs. Alecia Williams, today’s interview subject, has that dignity in spades. She cares about the students she guides but is cognizant that her guidance must be more than talk. She also has to be an example. You’ll see what I mean in today’s Black Perspective.
Introducing: Alecia Williams
SSD: Jumping right in, tell me a bit about yourself and what you do.
AW: First and foremost, I’m an African American woman. The largest part(s) of my identity is connected to the way others see me. When I was in high school, I didn’t understand what it meant to be an African American woman. I knew I was Black but I didn’t know how to connect it to identity; it was just the color of my skin. Most of my friends looked like me, so I never put much thought into it. That quickly changed when I got to college.
I went from seeing people who looked like me on a daily basis, to seeing very few. In fact, I had to go search for them. Over time, I started to put things into perspective and realize I was “different”. I found myself shying away from people, feeling like I didn’t belong. I did everything in my power to try to leave my school but it never materialized. At that point, I realized there had to be a reason why I was there. I knew I needed to find my place and I did when I got involved on-campus; I had found my “people”.
As I continued on my journey to find myself, something clicked. I started to understand what it meant to be a Black woman. I started to understand that the world would see me as such and the way the world sees me had the potential to impact my future. Black women often have to work 10 times harder to prove themselves. Luckily, I embody hard work. I used that to continue to push myself and break through barriers. Today, being a Black woman means everything to me; it’s who I am and my reason why.
Professionally, I bring all of my “Blackness” into the workplace. I currently work in workforce/talent development. I lead a team that’s responsible for preparing young adults for the workforce. We also work with employer partners to help connect our young adults to quality job opportunities.
I also teach a collegiate-level communication course designed to introduce students to the study of communication and explore communication across different channels and mediums. We also focus on the rise of incivility in technology-based communication.
SSD: What do you hope to accomplish as you continue pursuing work?
AW: Since starting my professional career, I’ve worked in student programming, academic advising, and career development. I thought I’d be planning programs for students forever but somehow realized career development was actually my niche. Access has always been an important focus in my career, be it access to education or access to information.
I’ve recently transitioned out of traditional higher education but I still work for a non-profit organization that focuses on closing the opportunity divide. Everyone deserves the opportunity to be successful so I’m hopeful that as I continue my career, I will make an impact on the success of young adults who are navigating a world that was designed to hold them back but they refuse to allow it to do so.
SSD: What is it about career development that made it your sweet spot?
AW: Literally seeing others succeed. That’s my happy place. I want people to win, especially Black people. We deserve the same successes as our white counterparts and I’m determined to do what I can to make sure we get there.
SSD: What’s a tip that you’d give someone who sees you, is inspired, and wants to follow in your footsteps?
AW: Stay true to yourself and set boundaries. More often than not, [we] people of color have to work harder than others to prove our worth. We feel like we need to change certain aspects of ourselves in order to be accepted and acknowledged in the workplace. I’ll tell anybody that listens to know your worth and know you’re equally, if not more, talented than others you work with. Don’t lose yourself trying to fit someone else’s mold. Keep doing you and others will take note.
That being said, boundaries are also important because, in our quest to prove others wrong, we work overtime, which can lead to burnout. Take care of yourself because if your “whole self” isn’t well, you won’t be able to put your “whole self” into the work you do.