As people’s lives are radically changed due to the global pandemic and issues of social and racial inequities dominate the news, many people are looking within and finding the desire to be a changemaker but don’t know where to begin. This is where Terri Broussard Williams comes in.
Williams is aptly described as a Fire Starter, Movement Maker, and Artful Persuader. She helps people “turn moments into movements” which is why her fire is shining particularly bright right now. With racial and social justice issues at the forefront of everyone’s minds, Williams uses her expertise as a journalist, lobbyist, and leader to teach, strategize and inspire others to make a positive change in the world, regardless of background. For Williams, you don’t need a pedigree to start a movement, you just have to have a good heart, a good work ethic, and good intentions.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Williams about her background, her upcoming book Find Your Fire, and how we can all make a difference.
Tell me about your personal background (from growing up to how you got to where you are today?)
I grew up in Lafayette, Louisiana. Lafayette was extremely segregated and is still so today. My parents and my grandparents were very involved in community service and the church. For instance, when their community needed a church, my grandparents orchestrated a church raising in their neighborhood. When the church burned in a fire, my father mobilized the community to rebuild it. My home as a child was a welcome place for traveling priests and my dad hosted a happy hour where they would talk about different events. My mom was an educator and she and her sorority sisters helped neighborhood kids with their reading and, even today, my mom is lobbying the city council to keep that service available at the community center during this challenging time.
For me, community service and church provided the framework that I’ve used for living. As a young journalist, I wanted to give people access to information so that they could make better decisions for themselves and their communities. That desire led me from being a sixteen-year-old newscaster in high school to being a producer for a television station before my college graduation. From there, I moved to South Carolina to work at a television station and was later tapped to be the communications director for Alex Sanders’ historically significant US senatorial campaign to take Strom Thurmond’s vacated seat. I then went on to become one of the only lobbyists at the state capital who was female and a minority, and I was only 25! I had found my fire.
As a lobbyist, I was able to successfully pass legislation that created smoke-free workplaces in Louisiana and was then recruited to go to Texas where I led the team that increased local smoke-free laws from 35 to 103 in three years. Even when I transitioned to working in the corporate space, it was with the desire to create a true system of change.
Now that so many people are wanting to make changes in their own lives or as a collective, I want to give people the support and skills they need to be successful. My belief that when you give people information, they will use it for good, and that belief has carried me through everything I have done professionally, as well as personally. It’s at the core of my being.
Can you tell us the turning point or AHA moment that made you decide this was the path you wanted to take?
The biggest shift in my thought process happened when my father died. Up until that time, I had been so focused on developing my skills as a leader and communicator and trying to make a difference that I hadn’t stopped to take a breath since high school. I was always working – working on weekends or volunteering – and then when my father passed, I finally gave myself some space to grieve and to reflect.
It was during this time that I started a blog to process everything. People responded very positively to what I was writing and suggested that I should write a book. I found the blog to be a creative space where I could use all of the skill sets that I had developed over the years and focus on the things that I love: community service, leadership, and inspiring change.
In this time of Covid-19 and social and political unrest, what has been your experience with your clients? What are the specific barriers they are seeking to overcome with making change? Can you tell us some ways you are helping them to overcome these challenges?
We’re at an interesting place where people are beginning to wake up. They are looking at themselves and wondering if they have a part to play in the social inequities that they see around them. They’re reflecting on times that they may not have spoken up when someone was marginalized and how that inaction or silence perpetuates systemic racism.
A lot of people are coming to me and asking about the hows and the whats. They’re asking what do I need to learn and how can I create change so that it helps to build new systems? People want coaching, webinars, research on advocacy, hiring, and policymaking. My background in communication, lobbying, and leadership-building serves this moment, and, as I like to say, moments make movements. This is a moment when many people are wanting to be part of a movement or create a movement in their communities. People want change both internally and externally.
It can seem daunting to “begin a movement”. What’s one small/simple step people can take to start today?
I always tell people a good place to start is to listen – particularly when it comes to racial justice. You want to hear what others have to say and then you want to learn. You want to learn how to help end the systems of oppression. And then, finally, you want to express empathy. By doing those things, you’ve already begun to take action with something that can feel so daunting.
What are you working on right now that excites you?
I’m excited to be launching my first book Find Your Fire on August 6th. I want it to be the booster shot that people need right now as they think about starting movements in their communities. It shares actionable items along with inspirational stories and advice from others who have done the work.
Find Your Fire will help readers see how they can support a movement or build a movement – because we’re not all builders – but there’s still a way that we can participate in a meaningful way.
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