“If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.” – Audre Lorde
T.R. Williams, U.W. 2013, graduated from Vassar College and worked in New York City’s educational nonprofit arena before becoming a lawyer. Williams is the advocacy and government relations specialist for the Wisconsin Primary Health Care Association. She considers advocacy an art form that allows one to bridge the gap between current reality and aspired reality.
My after-school regimen from first through fifth grade was strict. It involved my grandmother’s house, homework, collard greens, cornbread, Punky Brewster, and Matlock. There was little to no deviation from these ingredients, which would make for some of my best childhood memories.
It was within this strict regimen that my dreams of becoming a lawyer were birthed and nurtured – between my grandmother’s encouragement and Matlock’s gray suits.
True to my Type A personality and anchored by narratives of sacrifice, determination, and strength retold to me growing up as the granddaughter of a Mississippi sharecropper, I set my goal, created a plan, and spent the rest of my educational career laser focused on becoming a lawyer.
Nothing about law school went according to the plan. Becoming a lawyer is, of course, not easy. I expected the educational rigor. I had believed, with the naivete and luxury one is afforded having grown up when there were no longer “colored only” water bubbler signs to fight, that working hard would be enough.
I was unprepared for the institutional and structural battles I would have to fight on this journey to becoming a lawyer – the microaggressions I would endure in the courtroom and during staff meetings. I developed a new perspective on James Baldwin’s 1961 commentary: “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious, is to be in a rage almost all the time. So that the first problem is how to control that rage so that it won’t destroy you.”
In 2017 I found myself in a Bone Thugs N Harmony situation. Two years prior, I had decided to leave the formal practice of law for the world of education but found myself still unsteady. So, I did one of the most illogical things I have ever done: I quit my job without a job to go to.
I was unprepared for the institutional and structural battles I would have to fight on this journey to becoming a lawyer – the microaggressions I would endure in the courtroom and during staff meetings.
In my own version of Thoreau, I spent the next four months unemployed, living off savings (with my parents), having informational interviews with community leaders around the city, and asking myself lots of questions about my future. Easy to neatly and coolly summarize in a run-on sentence, in hindsight. Rest assured that in the moment there was a lot more chaos, doubt, fear, and anxiety.
At the end of my Walden, I landed in the world of healthcare lobbying, representing the 17 federally qualified health centers in Wisconsin. It is work that thrives on productive disequilibrium and bridge building between current and aspired realities. I love it. Ultimately what I found was a confidence to reimagine my future, to see deviation from the plan as simply change and not failure, to create my own narrative of what being a lawyer looks like, and to have peace with it all.
Meet Our Contributors
Describe your most relaxing (or favorite) vacation.
In this season of my life, work takes up a lot of my time – by choice and design. I choose my work based on my passions and convictions since I am at a point where I know I will spend a lot of time at work – not yet in the season of considering balancing that time with a family of my own.
So, when it comes to vacations and relaxing, most times I have to seize the moment versus being able to plan a "proper" vacation. The best seized moments for me involve the following, in no particular order and not necessarily at the same time: my 6-year-old niece, brunch, red wine, pedicures, facials, full-body massages, two-plus hours’ trips to Target or Michael's, Oakland Gyros, and friends.
T.R. Williams, Wisconsin Primary Health Care Association, Madison.
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