April 14, 2021

Williams Featured on WJLA Story on Dr. Farmer’s Legacy

UMW James Farmer Multicultural Center Assistant Director Chris Williams. Photo by Karen Pearlman.

UMW James Farmer Multicultural Center Assistant Director Chris Williams. Photo by Karen Pearlman.

James Farmer Multicultural Center Assistant Director Chris Williams was featured in a WJLA story about how he and the staff and students involved with the JFMC carry on the legacy of Dr. James L. Farmer Jr. Watch here.

Chris Williams: Living Farmer’s Legacy

UMW James Farmer Multicultural Center Assistant Director Chris Williams. Photo by Karen Pearlman.

UMW James Farmer Multicultural Center Assistant Director Chris Williams. Photo by Karen Pearlman.

At the University of Mary Washington, the late James L. Farmer Jr. is known as the civil rights icon who organized the 1961 Freedom Rides and as a Mary Washington history professor who regaled his students with personal stories in his big, booming baritone.

But to Chris Williams, who has served as assistant director of UMW’s James Farmer Multicultural Center since 2017, Farmer was a friend and neighbor with a “great sense of humor.” Growing up in Spotsylvania, Williams became close to the man whose quest for justice and equality would later inspire his own life’s work.

This week, Williams shared his story on the new PBS series “American Portrait.” UMW alum Shawn Mitchell ‘20, who interned at PBS last fall, suggested that Williams respond to the prompt, “What is the tradition you carry on?” Williams’ video was selected from 11,000 submissions for the episode, titled “I Rise,” which aired Tuesday night.

“Our job here is to continue the legacy of Dr. Farmer’s work but also teach incoming students and colleagues about who this great man was and what he sacrificed and what he contributed to the betterment of American society,” Williams told The Free Lance-Star. The Washington Post and Associated Press also helped spread the word about Williams’ appearance, and he will be featured on WJLA during Black History Month.

Williams cites JFMC’s social justice, diversity and anti-racism advocacy work, showcased through programming such as cultural events, teach-ins, a human rights film series and an annual justice summit. To kick off Farmer Legacy 2020 – the 100th anniversary celebration of Farmer’s birth – UMW students and local residents traced the same route in Oct. 2019 that the Freedom Riders took to desegregate interstate travel.

They returned from that fall break trip with a “renewed sense of vigor and purpose,” said Williams, who is working with UMW faculty members and Fredericksburg officials to have a historical marker erected at the former bus station on Princess Anne and Wolfe streets, the first stop on the Freedom Riders’ journey. Their goal is to have the marker in place this year, the 60th anniversary of the Freedom Rides.

“My relationship with Dr. Farmer is why I wanted to do these projects,” Williams said. “He fulfilled his obligation and duty of making this society better than when he entered it. So should we.”

Q: What are some of the ways JFMC has continued to engage students during COVID?
A: We’ve created great online programming, which can be found at www.umw.edu/multicultural. This spring, we’ll have events for MLK, Black and Women’s History months, as well as the Islamic Cultural Celebration and Passover Seder.

Q: What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
A: Seeing our incredible students persevere, despite daily challenges on and off campus.

JFMC Assistant Director Chris Williams with some of his favorite record albums. A prolific music writer, Williams will teach a music history course at UMW this fall. Photo Credit: Sabrina Vaz-Holder/The Free Lance-Star.

JFMC Assistant Director Chris Williams with some of his favorite record albums. A prolific music writer, Williams will teach a music history course at UMW this fall. Photo Credit: Sabrina Vaz-Holder/The Free Lance-Star.

Q: The most challenging?
A: Trying to deal with the pandemic on both a professional and personal level.

Q: You’re a music journalist who has been published in Ebony, Rolling Stone and The New York Times, among others, and you were recently featured on Netflix’s “Hip-Hop Evolution.” What’s next?
A: This fall I’m teaching a UMW music department course that covers the intersection of culture, race, politics and music history. Our students will also get to hear some transformative music by legendary artists.

Q: Who are your favorite performing artists?
A: Stevie Wonder; Marvin Gaye; A Tribe Called Quest; Earth, Wind & Fire; and The Isley Brothers.

Q: What’s your motto?
A: Tell the truth.

Williams Featured in Free Lance-Star, Washington Post

UMW James Farmer Multicultural Center Assistant Director Chris Williams. Photo by Karen Pearlman.

UMW James Farmer Multicultural Center Assistant Director Chris Williams. Photo by Karen Pearlman.

James Farmer Multicultural Center Assistant Director Chris Williams was interviewed in The Free Lance-Star about his appearance on PBS’s “American Portrait” on Tuesday, Jan. 26 at 9 p.m.; the article was also reprinted in The Washington Post. Williams was chosen from 11,000 people who submitted a response to the episode’s prompt, “What is the tradition you carry on?” Williams discussed how he continues Dr. Farmer’s legacy through his work with the James Farmer Multicultural Center.

 

Christopher Williams works daily to carry on the legacy of civil rights leader James Farmer.

The legacy is in his job description—assistant director of the University of Mary Washington’s James Farmer Multicultural Center. It informs the work he does at the center along with Director Marion Sanford—coordinating social justice teach-ins, creating a social justice fall break trip, curating a human rights film series and talking daily with students and community members about Black history and anti-racism.

The legacy of James Farmer—who founded the Committee on Racial Equality, led the first Freedom Rides and taught at UMW from 1984 to 1998—is also personal for Williams. He is a product of the James Farmer Scholars Program, which was created in 1987 to assist selected public school students in Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania, Caroline and Westmoreland counties with preparing for and enrolling in higher education. Read more.

UMW’s Christopher Williams, carrying on the legacy of James Farmer (fredericksburg.com)

Social Justice Summit Spurs Students to Action

When junior Mandy Byrd came to the University of Mary Washington, she got involved in the James Farmer Multicultural Center (JFMC) and the University’s new NAACP chapter. These organizations helped open her eyes to a wide range of social justice issues, she said, and “just how powerful this kind of work can be.” Her goal […]

Podcasts on UMW Activism Spell ‘Good Trouble’ for Students

Eliza Vegas marched in her first protest this summer for Black Lives Matter. The University of Mary Washington is inspiring her to do more. “An overwhelming sense of home and community brought me here,” said Vegas, a Mary Washington first-year student who learned of the University’s long history of student activism when she listened to […]

UMW Community Works with City on Freedom Rides Historical Marker

Last fall, UMW students and city residents retraced the route of the Freedom Rides, the historic protest to desegregate interstate travel, organized by James Farmer. Members of the UMW community are working with the City to establish a historic marker on the site of the old bus station in Fredericksburg, the Freedom Riders' first stop on their 1961 trip. Photo by Lynda Allen.

Last fall, UMW students and city residents retraced the route of the Freedom Rides, the historic protest to desegregate interstate travel, organized by James Farmer. Members of the UMW community are working with the City to establish a historic marker on the site of the old bus station in Fredericksburg, the Freedom Riders’ first stop on their 1961 trip. Photo by Lynda Allen.

James Farmer Multicultural Center Assistant Director Chris Williams, Assistant Professor of History Erin Devlin and Assistant Professor of Historic Preservation Christine Henry were interviewed in The Free Lance-Star about their efforts to work with the City of Fredericksburg to establish a Virginia state historical marker at the site of the old bus station where the Freedom Riders stopped first in their quest to desegregate interstate transportation in 1961. The station formerly stood on the corner of Princess Anne and Wolfe streets, near where the fire station is now.

Some of the riders were arrested in North Carolina, South Carolina and Mississippi. In Anniston, Ala., a mob of Ku Klux Klan members slashed the bus’s tires as it attempted to leave the terminal, and later threw a firebomb at it.

UMW students and staff and community members visited the field where the bombing occurred last fall, as part of a trip recreating the journey of the Freedom Riders.

“To our surprise, there was no marker out there. No historical marker saying that right here, the original 13 Freedom Riders were fire-bombed,” said Chris Williams, assistant director of UMW’s James Farmer Multicultural Center, which organized the trip. “I was enraged and so were the students.”

Back home in Fredericksburg, Williams was still thinking about ways the story of the Freedom Riders and James Farmer could be told better—and that led to the idea of placing a highway marker at the site of the old bus station.

Williams, Devlin and Henry, in partnership with the City of Fredericksburg, have started the process of applying for the marker from the state Department of Historical Resources. Read more.

Eagles Fly High During Virtual Awards Ceremony

University of Mary Washington senior Nehemia Abel received the Grace Mann Launch Award during the annual Eagle Awards ceremony, presented virtually Friday evening. This event honors student leaders and outstanding campus organizations. New this year was the James Farmer Defining A Legacy Award. As one of the emcees for the video awards ceremony, Brianna “Breezy” […]

UMW NAACP Chapter Set to ‘Make Waves’

UMW President Troy Paino (middle, suit and tie) poses with members of UMW’s new chapter of the NAACP. The chapter was chartered last May.

UMW President Troy Paino (middle, suit and tie) poses with members of UMW’s new chapter of the NAACP. The chapter was chartered last May.

Most meetings make their way onto the calendar, but some materialize out of thin air. Brianna Reaves might stop by the James Farmer Multicultural Center (JFMC) to run something by advisor Chris Williams. Next thing you know, Bilqiis Sheikh-Issa shows up, followed by Maya Jenkins and Dana Norwood.

Then it’s on.

“We didn’t come in to talk about business, yet somehow all of us are here,” Reaves, a sophomore who serves as president of UMW’s new NAACP college chapter, said of its executive board.

The board’s a sisterhood of sorts, a collection of young women, plus assistant secretary Cameron Washington and assistant treasurer Lewis Geter, who are ready to roll up their sleeves and do what it takes to get this fledgling group off the ground. They feed off each other’s energy – meeting for hours and marking up whiteboards like nobody’s business. Focused on the NAACP’s civil rights mission, they’re set to make change, no matter how small.

“You can’t start a wave without a ripple,” Sheikh-Issa, a first-year student who serves as vice president, said of the chapter, chartered last May. Read more.

Williams Interviewed in Free Lance-Star on Netflix Hip-Hop Documentary

UMW James Farmer Multicultural Center Assistant Director Chris Williams

UMW James Farmer Multicultural Center Assistant Director Chris Williams

James Farmer Multicultural Center Assistant Director Chris Williams was interviewed in The Free Lance-Star about his contributions to Netflix’s Emmy Award-winning documentary series, Hip-Hop Evolution. Williams, who has worked as a freelance music journalist for the last decade, appeared in the third episode of Season 4, entitled “Super Producers.” Williams’ articles and interviews with classic soul and R&B artists have been published or cited in Ebony, The Atlantic, Huff Post, AOL Music, The New York Times, Pitchfork, The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Slate, Vice and others.

According to The Free Lance-Star:

In 2015, Williams pitched a series of “origin stories” about the key players in the mid-1990s Virginia hip-hop scene—Teddy Riley, Missy Elliott and Timbaland, The Neptunes (the producing duo Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams) and D’Angelo—to Red Bull Music Academy, which publishes an online magazine and hosts music workshops and festivals around the world.

For his series, he interviewed the artists’ friends, relatives and collaborators, as well as agents and music executives who worked with them.

He interviewed Riley himself for a story on how the Harlem-raised producer, who’d worked with the Jacksons and Bobby Brown, among others, moved to Virginia Beach in 1990 to establish a studio. The story chronicled how Riley influenced the music scene, discovering and mentoring The Neptunes.

Those stories pointed the “Hip-Hop Evolution” team toward Williams.

“They told me, ‘Chris, your name just kept popping up everywhere,’ ” he said.

Williams was able to put the team in contact with Riley and helped them shape the episode to include him. Read more.