Interwoven: Williams finding commonalities that unite
It’s an unlikely story – how a young white man brought the Myrtle Beach Colored School Museum and Educational Center, a project started by the last living people who attended the school, to life.
But, maybe not, when you consider that Will Williams, a Charleston Southern junior marketing major, says that God made His presence known throughout the project, weaving together a diverse group of people.
“As John 13:34-35 commands us to love one another, we should remember this includes everyone – not just those whose opinions we agree with,” said Williams. “While it is easy to love and communicate with people who are similar to us, the real challenge and test are those who are completely different than us. Through my work, I hope to make a faithful attempt to reach an audience of great diversity with the love and humility that God showed all He encountered. I pray I have ears to listen to differing perspectives and a heart that offers empathy to all in which I cross paths.”
As a high school student at the Academy for Arts, Science, and Technology in Myrtle Beach, Williams created a piece of art he titled “Interwoven.” He had become interested in the Gullah culture of the South Carolina coast. “I realized that the history I had been fed from an early age was an incomplete and largely inaccurate history that didn’t properly recognize African American contributions. As I began to delve into ideas that I believed the world needs to hear, I furthered my research on the Gullah culture and aimed for my artwork to convey concepts I believe are essential for healing. These scenic landscapes have stirred me to create artwork that juxtaposes the beauty and charm of the South with the often harsh reality of what occurred on the very land.”
At an exhibit of the students’ artwork, Amy Wingard, an acquaintance of Williams, purchased “Interwoven” and donated it to the museum. The museum held a reception for the dedication of the artwork in late 2019.
Wingard, who had purchased the piece, and Mary “Cookie” Goings, the neighborhood services director for the City of Myrtle Beach, went to school together when the schools integrated in the ’60s. “Their unlikely friendship defied the odds then and remains such an example of what we should strive for in our lives,” said Williams.
At the reception, Williams was able to present his work in front of the last living students of the Myrtle Beach Colored School. “The oldest, at 97 years old, led us all in prayer,” said Williams. “I was joined by Mary and Amy, who remain friends to this day and worked together to make all of this possible.”
April Johnson, neighborhood services coordinator for Myrtle Beach, in a feature in Grand Strand Magazine titled “History Is as History Does,” said the museum came alive when Williams walked through the door.
When Charleston Southern converted to all online classes in March 2020 because of COVID-19, Williams was unexpectedly back in the Myrtle Beach area. The City of Myrtle Beach brought him on as an intern to raise awareness of the museum.
Williams drew on his marketing studies to raise the museum’s profile. “I was able to increase our engagement on social media and use this to increase the number of visitors, create community partnerships, and expand the museum’s outreach and educational programming,” said Williams. “I was able to create a new logo for the museum, design new exterior signage, as well as collaborative public art installation that helps draw traffic to the museum.”
Williams also planned a candlelight service of remembrance at the museum, set up virtual story time for children and expanded that to include virtual educational programming and started a Black-owned business initiative.
He said, “My journey at the Historic Myrtle Beach Colored School Museum and Education Center has reaffirmed what I want to pursue as a career. It truly was the perfect intersection of everything I feel called to do. I remain passionate about the intersection of arts, advocacy, and culture; and using this to create spaces that bring people together to foster community.”
Williams has questioned his lack of authority and qualifications to speak about racial injustice. “Ultimately, I know the worst thing I could do, the worst thing we all could do, is say and do nothing,” he said.
“I wrote the following last year as an artist statement for a portrait I painted of my friend Jasmine,” said Williams. “The words are more pertinent now than ever. I pray these words will not just be read, but truly lived out and their power revealed through shifting mindsets and arms opened wide.”
I see color, but not in the same way my ancestors did.
I am not merely defined by the color of my skin, or by the actions of those who came before me.
I am of a new generation, working past the great divides that have ripped our country apart.
The same ones that are over 200 years old, yet still fresh in our minds.
I acknowledge the dark history of the South, one that has left a permanent stain on my state.
I won’t pretend it never happened, but I will tackle it head-on.
In order to ensure the generations that succeed me don’t have to endure what my people have endured.
I will work to not accept hate.
To embrace the differences, but seek to find the commonalities that unite us.
My eyes are focused on what ties us together, not what tears us apart.
Looking past the darkness, to the light that unites us all.
I will use our history, although haunting, to move our state forward.
In a way that’s not confined by the past, but fueled by the future.
The failed attempts won’t stop me.
Nor will they break me.
Nor will bigotry.
Nor will prejudice.
Nor will stereotypes.
Nor will opposition.
I won’t be stopped.
While no longer employed by the City of Myrtle Beach, Williams is continuing his marketing studies and is in the CSU Honors Program and serves as a communications assistant for Barefoot Church in North Myrtle Beach.
Originally published in the Spring 2021 CSU Magazine.