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Vanessa Williams to Speak at Women’s Fund Event

Lauren Sega Lauren Sega Vanessa Williams to Speak at Women’s Fund Event
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Keyholder 2016, an annual event hosted by The Women’s Fund of Central Ohio, will feature renowned actress, singer and author Vanessa Williams on May 10 at the Ohio Theatre.

“Every year we do want to bring somebody who we have been very thoughtful to select,” said Sara Mitchell, Communication Manager for the Fund. “Somebody we know who has been authentic, genuine. Vanessa is just a resilient leader.”

This leadership is exemplified through Williams’s responsibility as a role model, which she undertook at the ripe age of 20 years old. Starting out young, like with many who come to fame, brought youthful scandal. But Williams’s success in her career renders that moment nothing more than a little bump in the road.

“I’ve accomplished a lot,” Williams said in a phone interview. “I’m a mother of four … a lot of stuff has gone through my life. I think whenever you become famous you’re a role model because you get attention. People watch you whether you intend to or not. That’s the role of fame.”

Her accomplishment is especially remarkable considering the still-present cultural hierarchy in which she had to operate, which favors white masculinity (hegemony) and limits socio-economic mobility for women and people of color. Williams said her parents taught her from a young age that in order to be considered equal, she’d have to work twice as hard as her white peers.

“That’s one of the mantras I have in life because of who I am and who I was and what I faced being different in a society where you’re a minority,” she said. “Those are things that, unfortunately, every child of color has to deal with because of what people assume.”

These cultural norms that exist – racism, sexism, etc. – are at the core of what the Fund itself is battling. In a way the organization is an embodiment of the third wave of feminism, working to change perceptions, start conversations, and keep the collective thought moving forward.

Williams uses motherhood and her powerful, relatable voice to foster awareness about gender and race issues. She commented on the harsh reality of minority and police relations, recounting how she’s coached her son on how to handle a confrontation with law enforcement. It’s an example of what millions of other mothers of color have to tell their own children.

“If he gets pulled over by a cop, make sure that his two hands are on the wheel, and don’t go for your wallet until you roll down the window and he sees that there’s no threat,” she said. “That’s unfortunately what he has to do as a man of color, and those are things you definitely teach your kids because you look at history, you look at the stories, and you’re trying to protect the person. So that’s the reality.”

Williams is not blind to the realities of the world, but her awareness hasn’t triggered much cynicism. As Keyholder, Williams will speak on the process of “writing your own script,” the theme for this year’s event.
She will relate to people the struggles and obstacles throughout that process, like restrictive cultural biases and norms, and how to overcome them.

“Being a young woman, going through divorce, being famous at a young age, being a role model in terms of creating history at 20 years old, racism, success in the entertainment industry, image, the list goes on and on,” Williams said. “I think it all factors into every part of life. Struggle is struggle; it permeates in not only personal life but also professional life.”

Part of handling that struggle, for Williams, has been involving herself in the Human Rights campaign, the movement for reproductive rights, and initiatives that advance women and girls in education and employment.

Williams said she uses her fame however she can, lending a voice to matters she’s invested in and using her own life experience to contribute to progressive discourse.

“The people who are coming to hear me will be getting a slice of my life and hopefully will be inspired by who I am, what I’ve experienced, what I’ve gone through, and can take examples of triumphs and obstacles and apply it to their own lives to realize that life is great, and you’ll get through everything eventually.” Williams said. “Just feel the joy and the pain of life which makes it all memorable.”

Tickets for the Fund’s Keyholder 2016 are available at www.womensfundcentralohio.org. Tickets are $50, and all proceeds are considered donations.

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