Christina Williams is Making Her Way

“As I see it, small daily actions lead to significant change over time. And so you may not see it right in front of you, but years from now, you can look back and see how far we've come.”

Christina Williams, CAU ‘22, shares with us her story and how she intends to make change for her community.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Jamie: Hey Christina, it's great to see you! Thank you for taking the time to talk to us. Tell us about yourself.

Christina: Hi! I'm Christina Williams. I am a recent alumna of the illustrious Clark Atlanta University. I'm originally from Philadelphia and will be starting at Harvard Law School this fall.

Jared: You grew up in Philly and moved to Atlanta for school. How was that for you?

Christina: The most significant differences for me were the weather and the people. I know people say that a lot, but it is true. People from up north are just not as friendly. And you know, I wasn't used to speaking to everyone I passed by. But it was a nice change and something that I've incorporated into my personality.

Jamie: What made your time at Clark Atlanta so special?

Christina: I have to say that Clark Atlanta was never my first choice. I really wanted to go to Howard. I got in, but I'm an independent student, which meant I filed my own taxes and only included myself on my FAFSA. I had to do a lot of extra paperwork for financial aid. Howard never gave me a financial aid package, so that was an immediate no. I got into Spelman, but they gave me no money at all. Clark, however, gave me a full ride. Along with some outside scholarships, I was able to make that work. While it wasn't necessarily my first choice going in, I think I definitely made the right decision. It was definitely the perfect space for me to grow. All the relationships I've made and the people I've met have been great. I don't think I would have had as many leadership opportunities if I had gone elsewhere.

Jamie: Cost is prohibitive for many people who want to attend HBCUs. I'd love to hear more of your thoughts and reflections on how much the HBCU experience costs and what that ultimately means for those who can attend HBCUs.

Christina: College, in general, is expensive, obviously. I think that most HBCUs are more affordable, but I can understand that many of them still aren't. If I wasn't on the scholarship that I was on, I wouldn't have been able to attend Clark Atlanta. Honestly, my college philosophy was to go to whichever HBCU gave me the most money. Those were my only parameters. I also wanted to be far from Philly because I wanted a new environment. Clark Atlanta happened to check all those boxes for me, but if they didn't, I would have had to go wherever made the most financial sense.

Jared: When you think about your Clark experience, what were some of the highs and lows?

Christina: So I'm going to start with the lows. Our school motto is "I'll Find a Way or Make One," and they really mean it. We don't have an actual pre-law program, pre-law department, or pre-law advisor. We don't have a Civic Engagement Center or Civic Engagement Director, which many other schools do. It just comes down to a lot of resources in staffing that we don't have, which makes it harder for students. On the positive side, pretty much all of my professors have been like family to me. I can call or text and talk to them all personally. They've all gone out of their way, even when I wasn't the best student, to ensure that I always got the best opportunities and in the best rooms. The director of our Honors Program connected me with my first civic engagement opportunity, which put me on this path I'm on now.Jared: Can you say a little more about that first civic engagement opportunity?Christina: I called Dr. Teri Platt in the summer of 2020 in the middle of COVID. I called her and asked, "why is no one talking about this election coming up?" No professors or students were engaging each other in conversation about the election. In that conversation, she let me know of a few people I could meet with to discuss what could be done. From that came my first fellowship with the Campus Vote Project. They're a national organization that works with young people to help students vote. That's kind of what started me down the path of civic engagement. Without Dr. Platt, I would have never started that. She supported the growth of CAU Votes, which is our campus organization. She's connected us to funding and resources as well. This is all work that she doesn't get paid for. She does it because she cares.Jamie: Over the past few election cycles, I've heard an increasing number of our peers argue that voting doesn't matter. I'm sure hearing this is not new to you, as someone on the streets trying to get people to vote. Many say that our country's system is not for us, and voting won't change that. As someone advocating for voting rights and getting young Black students to the polls, what is your response to those that choose not to vote?Christina: This may not be the most popular answer, but they're not wrong. I could completely understand why you would think that way. This is not for us. I've never seen my role as someone to force voting on someone. I always say it's just one tool in a toolbox. The only thing I try to do is bring attention to issues that matter and show people how voting can help us fix them. But everyone makes their own decisions, and I'd never shame anyone for choosing not to vote.Jared: What have you seen or taken from your personal life that has helped you succeed overall, whether in school or personally?Christina: I had a really crazy childhood. I have 10 siblings of all ages, and we did not grow up together. My mom has struggled with substance abuse since I was a baby, so she hasn't been present. My dad was abusive and passed away a couple years ago from a heart attack. So without going into too many details, you can imagine what kind of upbringing that was. I think that anytime I accomplish anything or when I'm having a hard time and want to quit, I think about having made it through the things that I've made it through as a child. I also find inspiration from my grandma. She used to take me into the voting booth with her when I was a kid and let him push the button. My grandma had a turbulent upbringing as well. She came from Griffin, Georgia, and grew up in a shack. She tells me all the time about stories of racism and things that happened to her down there. So for her to move her family from Georgia to Philadelphia and give them the life she did is inspiring to me as well. I'm really connected to her in pretty much everything that I do.Jared: Thanks for sharing that, Christina. Can you talk a bit about your law school journey? Did you always know you wanted to go to law school? Or did you consider different avenues?Christina: My decision to go to law school was similar to the reasoning for people who don't want to vote. I saw that voting and telling people to vote alone was not going to do enough, especially being in Georgia during the last election. I haven't always wanted to go to law school, but I've realized that I'll have to take a different approach to make a change in light of things that have happened over the past few years. Becoming an attorney will give me more power and the opportunity to change things.Jared: Yeah, that makes sense. How was the actual application process for you? How many schools did you apply to?Christina: I applied to at least 30 schools, which was insane. Applying to that many schools had to do with me being unsure of myself. My first choice actually was not Harvard. I took the LSAT once and afterward decided that I wouldn't apply to any Ivy League schools until I retook the test and got a better score. I kept moving my next test date until I didn't retake it. I think it was Christmas day when I decided that would be the last day I would spend on these applications. I sent them everywhere, including Harvard, and didn't think about it again until I got an invitation for an interview. From then on, I started believing that I was going to Harvard. I said it enough times for me to honestly believe it was possible.Jared: You mentioned being unsure of yourself, relating to those test scores and your feeling of being worthy. Can you talk about your journey through that?Christina: I knew I wanted to go to a high-ranking school, but I didn't think that I had the test scores or GPA, which, traditionally, I didn't. I guess I was trying to be "realistic" with myself. For me, this meant applying to a lot of safety schools, target schools, and reach schools. After applying, I eventually let go and decided to just see how it would go. I definitely wasn't expecting the outcomes that I got.Jared: How would you describe that emotion now? Do you still feel that uncertainty?Christina: The past month has given me all the validation I needed to be more confident in myself. I mean, I've always known the work that I've done and what I stand on. I think that it's validating to have been admitted to Harvard, like with my test scores and GPA. I feel like they saw my work, and they saw me, which is really important to me.Jared: How would you describe your work, and what is unique about how you approach it?Christina: I try to improve my community authentically, and I've done that through civic engagement work. I think not a lot of people in my work would come here and tell you that it's okay for people to not vote. But I don't lie. I also try to be creative with the work that I do. When I had the idea with our campus voting coalition, I realized that either no one had before or no one was willing to make the sacrifice to do the work. So I think that all of those things combined have allowed me to do the work I do and make the impact I have.Jamie: I think people in the voting rights advocacy space as particularly interesting. It seems like it can be very disheartening, considering the multiple efforts to stop our people from voting. But then we get people like Stacey Abrams that continue to fight despite everything else. It seems like you also have some motivation or something that you fall back on to keep going. What would you say that thing is?Christina: Frankly, I'm still figuring it out. I ask myself often, what is the point? I think it just comes down to being a visionary and having faith. I sometimes hate how that sounds because I don't want to have to "have faith" 10, 20, 30, or 40 years from now. I want to see change now. As I see it, small daily actions lead to significant change over time. And so you may not see it right in front of you, but years from now, you can look back and see how far we've come.Jared: I appreciate your honesty. That is a real thing to wrestle with.Christina: I think it's important to realize while I say that, my way may not be the way. So if something else is better at making that change, I'm for that too. That's why I can recognize that not everybody's thing is voting. Not everybody's thing is protesting. I'm for whatever will get us where we need to be. As soon as possible. This is just the path that I'm on right now.

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