“Grey’s Anatomy” actor, activist and Temple University alumnus Jesse Williams joined students in the Temple Performing Arts Center on Friday evening for a social justice and diversity discussion.
Williams, a 2003 Africology and African American Studies and film and media arts alumnus, was invited by the Main Campus Program Board and Temple Student Government to speak on his experience at Temple and advocacy around issues like cultural appropriation and gentrification. Aaron Smith, an Africology and African American Studies professor who teaches the Tupac Shakur and the Hip Hop Revolution class this semester, moderated the discussion.
Williams discussed his upbringing in Chicago and career path, including how he went from being a Philadelphia-based educator to well-known Hollywood actor. When Williams came to Main Campus as an undergraduate, he said he felt welcomed by the community.
“I felt safe,” he said. “[Temple] was in a community that didn’t make me feel like I didn’t belong,” he added, speaking to a crowd of about 150 people in the Performing Arts Center.
Williams advised students to take college seriously and use the intellectual and career resources available to them at Temple.
He spoke at length with Smith about cultural appropriation, gentrification and how white people can get involved in pro-Black movements.
“It’s easy to say, ‘white folks, y’all wanna help? Talk to y’all people,’” Williams said. “…Turn to the people in your family at the table, and call white people on their bullsh*t at work. Do it, because that is your arena. That is the root cause of this problem.”
Jordan Saibu, MCPB’s university events director, hoped the event would get students talking about the race-related issues in Williams’ and Smith’s discussion.
“We always want to talk about a very controversial topic, topics that spark conversation,” said Saibu, a sophomore advertising major. “We knew that he would be a good person that people would want to come out and listen to, because of his activism and him also being an actor as well.”
Williams can connect more with students because he is an alumnus, Saibu added.
Williams spoke about his experience teaching at-risk students at a high school in Kensington after graduating from Temple.
“I can [teach] because I can control my classroom,” he said. “[My students] were happy kids in a happy community just dealing with the issues of the day,” he later added.
Amanda Romig, a junior education major, said she came to hear about Williams’ experience teaching African American studies and history in the Philadelphia School District.
“I want to hear what has stuck with him over the years from his teaching experiences,” Romig said before the event started.
Other students were interested in Williams’ “Grey’s Anatomy” fame, including Nahkyma Graham, a junior secondary math education major, who said she came on Friday evening to hear how Williams’ personal life and activism have been affected by his stardom.
Raul Mendoza, a freshman marketing major, was curious about Williams’ career path and ascent to a famous actor.
“It’s crazy to see how far you can come going [to Temple],” Mendoza said.