Like a diamond amid the roughest coal that is North Philadelphia, Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon – poet, playwright and drama professor at Temple University – glimmers as a motivating force to all of those who are willing to see.
But just as a diamond must be drilled from the crust of the earth in order to be considered a precious stone, Williams’ creative abilities had to first be drawn out.
This came through the expressive atmosphere adopted into her childhood household.
“I grew up listening to my mother recite all the great black poets because [my mother] was raised in a segregated school system in Florida where you had to have poetry committed to memory,” she said.
Writing since the age of eight, Williams became the author of eight books of poetry, most recently, They Never Told Me There’d Be Days Like This.
Williams earned a Ph.D. in anthropology, an MFA in women’s studies and a BA in journalism.
She has had 14 of her plays produced in professional theater, including “Survivor Strategies: A Tale of Faith,” which is currently playing at the Triangle Theater in Philadelphia.
The play is based loosely on a 1980 news article that detailed the choice of a mother to chain her daughter to a radiator in and efforts to wean the girl off crack.
Williams is also the winner of a host of competitions which include the 2000 PEW Charitable Trust $50,000 fellowship in scriptwriting, as well as the Daimler-Chrysler “Spirit of the Word” national poetry contest.
Her pathway to success, however, has not at all been paved in gold and good intentions. Williams has had to struggle against the foul hands of rejection and heartache.
“I’ve learned that there are restrictions when you’re black and you’re female,” said Williams.
“You have to walk a very fine line, you have to really know what you’re talking about at all times, and you can never let your guard down… All women, not just African American women, have that reality because this is a male dominated society.
But as an African American woman, no matter how many degrees I have or how much I may be able to contribute, the first thing they see is that I’m black and I’m a woman.”
Undeterred, Williams said she refuses to let biased minds use her ethnicity and gender as a blockade to hinder her from achieving high levels of success.
Her determination forces her spirit to stay strong, which forces her body to keep fighting.
“The struggle is a tearful one sometimes, a loud one sometimes, but you’re always fighting [and] I’m committed to fight against any restrictions until they take me out,” she said.
Though being an African American woman has influenced her career greatly, teaching has also proven to be a mighty force in molding Williams’ writing.
“I learn so much from my students,” said Williams.
” The ways in which they process what’s going on in the world makes me rethink things in interesting ways, so it informs both my scholarly writing and creative writing.”
As a result, Williams strives to impact the lives of her students by teaching them to excel in whatever industry they choose to pursue.
To her female students she gives the message: “Keep trying. Within the last 100 years, most women couldn’t vote.
We had to keep fighting to be heard, to be acknowledged, to be valued, to be respected for our contributions.
So don’t give up.
There will be a lot that will make you want to give up, but you have to keep at it.”
This lesson holds true for Williams herself.
Although she’s explored her creativity in various facets throughout her childhood and during college as well, Williams adopted a nonchalant attitude towards her writing until faced with her greatest source of inspiration: her children.
“I started taking my writing seriously when I had my oldest daughter 21 years ago.
I wanted to be able to tell her that she could do anything she wanted, so I had to be able to do it myself,” she said.
With this attitude came a persistence in achieving her goals that has elevated Williams to the acclaimed status she holds today.
Coryn Brown can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.