Gail Williams’ role model growing up in Baltimore was her grandmother. Edna Jackson owned property, had a catering business and was a beautician. “She was a real trailblazer. (But) she didn’t get her driver’s license until she was about 75 years old. She caught the bus, she walked, she rode the streetcar,” Williams said. “She had the spirit. You were never too old or too tired to do things.”
Fittingly, Williams’ favorite saying is “Make it so.”
As Chief Diversity Officer at Hodges University, she makes a lot happen, all with the goal of valuing every voice in humanity’s opera – whether the storyline is comic, tragic or something in between. There are obstacles. When people hear the word “diversity,” it often becomes an elephant in the room, she said. “They are afraid of it. (There are) so many misconceptions.”
“The bottom line, it is about our differences, the things that make us unique.”
Her metaphor is a patchwork quilt. “Long ago, quilts were made out of different swatches of materials of various shapes and sizes and colors. The goal was to put it together…to make this beautiful piece of artwork. And how these swatches are held together is by a very strong thread.”
Her efforts are focused on the university and also its relationship to the community. On“building bridges,” she said. She is a “proud graduate of Hodges University,” where she earned her master’s degree. While enrolled, she began working in the business office. She was a part of the school’s original diversity committee, formed in 2005, and became its first Chief Diversity Officer two years ago. Although it seems a long way from her first job in Florida “flipping hamburgers,” she said, in a Naples hospital coffee shop, she retains the understanding born of being on low as well as high rungs of the educational, as well as academic, ladders.
Williams calls herself a “child of the ’60s. You know, the riots, the discrimination, the assassinations. And the last place I thought I would live is this far south.”
She laughed. “But I married a man from Jamaica who didn’t like the cold weather up north.”