Saturday, May 26, 2018

Beating my Daddy's record

My father, John J. Williams was amazing. He had four careers... he would have had more had he been allowed to teach in public schools when he graduated from college. That's another story.

He received his Master's degree when he was 70 years old, and I thought that was PRETTY DARNED OLD to be doing anything like that.  But, I was very, very proud of him and always hoped I would do something as significant long before that birthday. As of today (May 26, 2018) I have 11 months to beat his record!

Hard as it may be to believe.. certainly hard for me... I will be 70 in April, 2019.

So, I have set a deadline for my 'significant' thing. By April 10, 2019 the documentary "Kaukauna & King: 50 Years Later" will be finished.

If you wonder why you don't see me around town as much, it's because I am in seclusion writing and editing. Ross, Debbie, Kathleen, Rob & Jackie will see me. Probably more than they want because I am going in obsessive- mode. But, to the rest of the world, I will be in hibernation. Of course, I will still sneak out every month to host "Black Nouveau" and do stories for the show or "10ThirtySix",but then I will retreat to my "office", computer and notebook and the occasional dinner of pizza.

Thursday, May 10, 2018


Time is all we have in life. Period.

How we use it, how we abuse it, how we waste it, how we pray for more of it... that is all that we have.

The reunion of classmates from 50 years ago at Northwestern University was time well-spent.

Some of the time I spent at the B100 Commemoration of the Takeover of the Bursar's Office taught me things I did not know about being a student in 1968. I didn't know that the administration separated the Black women in Allison Hall... one at each end of a floor and one in the middle.
Now I know why I had a corner room. I thought I was just lucky. But then, the window did connect to the heating system which made a convenient platform to sneak in and out of the dorm. I of course, never used it for that purpose.

Seeing friends that I had not seen in 50 years was truly a blessing.  Learning that one of my buddies from Northwestern had died just before the reunion, brought me to tears. Time, it's all we have.

Getting to know some folks I really didn't know well in 1968 was a joy. Let's keep in touch. The email thread that preceded the reunion brought many of us together. Don't let it fade, over time.

The dinner at the president's house was joyous. All the hugging and kissing and "do you remembers..." and the "oh my, who is that?" We could have stayed there all night!

The time of the weekend went so fast. Here it is a week later. But I'm still thinking about it and reading new emails.

Looking back over 50 years brought up so many personal memories, too.
My first job, my first boyfriend at N.U., my first husband, my parents illnesses and passings, why I lost contact with one of my friends, my second husband, two sons, three jobs, retirement... and trying to hold onto every moment because, as the saying goes "yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery , today is the gift. That's why we call it the 'present'".

Thank you all for the gift of spending some of your precious time, together.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Answers to questions you didn't know you wanted to ask

This is the day after the 48th anniversary of my 21st birthday.

You do the math.

People often ask me why am I still so busy hosting "Black Nouveau" a show on MilwaukeePBS, doing stories for another program "10ThirtySix"... serving on boards, MC'ing events, and producing my first independent movie. The answer: connections and purpose.

I miss the connections I made over the years covering news in Milwaukee. Talking to people and hearing their stories is inspirational. Since my platform to tell their stories has changed, I try to make the most of it whenever I can. Maya Angelou said it best: "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

My hope is that those connections will make people feel better about themselves and become open to connections with people they don't know... yet.

And, while retirement gives you time to do all those things you put off while you were working, it's hard to focus on one project or another because there is so much to do.

But, when I embarked on the documentary film "Kaukauna & King: 50 Years Later" I found my purpose.

Telling this story has put me in contact, in one way or another, with more than 200 people since I naively set out on this journey 2016!  I am getting an unofficial, O.T.J. education in filmmaking and running a business.

This film has become my passion project. It is what I think about before falling asleep on the couch every night and waking up with my cat, Homer staring me in the face, every morning.

The emotions that go along with this journey have been surprising. Being able to bring together people who have not seen each other in 50 years brought me to tears. Helping open the eyes of people who don't know the story or the play that started it all, "In White America" is powerful. As I told producer, Debbie Paschke, the day when I see the poster for the film standing in the lobby of the Oriental Theatre in Milwaukee and when they call the crew of the film on stage to discuss it, she will have to walk out there.  I won't be able to say much of anything. It will be like holding your baby for the first time and the nurse says "he's beautiful".  

All I will be able to say is "Thank you" and cry.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Immigrants

As the world faces one of the largest refugee crises in history, let’s look back at the story of one family that was part of another influx of immigrants a few years ago.

The Immigrants

Along with hundreds of other families who feared for their lives because of political battles in the city in which they were living, the young couple fled with everything they could carry in their hands… becoming immigrants and strangers in another community.

During their escape, they found that so many others had left their homes too, that there was no place for them to stay.  Refugee camps had not sprung up yet, and people were packed into every area of shelter they could find, the government was of no help, but an NGO directed them find a corner to sleep in for a few days.

Along the way, the pregnant wife gave birth in a dirty, crowded space where other people would not live.
Shortly after, they had to move again and the new mother, the baby and the husband joined many others looking for a better place for the family.
They settled in a small, rural town where the husband found some work. 

Years later, as the national government changed, they were still bothered by the authorities who wanted to know where they came from, what their business was in this town and whether their teenage son was going to cause trouble.
The couple tried to blend into the community, make friends and teach their son right from wrong.

It was tough for them to adapt, they often thought about the homes they had left… the families who could not follow them and finally the son, now a young man, decided he did not want to go into his father’s profession and left home.
It didn’t take long for the son to end up with a bunch of other young men who said things and did things that brought them to the attention of the authorities.

The young man got arrested, charged with things that he didn’t do because the government thought the things he was saying were dangerous… thought he was trying to indoctrinate others into beliefs it thought were wrong and undermined their way of life, so, they put him in prison.

His mother risked going to the authorities… after all she wasn’t born in that community and was not sure her papers would be accepted… she could very well have been deported. But, she went to the division of the government that was holding him, and pleaded for his release. 

But, the government received some damning intel from an informant, and the young man was convicted and executed.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Waking up with a smile...

I just woke up from one of those dreams that you have to write about before you forget.

Two friends and I, can't remember exactly who, were trying to paint some big signs.  We needed supplies and found a big store with exactly what we were looking for.  But, the store was behind a very high fence.. 10 feet or so.

The fence was secured by strong metal posts and it looked like we could climb in using the posts, so one of the other women (now I remember, the friends were women) started to climb.

The posts were not as sturdy as they looked and the second friend and I had to push them to keep them from buckling.  The fence was swaying, our friend, about half- way up was yelling, we were pushing but finally she climbed down because she had gone so far up that if she fell, she would be hurt.

She said, "oh let Joanne do it!"

I said "let Joanne do it, why because I'm short"?

There was a gap between the bottom of the fence and the ground, so I thought they meant I should crawl under.

By this time, there was a crowd of other friends watching.

I walked up to the fence and when I got there a door appeared.  I opened it and walked right in.

Everyone was laughing like crazy, and I started laughing one of those laughs that is so hard you can't breath for a minute or so. Laughing like I have not laughed in years and years.

Then I woke up.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

autumn in Wisconsin

Each leaf falls from its tree as an individual.

It’s a personal decision by the leaf to drop from its mother tree and go its own way into the breeze.

Of course, when the leaf is no longer getting food from the tree, when the sap has begun to retreat in the branches down to the trunk for protection from the approaching winter, it gets the sign that it’s time to move on.

Do leaves really WANT to drop from the tree or are they forced by the changes in their lives? Do they worry about the drop? Will they be smashed by a passing car or blown into some unfamiliar backyard?

Will they end up in a big pile with all their brothers and sisters and get swept away, unceremoniously by a garbage truck… or will some little kid and her dog jump into the pile and fling them around while laughing like crazy?

Maybe the leaf doesn’t care what happens after the fall.

Perhaps it’s happy to be free of its tree and off on its own.

But, a falling leaf means its days are numbered. It has turned a different color because of the chemical changes in its veins and may be happy to wear something new.

The next spring more leaves will bud on the branches and grow to a beautiful green or deep red (depending on the species). They will do their job of collecting energy from the sun and keeping the tree alive.

Then, in autumn they will turn gold or yellow or orange or red and pop off their branch.

One at a time, waving goodbye to the tree as they fall.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

My Alzheimer's Advocates Story

MY ALZHEIMER'S ADVOCATES STORY                                                 March 24, 2015

My father died two years before his body died.
Alzheimer's robbed him of his participation in the world, robbed him of his love for his daughter and grandchildren and robbed him of his dignity and independence.
 In order to cope with caring for him and finding places to get help, I had to take a reporter's attitude and stand back from the situation so I could clearly see what was going on. I had to put my emotions aside to watch my father slip away, little-by-little every day.  That way I could make the tough decisions of what care center to put him in and where the money to do that would come from. That way, I could talk to a man I no longer knew and who no longer knew me.
Only when I saw him lying in his bed in the last nursing home, looking like he was asleep but knowing that he was not, did I let my strength drop and cry.
When I heard about the Alzheimer's Advocates going to Washington, D.C. to lobby for resources to help scientists find the cause, treatment and cure for the disease. something clicked for me.
My Daddy was always an activist. Most of the work he did was behind the scenes, but because of the causes he took up and the people he helped, things happened. I think my father was whispering in my ear: "get up and get busy".
For him... for my children... maybe even for me, I put on the purple sash and got involved.