On another CET project, called “American Graduates: Getting to Work,” Dennison says, “Mary was able to help us tell stories to a young audience at a fast pace and with animation and music, which really helped us rethink how we wanted to tell the stories that we’d been telling over and over again in the same documentary style.”
The life of this young African American, from a low-income family, hasn’t been all lights, camera, action, however. The journey came with struggles on occasion. There were times, she says, that money for necessities was sparse, but the “moms” always came through with much-needed financial and emotional support. “Without those two I wouldn’t be here. When I did face a financial situation they always helped. If I needed a coat or food, they helped. I feel like I made a family with them.”
UC’s Riep, for example, who is active in UC’s Diversity and Inclusion efforts, assisted Williams with the process to apply to UC’s College-Conservatory of Music’s electronic media bachelor’s degree program and to UC’s Gen-1 program, a living and learning community that supports Pell-eligible, first generation college students with a structured environment in which to live, learn and work; Gen-1 assists with scholarships, housing and meal plans.
High school mentor Sherman says that she’s seen so many students quit or give up when faced with challenges during the transition to college, but not Williams. “There’s a tenacity about her. She says, ‘I’ve come this far and I’m not quitting’.” And she hasn’t forgotten where she got her start, Sherman adds, as the UC student still mentors students at her old high school on a regular basis in the SRL program she dearly loves. “It’s interesting for us to have her come back and talk about her classes” with the students who are starting their own foray into broadcast journalism, says Sherman.
Along the way, Williams says she’s tried to employ a simple philosophy: “I go with my gut. If it makes me smile or I feel good just hearing about it, I take it. PBS NewsHour was a gut feeling.”
“We all love Mary and we want to make sure that she is successful,” says Riep.
Apparently, it’s working.