Interview by Anita Nahal
QFTD: Tell us about yourself. Who is Blanche Williams?
Blanche: I am a multi-dimensional independent thinker dedicated to uncovering the infinite potential in myself and others. I am dedicated to living a purpose-filled passionate life and leaving a legacy that encourages, empowers, and inspires greatness. I grew up being a shy young girl who blossomed in her own time. I was dedicated to working through a life-long process of developing self-esteem while somehow possessing an unwavering sense of knowing that God had instilled special gifts and talents in me that I had yet to fully uncover, discover and put into action. I call it my divine design.
I was born in San Antonio, Texas to Barbara and Douglas Williams Jr. Both were college graduates. My father, a Chief Master Sergeant in the Air Force and mother who was an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Tax Specialist. Character qualities of duty, honor, and integrity were part of my life from birth. I am the middle of five siblings, 3 brothers and 1 sister. I was, what most people call, “a daddy’s girl” because I adored my father and wanted to be in his presence whenever possible.
We moved to New Orleans where I attended the first grade then on to Memphis, Tennessee for 2nd to 8th grade at Little Flower Catholic School followed by Immaculate Conception Cathedral High School for Girls. Looking back, I was first thrust into a leadership role in the 8th grade, when I was asked to give the Class Graduation speech. Throughout High School, I held several leadership positions including Sophomore Class President and in the 12th grade voted Best Senior by the Freshman Class and Best Personality by the entire school body. I learned that people often perceive you very differently than you recognize yourself and to always be ready to step forward into your greatness.
Following in my father’s alma mater footsteps, I attended St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas. I was a Pre-Med Student but after two years, I realized and accepted that medicine wasn’t my passion. My favorite classes Psychology, Philosophy and Criminal Justice. Exploring and asking difficult questions has been my way of learning and appreciating the diversity and intrigue of life. While I didn’t play sports in college, I started the “Rattler Rowdies,” a spirit squad dedicated to supporting and cheering for our Basketball Team, the St. Mary’s Rattlers, of which my father played and held the title, to this day, of Top Scorer as well as being inducted into its Athletic Hall of Fame.
I have always been drawn to projects, causes, and issues of substance, often with historical significance. I am compelled to get involved, give voice, and create opportunities for dialogue and development. My life’s work has been demonstrated through writing, public speaking, training, leadership/professional development, broadcast journalism, coaching, moderation and facilitation. It is also no accident that I ultimately received my Master of Science in Leadership and Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies.
QFTD: You’ve delivered keynote speeches on leadership in a variety of settings. How did you develop your own leadership style? What book(s) or mentors have assisted in your own growth?
Blanche: My leadership style aligns with the sentiment expressed by President Nelson Mandela, “Lead from the back and let others think they are in front.” I learn by observing, through immersion, and thoughtful analysis. By that I mean, I watch the course of extraordinary people’s lives, the choices they make and how they communicate their positions and passions. I immerse myself in their writings or teachings and finally look for the “bread crumbs.” If you follow the bread crumbs, you will see the path they took, observe the choices they made, the obstacles they faced, and the places they laid their head to find peace and strength. I nibble on the bread crumbs for endurance and follow them for direction.
My growth skyrocketed in 2003 when I was blessed with my own National XM Radio Talk Show that I called Greatness By Design. It was one-on-one intimate opportunities to speak with some of the world’s most extraordinary people, including Dr. Maya Angelou, Faye Wattleton, Myrlie Evers-Williams, Dr. Stephen Covey, Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, Nikki Giovanni, Quincy Jones, Charles Osgood, Dr. Dorothy Height, Laila Ali, Ahmed Kathrada, Suze Orman, Dr. Wangari Maathai, Sonny Rollins, Marianne Williamson and Deepak Chopra. They would nourish the seeds planted in my garden of greatness to develop me into the person I am proud to have become.
A few of the books that made an impact along my journey have included, I Dream A World: Portraits of Black Women who Changed America by Brian Lanker, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Dr. Stephen Covey, Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask About Your Organization by Peter F. Drucker.
QFTD: Your closest initiative, Greatness by Design, is the concrete manifestation of the sisterhood that you have developed over time. How would you summarize the outcome of that initiative? Do you feel your efforts at “greatness in sisterhood” has brought results as you had hoped for?
Blanche: Greatness By Design is my mantra, my motto, my brand, my business enterprise, the way I live my life. It’s a directive that requires me to operate at my highest possible level with a sense of accountability, integrity, and grace. It was the foundation of my developing the Sisterhood of Greatness Pledge and later the Sisterhood of Greatness Manifesto, a core value system and code of conduct for empowering women to live a life of purpose, poise, and collaboration.
In keeping with my goal to transform the hearts and minds of women and girls around the world, The Sisterhood of Greatness Manifesto was published in a powerful book “How to Be A Sister,” by Angela Coleman, MBA founder of the Sisterhood Agenda, an award-winning non-profit with over 3,600 organizations in 34 countries and 59,000 sisters in its global network. Just this month, they opened the long awaited Sisterhood Empowerment Academy(SEA) in the U.S. Virgin Islands of which I am happy to say the Sisterhood of Greatness Manifesto has a permanent home along with me being an ongoing contributor to the SEA. This manifestation is a dream come true and more than I could ever have hoped for.
QFTD: Blanche, I say this as the highest compliment that you remind me a lot of Dorothy Height, the remarkable civil rights and women’s rights activist. I see in you the same spirit of greatness in which I saw in her. What did you learn from her that you have incorporated in your work, and/or personal life?
Blanche: I was one of the few who were blessed and privileged to have worked alongside the incomparable Civil Rights Icon Dr. Dorothy Irene Height, Chair and President Emerita of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW).
Our relationship began in February of 2007 when I brought a special documentary film, The Souls of Black Girls by Daphne Valerius, to premiere at the historical headquarters of the National Council of Negro Women in Washington, DC. The film focused on the question of whether or not women of color may be suffering from a “self-image disorder” as discussed through the words of scholars, famous women, and the mouths of the girls most impacted. The headquarters was packed and the audience loved the performance.
In an interview following the film premiere, Dr. Height stated it was “The answer to a prayer.” She would later entrust me with conducting my Inaugural National Black Women’s Town Hall Meeting for her NCNW members. On July 11, 2008, we made history to a standing room only audience, live on C-Span, as Dr. Height gave opening remarks and I moderated two distinguished panels of our best and brightest women. Before the event began, Dr. Height asked to speak with me. She knew I was nervous and she shared a bit of her special brand of encouragement by saying, “All you need to do is organize your butterflies.” It helped me shift my nerves to an energy of commitment to make sure the evening was something that she was proud of and made a difference. It was my opportunity to show my appreciation for her lifetime of service. I reflect on these moment often and share it with individuals and audiences for inspiration and encouragement.
She reached a heightened level of greatness that no one can ever achieve simply based on the fact that she stepped into her life when it was time and with an intent that helped shaped the world we live in today. I am because she lived, accepted, and walked in her destiny. She was a humble leader whose intent, not ego, was her driving force. She created paths for others by walking in her own shoes. Working alongside her towards the end of her life was an immeasurable gift that I will cherish forever. Our meeting was by divine design.
QFTD: Let’s for a moment now talk about your books, 21st Century Sisterhood of Greatness Manifesto and How to Design Your Mind for Greatness. I personally remember listening to the audio of the second book, and I was deeply touched by your insights. Why did you write those specific books? And what has been the reaction of the readers?
Blanche: I didn’t plan on writing a book, but that’s the beauty of God’s plan for each of us. We simply have to accept and be obedient.
I wrote my first book in 2001 over the span of 31 days. Like most weekdays, I brought my 2 year old son to daycare, however, this particular day started a 31 day creative explosion. I would bring him to daycare, and when I returned home, I would have an overwhelming compulsion to write. So, that’s what I did until it was time for me to stop and pick up my son. The finished result was originally titled “You and Your Power: Making The Connection,” but later changed to “How To Design Your Mind For Greatness and Build Your Best You.” At the time, I wasn’t sure why or where this came from, but I copyrighted it and my life took a turn. I sold my home and moved to the DC Metro area where I later recorded and published it as a 2-CD Audiobook. This would be a choice that propelled me into a multi-city tour that included being the first Audiobook Author to be invited to speak at the renowned Miami International Book Fair.
The Sisterhood of Greatness Pledge came about in a similar fashion. I was compelled to write something that shared what we expect and want our women and girls to aspire to and achieve. I wanted to create something that helped them see their magnificent potential however it would take dedication and commitment to attain. The pledge became the first step which led me to create the Sisterhood of Greatness Manifesto. It is my crowning achievement and may be my most audacious writing to date. The Manifesto is accompanied by a Curriculum and Training Course. The plan is to implement at the Sisterhood Empowerment Academy.
The overall reaction to both have been positive and transformative. To witness the shift in women, as a result of my writing and Audiobook is extremely rewarding.
QFTD: Blanche, you relocated from Washington DC to Florida not too long ago. You are an adjunct professor and leadership trainer at Palm Beach State College. What has your experience been like teaching there?
Blanche: When I moved back into South Florida after 10 years in Washington, DC, I wanted to expand my focus to college students and working professionals who had a desire to gain some expertise and soft skills that would give them an added advantage. Palm Beach State College had recently developed its Center for Leadership and Professional Studies, and I felt that with my Master’s in Leadership, complemented by my expertise and experience, this was a perfect match.
I initially designed a few strategic courses including, Leading From Where You Are: Understanding Your Leadership Role Within a Team, C.A.S.E. Works!™ Success Strategy Builder, Power Prospecting: Converting Contacts into Clients!, and Wired for Your Success! An Introduction to Understanding the Core Values Index™ Assessment, in addition to conducting trainings for their Corporate Clients. It was a great experience that has led to a long-standing and evolving relationship with Palm Beach State College.
QFTD: Blanche, you have done some amazing interviews with such luminaries as Dr. Stephen Covey, Dr. Maya Angelou, Deepak Chopra, Denzel Washington, Charles OsGood, Quincy Jones, and Suze Orman. You’ve also covered national events, such as the 2008 Presidential DNC Nomination and the 2009 Obama Presidential Inauguration. Please elaborate on a memorable interview you conducted and a memorable event you covered.
Blanche: By far the most memorable XM Satellite Radio media events I covered were the 2008 Presidential Democratic National Convention Nomination of Barack Hussein Obama in Denver, Colorado and front row coverage of the once in a lifetime Presidential Inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama in Washington, DC. I was part of and captured history makers, movers, and shakers in their words and mine. What a meaningful honor! I interviewed so many amazing people, known to many while others unknown to most. From Denzel Washington, Spike Lee, Martin Luther King III to Faye Wattleton, Susan Sarandon, Kerry Washington, Jamie Foxx and Tucker Carlson. I was often speechless when I realized the gravity of the moments leading to the most significant day in American History. But through it all, each person became brothers and sisters of America and spoke about hope and happiness for all. Goodness prevailed…
The Presidential Inauguration also happened to be one of the coldest days ever! I was bundled up in 5 layers, scarves, gloves, camel hat and my father’s Air Force heavy camouflage lined jacket. All that and I still was freezing and couldn’t feel my toes…but when I looked out and saw millions of people waiting in the cold, many couldn’t see what I was lucky enough to witness, and they still were there; mind, body, and spirit. A transformational moment to say the least!
The most memorable interview is tough to choose, but Myrlie Evers-Williams was at the top of the list. Myrlie Evers-Williams was the wife of murdered civil rights activist Medgar Evers. While fighting to bring his killer to justice, Evers-Williams also continued her husband's work with her book, For Us, The Living. She also wrote Watch Me Fly: What I Learned on the Way to Becoming the Woman I Was Meant to Be. Evers-Williams served as chair of the NAACP from 1995 to 1998.
She was one of the most beautiful people and eloquent speakers I have ever met. Her spirit and presence was powerfully peaceful. She represented our history, our present, and the future right in front of me, sharing what happened, how she faced the bigotry and violence of the time with her cool, yet stern approach. She helped me feel the goodness, grace, and grit that was required to bring about the kind of change necessary during the best and worst of U.S. times. She shared a mutual respect and love for me that was touching and remains with me today. Our photo reminds me of a very special day in my life.
QFTD: How did your professional journey lead you to becoming a National XM Radio Talk Show Host? What skills should an aspiring talk show host develop in order to achieve success and/or longevity?
Blanche: When I first moved into the MD/DC area, I had to observe and research what was happening in the area. Learn who’s who, so to speak. I discovered that the Legendary Radio One Mogul, Cathy Hughes had her headquarters in Maryland and owned 5 XM Radio channels, 4 music and 1 talk channel. So, I honed in on the talk, Channel 169 The Power. I discovered there were very few women airing shows, so that was my opening opportunity. I wrote a short, but direct email and received a prompt reply from its Program Manager. Long story short, “Boldness has magic.” I made a pitch that was strong enough to get an air check, aka an on-air audition, and the rest is history! Since I was a speaker, trainer, and recent author, this was an opportunity that was perfect for me.
On January 20, 2003, I made my debut on XM Satellite Radio Coast-to-Coast. I would continue for 7 years including being dualy broadcast on their Women’s Channel, Take Five XM Channel 155, where I conducted the groundbreaking National Women’s Town Hall broadcast with stellar guests along with a two part Race & Gender discussion with luminaries including the former Chair of the United States Commission on Civil Rights Commission Chair, Dr. Mary Frances Berry.
Content is king! When I started, I was asked by one of my radio mentors, Talk Show Host Bernie McCain, if I wanted to play to the listener or the caller. I wanted to play to the listener, which allowed me to have uninterrupted conversations with my guests. I was so enthralled with my guests and selfish with the hour I had with them.
If you want to get into radio, ask yourself the question, “Why?” The answer should support the time and effort that you will need to be effective and successful. Longevity is based on a lot of variables that you may not have control over. Develop your content or concept and your writing skills. Be yourself as authentically as possible. Be in it for the passion not the pay. Be content with whoever is listening. Stay in the moment and give your guest your full attention. Do your homework. Always be over prepared so you can be unscripted and allow the guest to take you wherever they want to go. Some of the best interviews were when a guest, like Dr. Stephen Covey decides to share a secret that allows the audience a glimpse into one of our time’s most influential people. Priceless!
QFTD: Blanche you are not only an avid lover of jazz but you also play the Jazz Flute! Tell us a bit about your special love.
Blanche: My father exposed me to his love for Jazz when I was a child by playing his music reels created while overseas. Nancy Wilson, Miles Davis, and Ella Fitzgerald were familiar sounds and names. As a teenager, I briefly played guitar enough to do a recital in my favorite lavender full length dress with ruffled shoulders. It would be the first and last. It wasn’t my instrument.
Fast forward to 1997 while enjoying the Jazz scene on South Beach, I was struck by the flute. So I purchased a second hand flute, took a lesson or two and even traveled to England with it. Life took a turn. I became a mother and put the flute on hold. Around September of 2014, I got bit by the bug again, and in November I started “Flutin’ at 50.” This time I was diligent and committed. I had an amazing teacher, Melton Mustafa Jr., Grammy nominated Music Educator and son of Jazz Legend. For about 9 months and 10,000 miles on my car, I drove an hour to get a lesson from him. It was well worth it. I excelled.
In August of 2015, I auditioned for a Jazz Combo at Palm Beach State College and was accepted. I became part of a Jazz Sextet under the leadership of well-known Musician/Professor David Gibble along with special guest Professor and well-known Jazz Pianist, Stephen Scott. The Sextet included a vocalist, 2 guitar players, standing bass player, and drummer. We performed in Black Box and Duncan Theatre along with playing during a Master Class with International Jazz Steel Drummer Othello Molineaux.
I am compelled to play my flute every day, without exception. Some of my favorite places to play is on the ocean, on Lake Osborne, and a special pier on the Intracoastal Waterway. I sit in on jam sessions around town and recently I created Jazz on J Street @Clay Glass Metal Stone Gallery in the heart of Downtown Lake Worth, Florida. Every 3rd Tuesday we have a Jazz LP Listening Party where we spin vinyl Jazz LP’s with DJ Digsy and every 3rd Saturday we have a Jazz Jam Session featuring South Florida’s best and brightest musicians. People are loving the vibe, the music, the people and the great conversations! Our slogan is “Life intersects, Jazz connects!”
QFTD: We are coming to the end of our interview, Blanche, and we are appreciative of your time. For a young person interested in entering your industry and making a positive impact like you did, what advice would you give?
Blanche: Here are a few nuggets for young person or transitioning adults interested in making a positive impact:
Begin within by asking “How bad do you want it?” If you are willing to do whatever it takes including whatever sacrifice you need to make, then you’re on the right track.
Be strategic and follow Dr. Stephen Covey’s Habit #2, “Begin with the end in mind.” Focus on your goal or vision and work towards it as well as work backwards.
Read and Research the industry, players, trends, and history of your interest. You have to know more than you think and understand more than you assume. Preparation is the first step towards succeeding.
Be a person of character and charisma. Say what you mean and mean what you say. When people respect and like you, they will want to get to know and help you. Character is a powerful currency.
Embrace your passion, follow your heart and listen to your intuition.
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