Susan Richardson Williams embodies servant leadership with family, politics, and the Knoxville community

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – While working on a U.S. Senate campaign in the 1970s, Susan Richardson Williams learned a valuable lesson in her career – do not take politics too personally.

When incumbent Sen. Bill Brock, R-Tenn., lost his 1976 re-election bid, a 31-year-old Williams was devastated after losing her first campaign and witnessing the series of Republican losses post-Watergate.

Despite this initial defeat, Williams’ career flourished, and she later worked for three Tennessee governors as well as attend nine Republican national conventions.

Williams was the first woman elected Chair of the Tennessee Republican Party, an appointed member to the TVA board, and a 12-year member of the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees. She credits the University of Tennessee, Knoxville for changing the trajectory of her life and career.

“The University of Tennessee ignited the fires in me and made me know what I really wanted to do with my life,” Williams said.

While parenting her three young children in the mid-1990s, Williams commuted Monday through Thursdays to work for former Republican Gov. Don Sundquist in Nashville, Tennessee. The commute put a strain on her family, but Williams’ youngest daughter Hallie Williams said the sacrifice opened doors for her future career.

Williams met Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., during her time in Gov. Sundquist’s office.  Sen. Corker later offered her daughter Hallie an internship that turned into a 10-year staff position in his office.

“It’s a direct result of her decisions that I have been so blessed,” Hallie said.

While Williams is well-known in state politics, she has served the community through other leadership roles. Williams took a break from politics in the late 1980s and worked for the University of Tennessee Lady Vols under former Women’s Athletics Director Joan Cronan.

“Her first passion I think is politics,” Cronan said. “I’m just glad her second was athletics and UT.  She certainly made a difference in our program.”

According to a 2012 article from the Knoxville News Sentinel, when Williams left her position as Associate Athletics Director, the program was raising $2 million yearly and had endowed 40 scholarships.

Williams surprises many people because she is a Republican who champions conservation. In 2007 the Tennessee Wildlife Federation named Williams “Land Conservationist of the Year.”

As a member of the Legacy Parks Foundation, Williams provides insight for the preservation of nature in Knoxville. The Executive Director of Legacy Parks Foundation, Carol Evans, has known Williams for more than 20 years and calls her a loyal friend.  Although they are political opposites, Evans admires Williams’ open-mindedness and leadership within male-dominated organizations.

“She’s had to lead in earlier times, a lot in a man’s world,” Evans said. “She had to be sometimes the one woman in the room.”

Over the last two decades, Williams launched her public affairs consulting firm SRW & Associates while also raising two of her grandchildren, Jordan and Janae.

In her spare time, Williams enjoys painting for family and friends. One of Williams’ paintings hangs in Hallie’s apartment in Washington, D.C. and Hallie said it is her favorite decoration. The artwork depicts a silver and gold architectural landscape of Knoxville.

Hallie said her mother has taught her an important lesson that defined Susan Williams’ career.

“She has been really helpful when I would take it too personally to remind me that it’s just politics,” Hallie said.

Anti-violence protesters ‘redistribute the pain’ through Lake Shore Drive and Wrigley Field disruption

CHICAGO – Over 100 hundred anti-violence protestors shut down Lake Shore Drive and marched to Wrigley Field on Thursday afternoon to demand Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s resignation and raise awareness of gun violence in Chicago.

The Chicago Police Department reported that about 150 protestors attended the demonstration and no arrests were made. Protestors began the rally at Lake Shore Drive at 4 p.m. and marched through the North Side after 5 p.m.

Lazaro Madrigal, 30, attended the protest because he is worried about the safety of his 8-year-old daughter in the Chicago Lawn neighborhood.

“I fear for my life every day, thinking about a bullet coming through my daughter’s living room,” Madrigal said. “We can’t live like this any longer.”

During the Lake Shore Drive shutdown, demonstrators wrote messages of peace, love and hope on the concrete as part of the Schools Say Enough Sidewalk Challenge. The initiative gives people the opportunity to express their thoughts about Chicago gun violence.

Jacqueline von Edelberg, 51, provided the chalk for the sidewalk challenge during the Lake Shore Drive shutdown and the Dan Ryan shutdown last month. Edelberg hopes that Chicago schools become places that are free from the threat of gun violence.

“I want to see kids being able to go to school and not worry that they are going to get shot on their way there or their way home,” Edelberg said.

Rev. Gregory Seal Livingston co-organized the shutdown and march as president of the Coalition for a New Chicago. Livingston’s main goal was to redistribute the pain of disparaged communities and open the eyes of North Side residents to the segregation of Chicago.

“Many of them have never witnessed a crowd like this,” Livingston said. “The only black people they see are on the field.”

While marching past the bars near Wrigley Field, protestors shouted at patrons to to leave the bars and join the demonstration in the streets.

Doris McGinness, 57, carried a sign that said “North Side Ignores Gun Violence” throughout the demonstration.

“The lack of opportunity that is so different from one side of the city to the other, it’s like it’s two cities,” McGinness said.

Alice Herron, 69, lives on the West Side of Chicago and said that the energy at the demonstration inspired her to continue marching.

“Everyone is so committed, and it touches my heart,” Herron said. “I’m am so very proud to be involved.”

Shedd Aquarium expert exposes the terrifying unknowns about single-use plastics

CHICAGO – Most Chicagoans are unaware that everyday plastic products such as straws, bottles and utensils contaminate local waterways, an expert from Shedd Aquarium said on Monday.

A packed audience outside the McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum in downtown Chicago tuned in to a noon lecture on single-use plastics with Shedd Aquarium’s Director of Conservation Action Jaclyn Wegner.

“Our relationship to plastic is complicated,” Wegner said. “Plastic makes our life easier and its really cheap, but it’s also a detriment to the environment.”

The most recent data from the Alliance for the Great Lakes in 2017 shows that of the 36,128 pounds of litter picked up on Great Lakes beaches, 89 percent was plastic.

While strolling along the Chicago River, Alan Weninger, 75, of Wilmette, had not planned to attend the lecture, but he was intrigued by the discussion about  the repercussions of plastic straws.

“People don’t think about how it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces,” Weninger said.  “We’re going to be breathing it and eating it.”

Kelsey Walsh, 29, recently joined a local environmental team with her coworker at the American Medical Association and came to the lecture to learn more about minimizing her plastic footprint.

“Plastics are a problem, but it’s a complex problem and not one we can fix right away,” Walsh said. “It’ll take a lot of work.”

Wegner championed Shedd The Straw which is an initiative to reduce plastic straw use in Chicago.  Wegner said the campaign has persuaded over 250 local Chicago businesses to eliminate single-use plastic straws. She emboldened consumers to discuss their concerns about plastic consumption with local businesses.

“They are going to listen to their consumers,” Wegner said. “You have a lot of power as a consumer and your dollar really does show them what you care about.”

McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum Director Josh Coles said these campaigns have positively impacted plastic waste reduction.

“It’s on the minds of so many people,” Coles said. “A lot of people have it in their daily life now that they need to reduce the amount of waste they are producing.”

Englewood residents urge city leaders to fix affordable housing crisis

CHICAGO- Over 100 Englewood residents demanded solutions to the neighborhood affordable housing crisis at the Resident Association of Greater Englewood, or R.A.G.E., meeting on Tuesday night.

Community members congregated at the Barbara A. Sizemore Academy for a legislative panel with Illinois state Rep. Sonya Harper, D-Chicago.

Dr. Marcus Robinson, 59, has been a R.A.G.E. member for two years and he communicated that high housing prices are one of Englewood’s multifaceted issues.

“We have a majority of renters versus a majority of owners. Given that there was a flip, it would be a beautiful thing,” Robinson said.

In April 2018, the Institute for Housing Studies at DePaul University reported a large affordability gap in the Englewood and Greater Grand Crossing neighborhoods where the demand of affordable housing exceeded the supply by 7,511 units.

The affordability gap is one of many reasons why African Americans are moving out of Chicago. The United States Census Bureau reported a loss of nearly 68,500 African Americans in the city of Chicago between 2010 and 2016.

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Englewood community members wrote down their opinions on how to attract more residents to the neighborhood.

R.A.G.E. President Asiaha Butler, 42, asked residents for suggestions about what housing incentives might encourage to move back to Englewood.

She plans to include the feedback in a report to the City of Chicago’s Five-Year Housing Plan Committee.

“If you had to talk to your cousin or your brother, what do you think that they would need to come back to the city of Chicago,” Butler said.

A majority of residents said that lower property taxes and more economic opportunities would incentivize their family members to return to Englewood.

Jocelyn Mills, 47, is the principal of Barbara A. Sizemore Academy and advocated for stronger educational opportunities to attract families to Englewood.

“People base their housing options on the schools that their children will attend,” Mills said. “If you strengthen the schools, you do also strengthen people’s desire to want to move back into that particular neighborhood.”

The housing issues in Englewood have been difficult, but R.A.G.E. Program Manager Tonika Johnson, 38, is optimistic.

“This community that we have of concerned residents is very fulfilling,” Johnson said. “It constantly renews the hope so there’s not ever a point where any of us could say it’s hopeless.”

Irish Fest celebrates 33 years in Chicago

CHICAGO- The upbeat tempo of the fiddle and the smell of Guinness beer swirled through the air as crowds of people in green attire were entertained at the Irish American Heritage Center this past weekend.

Over 15,000 people celebrated the 33rd annual Irish American Heritage Festival on the North Side of Chicago in the Mayfair neighborhood from July 6 to July 8. The festival is the center’s largest event and fundraiser during the year.

Anna McGuiness, 72, originally from Donegal, Ireland, has sold wool sweaters and Celtic jewelry at the festival for numerous years. McGuiness admired the authentic Irish music and culture that reminded her of her homeland.

“It’s the next best thing to going to Ireland,” McGuinness said.

Ann Koeb, 68, lives one block away from the Irish American Heritage Center and has attended the event for several years. Koeb delighted in the festival’s music even though she is not Irish.

“You don’t have to be Irish to come here and have fun,” said Koeb.

The melodies from the flute and banjo reverberated through the festival as musical headliners such as JigJam, Gaelic Storm, and We Banjo 3 performed onstage.

Under a white tent outdoors, folk music enthusiasts tapped their feet and clapped their hands while Irish musician Rory Makem, 48, strummed his guitar. Makem beamed with pride as he spoke of the center’s preservation of Irish traditions.

“I like the community they have created at the cultural center,” said Makem. “It’s incredible.”

Inside the center, attendees ascended the wooden staircase to savor a cup of tea, scones, and jam in the Shamrock Tea Room. Downstairs in the auditorium, young girls sported embroidered velvet costumes and large curly hair while dancing the Irish Jig.

Kathy O’Neill, 50, of Chicago, was one of the festival’s organizers and she encouraged all people to experience Irish culture.

“We want everyone to come whether they want to be Irish at Irish Fest or for one day a year on Saint Patrick’s Day,” said O’Neill.

Tour de Fat raises thousands of dollars in Humboldt Park

CHICAGO – Bicycle and beer enthusiasts raised thousands of dollars Saturday afternoon in Humboldt Park for local nonprofit West Town Bikes.

Attendees cycled in the bike parade around Humboldt Park and returned to the mainstage for entertainment. In the afternoon the Tour de Fat festival offered a giant game of Twister, comedic acts and musical headliner Best Coast.

After biking in the sweltering heat, cyclists bought a tall glass of cold beer to cool down. Each year all proceeds from New Belgium Brewing Company’s beer sales are donated to West Town Bikes which is a nonprofit serving youth in West and Northwest Chicago neighborhoods.

Obesity, transportation and access to education are some of the main issues that the organization’s programs aim to solve.“We see bicycles as a solution to a lot of the problems that plague our communities,” said Michael Young, West Town Bike’s operations manager said.

With the profits earned from Tour de Fat, West Town Bikes has sufficient funding to mentor youth in the community.

In the past, Tour de Fat has raised $25,000 to $30,000 in a single day which is enough to fund a youth program for a year.

Sam Sawyer, the Tour de Fat brand manager, said that New Belgium Brewing Company has raised more than $5 million for bike nonprofits across the United States over the past 19 years. Sawyer reiterated the joy of knowing that Tour de Fat benefits local communities.

“We’re doing everything we can to make these super successful because it is an absolute labor of love,” Sawyer said.

Bicyclist Max Hertz has attended Tour de Fat for the past few years. Hertz viewed the festival as a win-win situation to support West Town Bikes and enjoy Chicago.

“You get to ride around and then you get to come here, drink delicious beer, and have a good time,” Hertz said.

Impacts of “Fake News” on News Media

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – During my senior year at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, I worked a thesis project which researched the impacts of fake news on the mass media. This research was published to the Tennessee Research and Collective Exchange database. Through interviews with three journalism professionals, I found that fake news has altered the image of mass media and the ways in which mass media is produced.

University of Tennessee Knoxville Chancellor Beverly Davenport prioritizes student success

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Chancellor Beverly Davenport began her tenure at the University of Tennessee Knoxville on February 15th, 2017. Her plans for the university focus on student and faculty success for the future.

Published in conjunction with  wbir