About the guest: There are moments in history that so define our societies that we feel they should never be forgotten because then we will lose our understanding of how we got to now. This AMA guest is a cousin of Rosa Parks, an American icon whose actions were instrumental in the Civil Rights movement. Among other accomplishments, Dr. Angela Sadler Williamson has devoted much time to adding content and context to the legacy of Rosa Parks through film and stories.
Rhiannon: So welcome, Angela, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today. And I want to get right to the questions from our members because we had a lot of them. So the first question is from Ernest who asked, “How have you managed your time in such a manner that it has led to your success in so many areas?”
Angela: At first, I was thinking, “Wow.” Well, first, thank you Ernest for that question. And I had to really think about how I do manage my time. But I am a person who I realized, probably when I started my graduate work, that I do my best work in the morning. So my goal is always to try to tackle my list in the morning. And that might mean that I get up extra early to start that list and maybe take a nap in the afternoon. But I think the first battle is understanding when our brain works best, and when you figure that out, then you can move forward.
Another thing that I like to do is I always like to envision the end goal. The journey is always different, but if I can stay in the mindset of looking at the end goal of what I’m trying to accomplish, it was when I decided to go back and get my doctorate, that’s what keeps me motivated so that I can keep moving forward. I think that’s really important that we always see ourselves at the end of our goal because that journey will always be different. But if we can see that end goal in mind, it keeps us motivated to move forward.
Rhiannon: Our next question was from Monica who asked, “How do you address people who you feel are performing deep talk, but shallow action?”
Angela: This one is I don’t think about that. But then, I realized that as I’ve grown older, I give everyone the benefit of the doubt. But if I feel like there’s no action, I actually pull out of the situation, because our energy is very important. And if we’re working with people and we know now, especially with social media, that we can be the masters of our own content. And the content’s great, but if you’re not following through on the message, to me, that’s wasted energy and it’s taken me a long time to get there.
I will tell you, I spent time trying to help other people fulfill their dreams for a long time before I realize that, “Oh, my goodness, this is wasted energy.” I mean, sorry, Monica, I’m telling you the truth. I just refuse to work with them and just walk away, because if you continue to work with people who are not progressing on the same mission that you are trying to achieve, then you could lose that opportunity to fulfill your own mission. And I will tell you, there’s been plenty of times that I can see now that I lost an open door because I was following the wrong one.
Rhiannon: We had a question from Raj who asked, “How do you learn? What is your process of learning about something that piques your curiosity?”
Angela: Thank goodness for the internet, because I have always researched everything. And in the past, it would mean that I have to go to the library, spend time there, but now, anything that peaks my interest, even for the show that I’m doing on PBS, I’m meeting so many phenomenal people and I’m learning so many things, things I never even knew about. And the first thing that I think is so important is that I do research. And in fact, I tell people with anything that I write, research is always the first step that I take, because that’s how you find new things that you never discovered before and you’re able to give those, I call them little nuggets to other people too.
Rhiannon: Yeah, for sure. And it’s how you’re authentic, right? It’s how you own what you’re talking about.
Angela: Love that. Yes. And that is actually the title of my new documentary, Authentic Conversations. And it’s so important for us right now to be authentic, because people can see through that when you’re not.
Rhiannon: Right. Right. Our next question was from Jose who asked, “How do you take notes when reading?” So it’s kind of a follow-up to the learning one. How do you take notes when reading, how do you organize these notes, and how do you use these notes to produce content like script stories, scientific publications, or books?
Angela: Oh. I don’t know if I ever learned this from anyone because I think because of the way my mind works. I work well when I have headers. So what I do is I create headers for anything that I am going to do. For example, I’m completely honored I’ve been invited the week after we talk, and I will be the commencement speaker at Iowa Wesleyan University’s 2022 Commencement. Well, I will be talking about stepping into your legacy. And the way that I was able to organize that was by first creating headers. Now, sometimes, my headers will be thrown out as I start to write whatever I’m writing, in this case is a speech. I think for me, if I write headers that keeps me on track and then I can continue that research, define information that goes underneath those headers.
And it’s something that I have been able to hone those skills through graduate work, because you’re writing so much, it’s hard to stay on track if you don’t have your own system. So for me, it’s headers, that’s what I used when I wrote My Life with Rosie. I mean, we shot all the footage first, that’s what happens in documentary filmmaking. You have all your questions that comes with my research, and you shoot all these interviews, you shoot B-roll, if you can, and then you come to the edit bay. And the way that I could keep it straight was to use what I learned in my graduate work is by writing those headers, which you actually see in the documentary, and filling those headers in with information. And for some reason, for me, that works, anybody can take it, but for me, it works and it’s helped me with so many different ways that I’ve had to write, which I’ve never imagined that it would open up so many doors like that after doing Rosie.
Rhiannon: Cool. That’s great. So this is actually a nice segue into the next set of questions, where we had a lot of interest in the documentary, both from working with people and then the technical process itself, so I’ll dive into those. First is another question for Monica who asked, “At what point in a group conversation do you stop and say, ‘Okay, now, how can we take a sustainable action to move forward?'”
Angela: I actually have worked in groups that have been very functional collaborative groups. We have worked together, we have a goal, and we take those steps, even if the journey has some twist and turns, we take those steps to complete a goal. Perfect example would be Everybody with Angela Williamson. When I was asked to host the show, there wasn’t even a title of the show. We were shooting that during COVID. When you shoot during COVID, it teaches you to be mindful of how other people feel about coming into the studio.
And in fact, halfway through a shooting that show, the former superintendent for LAUSD shut down our studio for 10 months. I mean, we had so many just twist and turns of getting the first season done, but we all stayed on track to get to the end goal. I mean, it took me, it took the executive producer, it took the producer, the director, even, it took some of the field people, but we got that done. But I’ve also set on committees that they have a wonderful mission statement and they’re there to do good, but they’ve never seem to take the steps to move to the next level or to fulfill their mission. And normally, what I try to do is ask them what are the action items, what needs to be done to accomplish it?
And I will be honest, and when I found out and there’s been some committees that I’ve been on for a few years, literally, the first of this year, I sent them just letters, tell them how, or emails, how much I am fond of their mission, but I just told them that I will have to back out of it. And I realized that at some point, that’s why her first question, to me, really pairs with this question. Sometimes, I just have to step away if I feel that we’re not completing our action items, because at that point, you’re not leading your legacy, you’re just throwing things out there. So I think that’s so important.
Rhiannon: Yeah. Because you want to make sure what you spending your time on is valuable.
Angela: Yes. Yes. Yes. Especially when you’re passionate about a cause. I mean, especially people in this group, I mean, we’re not just passionate about one cause, we’re probably passionate about at least 10. And when you’re passionate about those causes, you want them to move forward, you want them to succeed. And so you think that you find these groups and you don’t know until you’re in the group. And they mean well, they do, but if they’re not accomplishing their mission, sometimes, it’s just easier to step away than to try to get them to see your vision, sometimes you can’t do that.
Rhiannon: Right. Our next question was from initials PMK, I didn’t know what they stood for, who asked, “How does teamwork and collaboration work for you and what is the essential and often overlooked ingredient for a movie production?”
Angela: So I work on documentaries and that’s because I firmly believe that understanding other people’s stories change our lives. And what I’ve realized is that… Because Rosie was just supposed to be a documentary to help me fulfill my CV, to show that I have research, and hopefully, help me get a tenure position somewhere. It didn’t happen that way, but the reason that Rosie did so well is that Rosie had such a synergy behind it. Everyone that worked on that project believed in the stories of a mission that I was trying to fulfill. And with that, everyone brought their A+++ game to the table, and that’s how I got into film festivals. Even though I have a background in production, you have to realize I left for a good while to go back to get my doctorate and worked in education.
I didn’t know how film festivals had changed, that there were so many film festivals out there, but because people came in and the synergy was there, people that worked with Rosie directed me on the right path and got me to find out what websites to use and things like that. And so I think synergy is very important. Even with this latest documentary that literally is a documentary that happened within 90 days, I mean, I lost a crew and needed another crew because I was trying to save face, because when you get the opportunity to interview a Jack Canfield, the creator of Chicken Soup for the Soul, you don’t really want to drop the ball on that. And so in a way to think people who came through for me at the last minute, we created this documentary and got it on PBS.
But it was really important because I now look for that same synergy. This documentary has taken a different journey, but in this journey, when people connect with me, I’m looking for that synergy because you can only get this message out if everybody believes in it and they’re on the same path as you. And that’s so important in production. You hear nightmare stories all the time, and I don’t want that on my production team, I don’t want that. And if that means that eventually, we don’t work together, we don’t because I think everyone who takes the time to help me create this message deserves to be treated with respect. And to feel that what they’re contributing is adds to their worthiness, and that’s important for me as well. So as a leader in this field, I look for people who match my synergy, who have the same work ethic, and who can help me continue this message. And that just means too, as a leader, I have to learn to listen to them as well and listen to their advice.
Rhiannon: Our next question was from Stephanie who wanted to know how do you decide what to include in a documentary, meaning what makes the cut, what is the editing process like?
Angela: Oh, that is such a great question. The first thing that I do is, and I mentioned this too, creating those headers really helps me to stay on track. It is so hard to know what to keep and what not to keep. And so as a documentary filmmaker, you have to ask yourself… Now, there are certain, what we call total running times that you should keep in the back of your mind. For example, if you want to keep it as short, it needs to be under 40 minutes. If you want it to go on PBS, it needs to be 45 minutes, which I didn’t know with Rosie, but I learned. It needs to be 45 minutes. If you want a full feature, then it can be over 45 minutes, but you really want to shoot for at least an hour, 60 minutes or 90 minutes.
I mean, things like that, but what’s important is that you want to ask yourself with those headers, what do you want to accomplish? And with me, always in my head, I always have a question. So with My Life with Rosie, was my question is who was the real Rosa Parks or who is Rosa Parks? Either one. And I was attempting to answer that question as a person who I came into the family because I’m married to her first cousin. So I had a different point of view because I learned about Rosa Parks, and she was definitely one of my heroes as a little girl. But what I learned, I learned in my history books, not only history books, through what we call primary education, but even in higher ed. So when I went to answer that question, I went to answer that question of what did my history books not tell me?
Actually, it’s not a positive term, but I’ll use it. That’s how I attacked that documentary and knew what to keep and what not to keep. And then with this latest documentary, Authentic Conversations: Deep Talk with the Masters, what my question was is how can we move forward when we are still filling the emotional effects of the pandemic? How can these three motivational speakers help us move forward? And with that, that’s how I edited that documentary, knowing that with that documentary, because it was going to PBS, it needed to be 45 minutes. But I mean, I took a lot out of that documentary. And in fact, we just reedited this documentary because we went straight to PBS so we had to reedit it for live screenings. And I actually made a few more edits to it. I took out some parts, so that it’s a tighter message to answer my question.
Angela: So, I mean, you start off with those headers. You have a question and you ask yourself, “Am I answering that question? Do I get the message across?” And if you are going a little bit beyond there, that’s when you have to cut, cut, and cut.
Rhiannon: Yeah. Fascinating. Our next question was from Ed who asked, “How do you imagine the documentary format morphing in the age of Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, social media consumption, and then how would you inspire young learners to invest in longer form delivery in the face of the near instant dopamine hits?”
Angela: So one of the things that I know for Rosie, and hopefully, it will be for Authentic Conversations is that social media actually allowed me to give people teasers so that they could be driven to a longer format. And I’ll be honest with you, I’m not on TikTok yet. I’m barely managing Instagram and Twitter and Facebook, especially with all the other stuff I have going there. But with even TikTok, if I was going to do TikTok, I would take, literally, one minute clips from everything to drive people to the longer conversation. And how I do this as an educator is that I actually, over the years, I’ve taught a number of classes. But the last few years, I’ve been asked to teach an intro course to mass media. And I’ve rewritten that course to include it as a digital mass media course.
And the final project for all the students is to create a digital storytelling project, which is almost like a mini video from two to three minutes, but they have to have a research question in there and use it towards mass media. And I think this is a way to get the younger generations to start to look at their stories and realize that you may be able to give a snippet of information in two to three minutes, but you need more time to tell a deeper story. And another project I give them too, is that they have to write their own podcast. And in writing their podcast, I tell them, “Try to get four to five minutes.” And a lot of them think that, “Oh, how can I get to five minutes?” But then when I start to read their content, I mean, literally, they have so much content that I always tell them, “You need to break up the content.”
So I think it’s starting to get them to realize that they can take these small snippets, use them as teasers, but they only give just a minimum synopsis of the story. You need more time to tell a more in depth story. I think this is a great question, I think it’s a great question for educators is how do we teach the younger generation with what they know of how to move forward so that they can look at documentaries that are 60 minutes long, 90 minutes long, because that’s so important that they are learning in that avenue.
Rhiannon: Our next question was from Christine who asked, “What is the work of the Hollywood Women’s Film Institute, and what are some of the challenges currently facing the American film industry?”
Angela: Well, the Hollywood Women’s Film Institute… I actually submitted a documentary to the Hollywood Women’s International Film Festival, and they are run by the Hollywood Women’s Film Institute. And so that’s how that connection happened. The film festival director was so in awe of My Life with Rosie, she even told me, she is a screenwriter and director and has several films that she’s working on, but she would tell me that the documentary was so soothing, that what she would do is she would just listen to my interviews in the background while she was working on things.
Angela: And with that, developed such a relationship with her. In fact, she is the only film festival that I’m taking my second documentary to. She will be premiering it, and she’s the only one. I don’t even see it past that, but we developed such a relationship and then she told me about her mission, which she does accomplish. She gets those film festivals and she promotes these women. And she looks at Hollywood, she looks at our women in Hollywood, especially the actors. And once they hit a certain part of their lives, they’re forgotten. And a lot of these actresses actually have their own missions and they have their own nonprofits, and they’re doing so many remarkable things, so much about humanitarian work. And they’ve opened up so many doors for other Hollywood actresses and they’re forgotten.
And so what the Hollywood Women’s Film Institute does is they find these… I mean, pretty much they, I say her. J.R. finds these actresses and things, and she finds their publicist, finds their agent, and she gives them awards to bring them back out into the spotlight so that they know that what they have done to open up other doors for other women in film is it’s not forgotten. And she’s done filmmakers as well. When she asked me to be on their board, I said, “Absolutely,” because I just… I mean, even now that I have a show and I’m interviewing actors that are in their 70s, 80s, and 90s, but at the time, they were trailblazers and things like that, I love that she is continuing a legacy of making sure we don’t forget these people. And that’s what they do. I mean, she supports filmmakers, women filmmakers now, but she supports the women that have been trailblazers, that have blazed the path for all of us. And she doesn’t forget those people.
So that’s really what they do. And that’s why I’m so honored to be on the board of the Hollywood Film Institute. Also too, what are some of the challenges currently facing the American film industry? Wow. That is such a loaded question. And it’s from all sides. One… And this happens just because the nature of filmmaking has changed. I mean, I was able to do a documentary in 2015, I was able to start a documentary, literally just with my own little money. That was not something that you could have done before without trying to get financing and things like that. And then because everything is in the digital space, it’s changed the way that we produce films. And so in this case, yes, it has opened up a lot of doors for underrepresented people, however, there needs to be more work done. And here’s how I know this is that when Rosie was nominated for an Emmy, it was through… They have the big Emmys, but they also have local Emmys as well.
And so the Los Angeles Emmy Awards, I mean, that’s pretty big because LA is the number two market. But when I was sitting there and watching the entire ceremony and then got to see how Rosie was practically the only documentary that got to play with the big boys in Los Angeles, to a point where… Of course, Rosie didn’t win, but that she was in that category with big players like Reuters, the new service, big PBS stations like KCET that people know about and things like that, I realized that more work needs to be done because the reason that I was able to get to that level is because I actually was on an LA PBS station. But there’s so many filmmakers out there that are turning out great work that we’ll never be able to get to that level. And so not… I mean, when it comes to filmmaking, a lot of doors have opened for independent filmmakers, but when it comes to the recognition, that needs to be changed too. That really does.
Angela: And the funny part about Rosie was that it was actually nominated in an independent programming category. So I think when it comes to, and this is what you hear behind the scenes when it comes to everything in the United States, when you hear about the Emmys, when you hear about the Grammys, when you hear about the Oscars, and you hear about, there’s a radio, I don’t know what they call it, I think like the Golden Mike Awards, when you hear about these big awards, their vision needs to be enlarged so that they can see there’s a lot more body of work out there that’s telling good stories than the people coming in with the big names and the big production companies and the big stations, and work definitely needs to be done there.
Rhiannon: We had a question from B, completely changing tracks right now, to what are some of the considerations when writing for children and what in your background helped you figure out how to communicate effectively with so many different audiences?
Angela: So B, I’m going to be honest with you, I was scared to death. Because I spent so much time writing, I did all this graduate work where you’re writing at a whole another academic level, and it becomes second nature to you. And then I wrote this documentary, which originally, it was supposed to go to academia. And in fact, the documentary that is out there right now on Amazon, it is actually the second version because the first version was written from a person who’s an educator because at the end of each scene, it’s called stop, think, act. I have discussion questions for educators to stop and talk to their class about these questions.
And when I was encouraged to go into the Film Festival Circuit, and I said, “Okay, I’ll try,” the first thing that everybody told me was, “Angela, you got to get rid of those, that last part.” There’s a scene that it has four generations of Williamson family members on the original bus. So the documentary premiered in 2017. In 2018, a friend from high school was teaching a second grade class and she asked me to come in. And we knew we couldn’t show them the documentary, but I showed them that one part, which was about four minutes. And not only did they sit through it, but when it came to comprehending what that meant.
I mean, I had a stack of artwork, that Rosa Parks on the bus as an angel and her family members there, things like that. So I realized that I could reach that segment, but I kept that in the back of my mind. And in 2019, when I wrote the foreword for Women Who Illuminate, at the same time, Mattel was coming out with a Rosa Parks Barbie doll as part of their women inspiring series. I’m going to look and see what that says too. Oh, it’s Inspiring Women Series. And when they wrote the description, it was a wonderful description, but it was the description that we all see in our history books.
Angela: And that’s when I realized that, “Okay, I have this video, but I’m going to need something written.” And the lady who published that book, Women Who Illuminate, she started out by writing children’s book. And she said, “Well, what about a children’s book?” And I said, “Well, that sounds great, but I don’t know how to write to children.” And she said, “Well, you never really wrote a foreword either, but you did it.” So I had to step outside of my comfort zone and tell that story. But I will be honest, Kate Butler from Kate Butler Publishing, independent book publishers so pretty much, it’s different. You pay them first and then you keep 100% of the royalties, but her knowledge is invaluable.
And she guided me through that entire process. And to the point of when I wrote the story at the end of it, it just, at the end, and then Kate Butler asked me, she said, “Well, what do you want them to do?” And I’m like, “They have to do something?” She’s like, “Well, yes, you are…” She said, “You’re educated. What do you want them to do?” And then I realized that because they’re not born with hate in their hearts, it’s complete opposite, that I could take the concept of a youth council that cousin Rosie started, which I didn’t know about until I started doing all this research for the documentary, and I could create, in my mind, little activists.
So at the end of the book, we created an emblem for youth council. And at the end of the book, I tell them, I say, “Welcome to cousin Rosie’s youth council. You can be one of the many young activists protecting human rights, just complete these three steps. Step one, how can you honor differences in others today? Step two, how can you make a new friend who is different from you today? Step three, how can you stand up for a person in need today? Step up and be an activist today.” And then I tell them to share their activism with others. And the best story that I heard was actually from another filmmaker friend, she has a little boy, and they were my little test subjects. And so she asked her son, “What did you learn?” And he said, “Well, the next time I see…” And I forget who the person’s name is so we’ll just call him Billy.
“Next time I see Billy bullying Larry on the playground, I’m going to tell Billy he should not bully. That is wrong. He should honor his differences.” But if you think about that, if we can just get it so that they understand it, they realize that things like this is not acceptable and they stand up for things that are wrong and tell people how to do things that are right. So I think that was really, at that point, it strengthened me as a writer for children’s books to realize who are they at that age and how can I relate to them and give them something that they can carry forward for the rest of their lives? Because they can always go back, and go back to what they learned. And maybe one day, our society, we won’t have to have a lot of different causes that we have now, because we’re treating each other with respect, because we’ve already trained that generation to do that.
Rhiannon: That’s amazing. It actually also segues really nicely into the next set of questions. There were a lot of people who were curious about activism based on what you learned about Rosa Parks. So the first question is from Paige who asked, “What advice would you give to teenagers to guide them in their endeavors toward change in their communities, and what are some key takeaways you would share from your experiences?”
Angela: It’s always been about starting with your passion. And what I’ve learned over the last year, I’ve taught college courses for the college that I teach for. I’ve taught college courses inside the high school so these students get college credit. And with that digital storytelling project, they have to come up with a research question and it does have to relate to mass media. But what they’re doing is I tell them those research questions should come from what you’re passionate about. A lot of them focus on social media, but even now, one of the research questions I was grading one class the other day, and they said, “How can a podcast motivate young people after the pandemic?” I mean, so in this case, they’re starting their own causes.
I mean, they’re evaluating how social media impacts body image or how does magazines, how do they impact women? And then one person talks about should social media be more responsible on controlling explicit material? I mean, this is coming from teenagers. And when I read it, I thought, “Wow.” I mean, these are young people saying that social media should control explicit material. I mean, so what’s important is to find out what they’re passionate about. And when they are, give them a positive way to, or positive outlet, to fulfill that passion. And this is just one example, but I saw a ton over the pandemic of a lot of young people getting out there and starting food drives for people who got laid off because of the pandemic.
Or one person, there was a young person out there where her sister helped her because her sister was being bullied because of her skin, how dark her skin was. I mean, so I think what it is is that we all need to, with our teenagers, find out what they’re passionate about and then encourage them and find that outlet for them to explore that passion. Because it may change, but now, what you’ve done is you’ve started to give them, and that’s what we talk about, takeaways. You started to give them key takeaways of what they could use. If their passion changes, they were like, “Well, this is what I did before. I’ll go back and do it again.”
Rhiannon: Yeah. And like a tool set, right?
Rhiannon: There were quite a few questions about Rosa Parks, so I kind of amalgamated them into one, because they were all variations on the same question, but it’s something like what is something you can tell us about Rosa Parks that no one else knows? I think a lot of people were really exceptionally fascinated that you had direct personal contact with a legend in the United States, right?
Angela: Yeah. So I mentioned I was married into the family. And when I met Rosa Parks, she was literally in her late 70s. And so she wasn’t really talking a lot, but what she did give me was she gave me one of her books and she autographed it and said welcome to the family. And so my person that I’ve always gone to is Aunt Carolyn, which she is my muse. And so she tells me all of these wonderful stories. And a lot of them, the stories that she’s told me, if you find some people have written about her, Dr. Jeanne Theoharis, she has an in depth biography about her. But also too, some other people may know things as well, so most of them, most of this information was backed up.
But the fun part was that this actually came from Aunt Carolyn, Aunt Carolyn said that she would go to church. And normally, Aunt Carolyn, in our family, is known as the cook. I mean, I have recipes from her when she goes places, when you come to her house, that’s just what she knows she has to do, she has to cook, and so Cousin Rosie enjoyed her cooking. And so Aunt Carolyn told me one time, she went to church, but before she went to church, she fixed Sunday dinner and had it all ready so when they got back late from church that they could just start eating right away. So she gets back late afternoon from church and she looks and she realizes that food’s gone, the ones created plates and they’ve eaten.
And so she looks, and then she looks and she sees a note and it’s a note thanking her for the great food and the dinner and signed Cousin Rosie. So I mean, I can see her doing that because that’s just what a cousin does. And that they just feel very comfortable to walk into your home. They know that you’re going to have Sunday dinner, fix their plate and just send a note like, “Thank you for dinner.” They way she told me that story, I just thought, “Oh, my goodness, that’s…” Just shows us the human side of Rosa Parks. And that was one of my goals that I hope that people could see.
I wanted to humanize her to see that everything that she did was incredible and remarkable, but that we can continue that because she was a cousin. And then a few other things I found out she was, that famous Associated Press photo that shows Rosa sitting in the front with the white man sitting behind her, that is a reporter. And she’s sitting there in the front so they took that photo and it’s very famous. And they took that after they desegregated the buses and they came into the story. What I didn’t know personally, and if you go back to the bus scene, Aunt Carolyn does explain it, was that that is not the seat that Rosa Parks was in.
Angela: Rosa Parks was actually on the other side of the bus. And she was actually sitting in the first section, the first seat of the color section. She was sitting in the color section.
Angela: So people think that she was sitting in the front of the bus, but she wasn’t. She was sitting in the colored section, but she was sitting in the first row. So the rule was that if a white person came in and there were no more seats available, that there were two people sitting in that seat that both, two color people, both color people had to give up, get up and give him the seat.
So a white person comes up on, Rosa Parks is sitting there next to a gentleman, and the gentleman, the color gentleman gets up, and I don’t know where he goes, but Rosa Parks doesn’t. Now, literally, there was a seat there, but she doesn’t follow the rules.
That’s what led to it. And to a point where people don’t realize that even, that was not her first experience with that bus driver, it was the second. He had already thrown her off the bus once. Yeah, because the rule was that you go on the front, drop off your money, and if you’re colored, you go to the back and enter. Well, by the time she did that, I think he had driven off or something like that, so they had already had that blood.
Angela: But what was interesting was that when I did the site check for the documentary, I went to The Henry Ford Museum with Aunt Carolyn, she got us in and I wanted to look at the bus. I needed to look at all that stuff before we came to go and shoot. And there was a tour there of students. And the person, the tour guy, brought all the kids in the bus. Aunt Carolyn, she takes a seat right where Rosa Parks was, where she was arrested. And she is in that same seat during the documentary. And all the kids come in and the tour guy gives the whole spiel and says, “Yes, and she was right here, and she was sitting right here, in this front, and this is where she was arrested.”
And the kids were like, “Wow.” And then Aunt Carolyn raises her hand and the tour guy’s, “Oh, yes?” She’s like, “Oh, no, she wasn’t sitting there. She was sitting right here.” And the tour guy’s like, “What?” And I was like, “Oh, my goodness.” Because I’m sitting right next to Aunt Carolyn. I’m like, “Oh, my goodness. Oh, my goodness.” And she’s like, “Yes.” And the woman was like, “Really? How do you know?” She’s like, “Well, because Rosa Parks was my cousin and I know she was sitting right here and this is where she was arrested.”
Angela: If history is written down incorrectly, people will continue to tell it incorrectly. So I don’t know if the woman ever… I’m sure they probably corrected it. I mean, if you ever go, maybe you can test it out. But the other thing that I found out too, is that people may be familiar with the Freemasons. And one thing I did not know is that I was invited to speak to their… They have their own youth council in a way. And I was invited to speak there. And they actually told me that Rosa Parks was a charter member of what they call the Order of the Eastern Star, which is the woman version of it. So that means that she actually started that charter of a part of the Freemasons in Alabama.
That is, I guess, where we talk about the Freemasons, it started up north, but there’s this hall that is like this original hall, and it’s called the Prince Hall, and she actually comes down from there. And so what’s really interesting is that no one ever talks about her being a charter member of the Order of the Eastern Star, which is really interesting because… That she was part of Freemasons, which we know, there’s a lot of documentaries done about them, but that she was part of that as something that, hopefully, one day, that I could even explore in a special or documentary. Because that actually adds another layer to Rosa Parks and her activism, that people just don’t know about. And to a point where I was so fascinated when they told me at the end that they actually found the original records where she signed her cards and things like… And they sent me copies of that.
Rhiannon: Oh, wow.
Angela: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, there was a lot to Rosa Parks.
Rhiannon: Yeah. Yeah. But it’s true though, right? History sometimes boils it down to these sound bites and then you forget there’s a whole human behind these people that you’re reading about.
Rhiannon: Great. So more on this topic, Rich asked your perspective on how progress in civil rights can be furthered.
Angela: I had to think about that, but one of the things I think is really important is taking advantage of how we can advance it through different types of media channels and using new media channels. I mean, this goes back to the other question about we can use TikTok as teasers to get a partial of the story out so that people drive them, so that they can get the full story. One of the things that I was thinking too is that there is a company out here in Southern California that has taken, remember those popup books that we used to get as children, you’d open it up and it would pop up? Well, they’ve taken that idea and paired that with augmented reality. And where children now can take their phones with a book and then the person actually pops up and then walks them through the story. Well, the CEO of that company has asked if I could work with them to turn My Life with Rosie into a living popup.
Rhiannon: Oh, wow.
Angela: And so I think with Rich’s question, I think finding new ways to tell the stories what’s important. Because we realize our audience has changed. I mean, they’re not going to sit there like we used to sit there for 30 or 40 minutes, they’re not going to do that. But if we can use media to continue telling that story and use a new media to do that, then I think that’s how students will be able to learn about civil rights and learn the things that their history books just don’t tell them.
Rhiannon: Right. Yeah. That’s a really, really fascinating perspective on it, actually.
Rhiannon: It’s not just the content, but the media you’re using to tell it.
Angela: Yes. Because our children learn differently now. And it has a lot to do with the media that they get in their hands very early on. So we have to find ways that we can use that media, but still teach them so that they can continue on and be the type of trailblazers and activists that we want them to be.
Rhiannon: Question from Cara was what advice do you give parents to help them raise children to have a curiosity about history as a way to build an empathetic mindset?
Angela: That’s a great question and I almost feel like it’s a little bit out of my element. Because I think almost, maybe a child psychologist could answer that question, but I’m going to answer this question as a mom.
Angela: What I did with our son was from a very young age, he was in museums, wherever we went. Wherever we went, always went to museums. I mean, I just can’t even, the list is long. And that’s something that I wish as a child that my parents would’ve done for me, because it not only broadened your knowledge, but it also teaches you empathy for other people. For example, I mean, we’ve been to the Holocaust Museum in Los Angeles and we actually sat there and we listened to a Holocaust survivor. We’ve been to the Jewish Museum that’s in DC, part of the Smithsonian, we’ve been, oh, my goodness. I mean, I can’t even think about. I mean, Native American, we still need to do that one. But I mean, we just continue to go to all types of museums that it’s where you learn.
First of all, our son has a learning disability so we knew that this would help him retain information. And it’s really interesting to see, even now that he is 18 and a freshman in college, he still remembers all of those church and museums, and we still go, we still go. There’s still some that we still need go to. But in fact, we went to Houston in Dallas, we went to museums there. And so I think museums are so important because not only do they offer history, but it’s a wonderful teaching tool. I mean, you get your children young enough, they just… He doesn’t know any better. He just knows us. So I think that’s amazing too. So I think museums are a wonderful learning tool for children that age.
Rhiannon: The next question was from Kiara who asked, “What learning can you share from your book that helps to inspire people to take action and become involved in social causes and activism?” And I know you actually covered this a little because you read out the questions, so it’s just an opportunity… The questions from the book. So it’s just an opportunity to augment it if there’s anything else you wanted to say.
Angela: There is one thing that I realized with what Rosa Parks was doing was that in everything that she went through and she suffered, and even in every milestone that she made in her life, I saw, with how she poured into young people, how she was constantly paying it forward. And I think it was that philosophy of paying it forward is the reason why we could still talk about Rosa Parks today. So I think that should be part of it is learning how you are paying it forward with the next generation, because that’s how a legacy remains active. And when we talk about activism and things like that, paying it forward, I think, is a key element to that.
Rhiannon: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. A question from Arlette who asked, “What does a dignified and peaceful transformation of society look like when we’re addressing issues of oppression and injustice?”
Angela: What I loved about what Aunt Carolyn said which was, it really opened my eyes to a three dimensional person, the person who Rosa Parks was, was that Rosa Parks firmly believed in protecting human rights. She believed that everyone should be treated with respect. It didn’t matter what your racial background, it didn’t matter what your religion, what your sexual orientation, because you are human, you deserve to be treated with respect. And I think that in answering Arlette’s question, that when we have a society that respects each other, understanding that we all have differences, respects that thing, I don’t think we need to have this kind of conversation anymore. And that’s one of the reasons why when I was given the opportunity to write that children’s book, even though I was scared to death, I knew it was an opportunity to start with that generation because may not happen in ours, but maybe it might happen in those future generations where they learn to respect all differences and learn to have, like you said, those authentic conversations.
Rhiannon: Okay. So our final set of questions is really more about you.
Rhiannon: So the first one is from Peter, which is when you accomplish a goal that you’ve worked toward for a long time, what’s one way you celebrate your success?
Angela: Because I was always going from one thing to the other, so Peter, thank you for reminding me that I need to stop and take a breath and a breather. But one of the things that I know, when I was finally done and finally had defended my dissertation, I just really gave myself permission to rest and reform enjoyment. And necessarily didn’t have to be something that was research oriented or self-help or anything like that, just read for fun. And that really was important because it’s having that uninterrupted time, which is easy for me to do because I am an only child, so we’re kind of used to being by ourselves.
Angela: But it’s to a point where sometimes I have to tell myself to rest. And then in fact, I had to do that this year, where I, for the first time in, I don’t know how many years, I did not volunteer to teach summer school and things because there’s some other things I’d love to do that are for fun. I have a folk singer, her name is Ellen Harper, her son is Ben Harper. And she has agreed, along with some other former singers. Her name is Claudia Lennear, she’s one of the former backup singers for Ike & Tina Turner.
Rhiannon: Oh, wow.
Angela: All of these singers are coming together to sing one of the songs that was part of the civil rights movement. And we’re going to use that to add into the education of learning about Rosa Parks. I mean, I want to enjoy that moment.
Angela: And so it’s learning to take a step back and saying, “Okay, it’s okay to rest. It’s okay to not do five projects. Just enjoy this one, because this is a fun one.” I mean it to the point where my husband’s making fun of me. He’s like, “It’s almost like you are doing,” and I hope everyone remembers this, I might be dating myself, “a some kind of We Are the World.”
Angela: Because I’m getting all of these people volunteering because of their love for Rosa Parks, but knowing that this is a way to continue telling that story. And so I’ve learned this year that how important it is just to step back and relax. And then I had to go back and remember, what did you do after you finally defended that dissertation? And of course, we all post on social media, and it’s rest and how important that is.
Rhiannon: That’s so true. So true, right? You’re so tempted to just jump into the next thing. The next question was from Zoe who says, “What is challenging about continuing to discover new ground after you’ve been incredibly successful with something?”
Angela: Because the way that Rosie came together was so organic. And even though it took us two years to put it together, it moved forward and we may have had a challenge here or there, but we were able to move around it, things like that. And so whenever I move on to any project, I always go back to what was I feeling, how was that energy with that project? Because that project touched so many people’s lives. And I think that’s really important to find that same energy as I take on new projects. And I mentioned the project with Ellen Harper and it’s like that’s the same energy that always comes around it. And that’s when you know that what you’re doing will change the universe is because that energy is positive and it’s moving forward, so I always try to look for that energy.
Rhiannon: That’s cool. Question from Ricardo, “What common themes have surprised you across the successful people you’ve met and written about?”
Angela: Goodness, their endurance.
Rhiannon: Oh, yeah.
Angela: And how they continued to move on. I mean, I will tell you, when I started the documentary for My Life with Rosie, it was right after my father-in-law passed away. And my husband helped me with that because I was really at a low point professionally. I had been an adjunct forever, I’m still an adjunct, although I got a fancy title change now. But I was an adjunct forever. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t get that tenure position. After that, I left to go into the private sector because they offered me a ton of money. And they said, “Well, you can still do digital marketing,” which I love, but it wasn’t a job for me.
So basically, by the time I got this documentary, I was completely jobless. I’d just gotten my degree and I was feeling sorry for myself. And when I started interviewing Aunt Carolyn and her friends, and then I started listening to Dr. Theoharis give so much in depth information, after I read her book about Rosa Parks, I realized that these are stories that people need to hear because we can get ourselves into situations where that’s where depression sets in. And that’s where we start to feel like we’re unworthy. But we don’t realize that all of these people that we admire, they endured.
And they were talking about just the danger that Rosa Parks was in and how she didn’t have a job and we didn’t talk about this in the documentary, but of talking about this in my speech. But also too, she received hostility from the very organization she was a spokesperson for. And so you look at these things and you realize that this is all a part of the endurance, and this is why the legacy is so important. And so I really learned that is that it’s important for us to look deeper into these stories because when we do, we see how these people endured and they moved forward, and I think that’s so important.
Rhiannon: Yeah. It’s true, right? You can’t just look at the highlights. You can’t just look at the moments that were good. You got to know that there was a whole bunch of hard moments in between those. Yeah, you’re absolutely right.
Angela: Well, and that’s so important. And that goes back to the question about the TikTok generation and things like that. And I know that’s why he’s sneaking because they don’t see these things. But it’s so important to understand those things, because with every journey that we are taking to build our own legacies, we will have those stumbling blocks and the roadblocks too.
Rhiannon: So our next question was from Jane. What’s one seed you would plant in every child’s mind that would catalyze their greatness?
Angela: One seed would be to teach them acceptance. Because if you learn to accept who you are and the unique person you are and the importance of your uniqueness, then you can see that in others as well. And I think acceptance is so important because I think over the years, we’ve pretty much have taken things and we haven’t been as accepting as what we should be. So I think that’s so important to teach children that.
Rhiannon: And I think it’s important too, for it’s a reminder for parents. If you’re going to teach it, you have to live it and you have to accept your children for who they are, so it’s like a nice reinforcing feedback loop in there.
Angela: It is. And that was a great question.
Rhiannon: Question from Deborah. When you experience transformative success, how does it affect your original sense of purpose?
Angela: No. And I love this too. It actually motivates me internally to move on and continue what I’m doing. Because I mentioned when I started this documentary, emotionally, I was not in a good place. And it would take several screenings of this documentary before I would realize that I was indeed getting my heart’s desire, and I was getting my heart’s desire using a medium that I love, which is video production. And so I think when I started to realize that, it gave me the motivation to accept things that may not go in the direction that I’m thinking they should go, but they’re in the right direction because it’s what my journey is supposed to be like.
Rhiannon: That’s really cool. A question from Jason, can you share one useful way you’ve learned to handle fear, frustration, or your own sense of resistance to something?
Angela: I have to always step back, because if I didn’t step back, I would make a decision right away, when fear comes into it and frustration. And so I think that has a lot to do with meditation and think about it, but also too, because I am a believer, I also too believe in prayer as well. I think prayer is really important in my life. When I was asked to host Everybody with Angela Williamson, you step in that studio every day and sit at that desk and interview people, that took me a lot to do because the first three, well, I won’t say three years of my life, but three years of my early elementary education, I spent in speech therapy. I could not talk.
Rhiannon: Oh, wow.
Angela: And even today, when I’m speaking, when I’m talking to people like what we’re doing now, back in my mind, “Are you going to mispronounce this word? Are you going to say it correctly?” And so for me, that I do these things and that’s why I went behind the scenes.
Angela: Because I love video and yes, my hero growing up, my other hero was Oprah Winfrey, but like, “No, so weird, I could never be an Oprah.” Because I always, in the back of my mind, you’re the little girl who was in speech therapy for three years and still, there’s words that you just, no matter what, you will never be able to say. And so with that, I have to, I have to step back. I have to meditate on it. I have to pray about it and just know, is this part of my legacy? I mean, is this part of where there are other people out there that struggle, they struggle with their speech that I could tell them that I understand you and they could feel confident to do that? So I mean, without those two things, it would be hard for me to make the decisions that I’ve made through my entire life.
Rhiannon: Wow. Okay, thank you for sharing that. That’s really important. I think that it’s just going back to what you said earlier, it’s sharing those struggles. It’s just is it important for people to learn from?
Angela: Yeah. It is.
Rhiannon: Question from Xenia. What would you tell your eight year old self?
Angela: So I think it’s important what I’ve learned in life is that everything that I will do in my life has a season. And you can make the most of that season and to understand when that season’s over, it’s okay to move on. It’s okay to move on. And reason I do that, teach myself that is that normally, when I made a decision to do things, I’ve been very blessed to accomplish them, with the exception of becoming a tenure professor. And for some reason, I could not walk away and understand that other paths were opening up for me.
Angela: And so I think if I told myself that, I could understand that it was important for me to have that season, even though I was part-time, that season was important because it allowed me to go back to get my doctorate. It allowed me to spend more time with my son when he was younger and it’s given me the tools to educate on a different level. And so my biggest thing is to understand that things happen in our lives and some of them are things that happen for a season. And when that season’s over, it’s okay to move forward to something else.
Rhiannon: Yeah. That’s great. From Jennifer, what’s your favorite book of all time? One that you may have read several times over the years.
Angela: I was thinking. I haven’t read them over the last couple years, but I know I’ve read these books several times. So there’s two, and they’re very small books too. Because with these books, I felt that I could immediately apply them to my life. And this one actually, my husband suggested to me, and I think it was early on when I was deciding where I should go in my career path, and it’s called The Dip.
Rhiannon: Oh, yeah.
Angela: Yes. Is it Seth? I know it’s Seth Godin. I love that book. I mean, are you in the cul-de-sac?
Angela: Things like that. And it’s a small book, but you can apply it. I mean, you can apply it to everything in your life. And so I mean, when I first read it, I’m like, “Okay, now, I’ll have to buy this book and everything.” So I think that is such a great little, just primary, especially if you feel that you’re stuck somewhere, to read that book, because… I mean, it’s just wonderful. And then there was another book that I learned and it’s all about just changing your life and breaking through to a blessed life. And it’s called The Prayer of Jabez. And The Prayer of Jabez is from the Bible, but it’s a little book as well. And so from The Dip, I get inspiration of, professionally, how I move forward. And The Prayer of Jabez actually gives me the strength that I need to move emotionally and spiritually as well, too.
Rhiannon: Oh, cool.
Angela: Both very small books, can be read literally in an hour, but so much is packed in there that you can use what they tell you in these books as an application for all aspects of your life.
Rhiannon: Wow. That’s great. So last question from Elias, if you could go back in time, is there anything in your career that you would do differently?
Angela: Oh, that’s funny because sometimes, I wonder that, but then when I move on and do something, I realized there were parts of my career that can help me with what I’m doing now. So I started out at what we call the Orange County News channel. It’s like a CNN at Orange County, California. Started off there. And that’s where all of the people that I even work with now, because it was so small, we’re all still have kept in touch today. But that’s where it really strengthened my love for production. And that dimension, if I hadn’t gone to the Orange County News channel, I wouldn’t have had my graduate work paid for because they paid for it. So there’s some great things there, but just all of my… Really, they’re almost like sisters and brothers to me today, all came from the Orange County News channel.
And then I moved into corporate marketing and I wasn’t there for very long, but those marketing techniques that I learned really helped me when I released Rosie. I was able to go back to those skills that I learned from some very seasoned marketing professionals, that were really helpful. And then there was this part of my job where, call it the part where I just sat behind a computer all day, but what it did was it gave me the opportunity to slow down. Actually, that’s when I had my son, and was able to buy our home and things like that. And it wasn’t a lot of fun, but it was the stability that I needed at the time. And then after that, after everything was done, I went back to television and a friend from Orange County News channel was at Fox and said, “I’m leaving this job. Are you interested?” She asked a bunch of us. I apply, got the job. And that would lead me to where I am today.
And so one of the biggest things that I realized though in my career is that I never ask enough questions. So one of the advice I would give myself is I would have created a roadmap to ask questions before making big decisions. And because when I moved to higher education, I was working full-time. And when I moved to higher education and became adjunct, I literally went to part-time work. And so I did that and I think if I had asked more questions, I think I would’ve made a different type of transition. Would I still be teaching? I still love teaching, but I may have taken a different road to get there. So I think that’s really important. And I do now ask questions, because I think it’s important because if you don’t, then you get into… Even the one job I was talking about that I didn’t have, it was a digital marketing job. But had I asked questions, I would’ve realized that maybe there were parts of the job that wasn’t for me, so that’s important.
Rhiannon: Yeah. Okay. So finally, the one question we ask all of our guests for Farnam Street members is, finally, which book aside from one of your own, do you find yourself recommending most often?
Angela: The Principles for Success by Jack Canfield.
Angela: Because I was interviewing him and he has this huge following, but I’ve never been to any of his seminars or anything like that. But I read Chicken Soup for the Soul, several different books, because in college, teachers would assign that, but he wrote this book it’s called the Success Principles. And there’s 67 principles in there. And the principles are not only guide you to how you can expand whatever business you’re in, but really what they are is they help guide you in how to be a better person.
And so one of the things that when I was interviewing him, and I wanted to read it because I wanted to focus on that, I thought it was important for the documentary, especially because I wanted people to see that they could use this to help them get out of any rut that they’re in because of everything that’s happened in the last few years. And I realized that every high school graduate should, or even college graduate, should be given this book. Because it is such a great, and I talk a lot about roadmaps, but I think it’s a great roadmap just for, as you move into your career, but just as you move through life.
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