Guest Blogger: Dontavius Williams
Initially, when asked to do a blog post for Nicole, I was shocked that she would want to hear from someone who is so “green” in the world of interpreters. After the initial the shock, came the proud honor to be selected to write something that would be published to this wonderful blog she has worked so hard to build and maintain. You see, I haven’t been in the business of professional interpretation very long. As a matter of fact, I am not sure I had the total desire to do this professionally until I actually applied for this job. This is simply due to the stigma attached to “being a slave” and my own personal fears (mostly of snakes, mice and other wildlife)J. All in all I had a sincere interest in history; primarily the Antebellum South and the Civil Rights Movement and I loved acting. “Acting… That’s what I will be doing…” is what I shared with my students on my last day in the classroom with them. They cheered, some cried, others had many more questions than I had time or answers for them at the time. I had NO IDEA what I had gotten myself into. All I knew, I was getting a better opportunity that would allow me to grow both professionally as well as personally. I had no idea that the job I never thought I would work would soon change my life forever.
In order to understand my story, I guess I would have to start at the beginning. So, here goes… “It was a cold day in February of 1983 when the world met Dontavius Williams…” J No, seriously, my first day on the job was actually two days before my birthday. So as a “gift” on my birthday, I was privileged to lead a group tour. “Nervous?” you may ask… There is not a real word in the English language that could describe the feelings I had going through me when I was asked to lead the tour. This indeed proved to be a true learning experience for me. Looking back, I have had quite a few of those moments. Every day is a new opportunity to learn something new. And I LOVE it! After doing guided tours of the site for the month of February I learned a lot about the slaves who lived, worked, laughed, cried, and loved here. Not long after I was hired, I was given the honor (responsibility) to oversee the planning of “THE” African American program for our site entitled “By the Sweat of Our Brows”. This program has a special place in my heart because it is because of this program that I even came to know that Historic Brattonsville existed. Almost 700 acres of historic goodness went hidden from me until I accepted the opportunity to be a slave for a day as a way to gain extra credit in a college class. As the overseer of the planning of this project, I immediately got to work. Thus, beginning a seven month journey to prove that I had the “chops” to hang with the “Big Dogs”; I mean, I had seven months to plan an awesome program that brought new faces and increased the knowledge of those who attended. Thankfully, on September 8, 2012, the program was a HUGE success. We had over 300 visitors to the event. I was completely overwhelmed with happiness that the attendance to this program we worked so tirelessly was one of the largest counts this program had seen in about 5 years. It was through the planning of “By the Sweat of Our Brows” that I met some really nice people who would prove to help further my education in interpreting slave life.
During the planning of ‘Sweat’, I had the opportunity to meet the incomparable Michael W. Twitty. I am so thankful for Nicole. She opened the door for me to meet him and I had him come to Historic Brattonsville on his Southern Discomfort Tour. Not only did I learn how to season and barbecue a pig, but I forged a friendship that I believe will be a lasting one. I look forward to working with him again. It was through Michael that I met hearth cook extraordinaire Ms. Clarissa Lynch . I had previously tried to contact her but was unsuccessful but I was so happy to finally get to meet her through Michael. Clarissa is an awesome cook and in the short time I was in her presence in the brick kitchen, I learned so much. I am happy to say that she will be volunteering with us more in the very near future. I love how things fall into place just right.
Since I am a neophyte in this fraternal order of African American interpreters, I have a long way to go but with great people like Nicole A. Moore, Michael W. Twitty, Clarissa Lynch, and Mrs. Kitty Wilson-Evans to look up to, I have NOTHING to worry about. I am forging my own path through this world of interpretation, and I am glad I have great people who I can call on to help me grow. I like to call them my family. As I say in the “Quarters”, “Now dat you been here, you is family now.” As I continue to honor those whose shoulders upon which I stand, I challenge you dear readers to dig deep into history and push past the lies and stigmas related to slavery and you will see the world in a very different light.