Deidra Parrish Williams, connecting to people through storytelling
Updated: Jan 14, 2019
How do describe what you do?
People ask me what I do all the time but my titles really don't explain it; editor, VP of communications and marketing, and head of this or that. Let me explain it this way: I think what we cling to most in our hearts and minds are the stories of our lives: who we loved; the moments that flooded us with pride; what brought us our most decadent joys or deepest pains. Those are things everyone relates to. I'm a storyteller and I've spent my career using words to tell stories that connect with people. Whether interviewing stars like Usher and Russell Simmons, writing a novel, driving the corporate narrative of a billion dollar business, hosting a community forum, or helping someone find the happy ending in their own life, I'm doing the same thing; creating a story that feels real, relevant and compelling enough to engage.
If you could write your own Wikipedia page, what would it say?
Deidra Parrish Williams: A versatile and provocative writer, author and justice advocate whose byline can be found on articles ranging from nature, hip hop culture, parenting, racial disparity, to marketing. Born in Hollis, Queens, and later reared in the suburbs of Long Island, NY, her work reflects her journey. In her college classes at Fordham University and later in executive suites throughout her career, she was often the only brown face, as a result she developed a specific perspective of being a black professional woman in white America, which resonates in her work.
Deidra held leadership roles at Newsday, The Girls Scouts of the USA, in government, and she ran the philanthropic arm of a public health system–in every instance, honoring a commitment to underserved populations. At Newsday, for example, she redefined the corporate giving mission of the decades old news giant to focus on serving children in at risk environments, which resulted in an influx of millions of charitable dollars into Long Island's disenfranchised and minority communities.
A writer at heart, throughout her career, Deidra kept her skills sharp with various freelance projects, including Hip Hop Needs to Get Its Acts Together, and Let's Talk About Race.
Deidra has lead a very active civic life, mentoring young students and sitting on boards, including a regional stewardship academy at Molloy College called The Energeia Partnership, where she co-chaired the program's Institutional Racism module. When she and her husband relocated from New York to Charlotte, NC, she fulfilled two long-time goals. She published her novel, The Current's Whisper, and founded Hollisder House, a coaching practice where she is doing what she believes is her best work ever, helping people quiet their fears and create a pathway to success at home, at work and in life.
How long have you been in Charlotte?
I moved to Charlotte in 2015 from Long Island, New York, to start a new chapter in a place that's still defining itself. I lived in New York all my life and despite glamour and excitement, it has profound challenges that are threatening the growth and quality of life – high property taxes, lack of affordable housing for young people, disparate distribution of wealth and resources, a maxed out infrastructure, and traffic! Charlotte is an entirely different market with a lot of growth still ahead of it. That was very attractive for me and for my family. We have two adult daughters and we are hoping they'll be attracted to Charlotte when the time comes for them to start their families. This is a much kinder region for young professionals to begin their lives.
Married 24 years with two daughters, (25 and 20), well, three daughters if you count my puppy, eight-month-old Lola J.
What would you like the next chapter of your life to look like?
I want to expand my life coaching practice to support women on a larger scale. Women today are strong, proud, smart and courageous, but many of them are struggling to keep all the balls in the air. Women are quick to lend an ear, a shoulder, a dollar, or a spare room to someone else but we often rob ourselves the support and encouragement we need. I have a "Be You to You" philosophy targeted at all my dynamic, "supershero" women out there who are struggling to find their joy in their lives. I tell women, don't forget to Be You TO You and pour heaping portions of kindness, support, encouragement on yourself because, being happy isn't a right, it's a reward that comes when you learn to be to yourself what you are to everyone else.
In order to feel well and perform well, you have to train your mind, body and spirit. If your body is starved or fed junk, it won't perform well, right? The same is true of the mind and spirit. If they aren't fed well, they will suffer. Social media, mindless TV, depressing world news, traffic, kids, bills and other responsibilities consume us every day. Unless you deliberately and consistently feed your mind and spirit with experiences and messages things that nurture, relax, recharge and inspire you, your spirit will suffer.
What challenges you in your life, work, etc.?
My biggest challenge right now is building my personal brand in Charlotte. My daughter told me once, "You're so Google-able." She had searched my name on Google and found a bunch of clips, articles and photos of me. I had a very busy professional and civic life in NY and it's frustrating for me that I haven't been able to put my experience to good use in Charlotte yet. Aside from my paid positions, I've been on non-profit and credit union boards; I've worked on community development projects; led institutional bias workshops, convened community forums on provocative social issues, and penned newspaper editorials. I am anxious for Charlotte to put me to good use.
What is your income range:
My father was a fine artist and I have about a thimble full of his talent. I like to paint and draw.
What are you passionate about?
Equity. The notion that some people's race, religion, gender, sexual preference or nationality afford them access to richer opportunities in life is unacceptable to me.
What causes/charities are you involved with?
I served on a number of boards in New York and mentored teenagers for about 15 years. Kids, education, and racial equity have been my go-to issues. I've started mentoring in Charlotte and joined some committees here and there, but I'm still looking for broader opportunities.
Where do you vacation?
I love vacationing anyplace where the sun is hot, the water is bright blue, the food is savory, and the locals love to dance.
What are your proudest accomplishments?
Publishing my first book last summer, The Current's Whisper, is high up on my list of proud moments. After years and years of writing for corporations, politicians and lots of other people, this was my moment to put my voice out there. I felt vulnerable at first, but it's great to meet with book clubs and other readers to hear their feedback.
What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?
I tend to come off as a pretty serious person but I think people would be surprised to know how silly I can be. I have wanted to be an actress almost all my life. I would be good. I hardly ever go any place for beauty treatments: I do my own hair, nails, eyebrows and whatever else I need done. For some reason, people are always surprised by that.
Who inspires you?
I'm inspired every day in some way, sometimes just by things that complete strangers share on social media, but my always-and-forever inspirations are my grandfathers. They both did so much with so little and demonstrated to me that where you start doesn't have to be where you stay.
My paternal grandfather, Curley Julian Parrish, earned an honorary doctorate in music theory, composed a symphony, served as the mansion pianist for Governor Riley in the State of South Carolina, and published a book, Appreciation of Sound. Not until after he died did I learn that he and his older brother, Avery (also an accomplished pianist and the composer of the 1940s hit, After Hours), were so poor that they walked to school in Alabama barefoot every day through middle school.
My maternal grandfather, Deighton Elliott Richards was also born poor. The devoted son of a single mother from Barbados, he learned early to be industrious. As a teen in New York, he went to meet his mother at the subway after work each day to walk her home. On rainy days, he'd arrive early with his umbrella and offer to escort other women for 25 cents. Although as an adult, he led a mostly modest life as an employee of the City of New York, he taught
himself about the stock market and wealth building and developed a sizeable portfolio in order to leave it behind for his family. By the time he died in his 80s, he amassed a small fortune that he was proud to leave behind for three generations, from my grandmother down to each of his grandchildren. My life coaching practice is in part a tribute to him. Hollisder House gives a nod to the Queens community where I lived as a girl and I added "DER" because they were my grandfather's initials. Knowing how far my grandfathers pushed the arc of their lives will always be an inspiration to me.
Any social media accounts that you would like to share?
I'm a social media junky. You can see and learn just about everything about my work on my site DeidraParrishWilliams.com
I'd love to meet and hear from readers on: