Walking in my Family's Truth: Tiana Williams
Tiana Williams '20
Your existence in this world and here on this campus is not to be minimized or scrutinized. Your existence here is essential and you do belong.
I grew up in a family of seven in a suburb with good schools and fairly nice homes. We struggled financially but somehow were always able to stay afloat, and although neither of my parents had ever gone to a university, I was taught to work towards it throughout my time in grade school.
I realized pretty early on in my life that my father had been incarcerated, but it was not until my teenage years that I saw the actual impact this had on his life and my family’s life. As his interactions and involvements with the system changed the course of my immediate family’s life in terms of our socio-economic status, those interactions I witnessed and still continue to witness in some ways changed the way I see the world altogether including my goals and aspirations and my understanding of myself in society.
I came to Davis not too long after witnessing the criminal justice system up close and personal for the first time. Upon arrival as a freshman I had decided that my family’s story and experiences would drive me, but they would not negatively impact my ability to be successful.
I chose instead to partake in a variety of disciplines that allow for activist engaged scholarship such as radio journalism and documentary filmmaking, so I could be a student but also work towards creating tangible changes in the system and educating others on these realities.
Finding a Shared Experience
When I came to UC Davis, I did not imagine ever being classified as system impacted or having a space to express my family’s experiences. I thought that it would just continue to be a part of my family history that was only ours to know and deal with--just an interesting and unique aspect of my life that was not for sharing. However, I began to see that I interact with way more people that can be identified as system impacted than I had realized, and while the details of my family’s experience are indeed specific to us, our overall experience with the criminal justice system is not as unique as I thought.
The community I found in Beyond the Stats was very instrumental in this realization. BTS helped me see that although I may not be formerly incarcerated, my father’s experience with the criminal justice system informs my understanding of the system and what it means to be system-impacted, allowing for me to have a unique perception of the world that I can be confident in sharing and upholding. To me, using the phrase “system impacted” is saying that everyone’s experiences with the criminal justice system, from whatever position that may be, are unique. These experiences cannot be measured or quanitified with mere numbers and statistics, but onlythrough our stories and voices.
At times I was afraid of truly walking in my family’s truth and sharing my story, but because of the community I have found in groups like Beyond the Stats and the Pan Afro Student Organization, I understand why my voice and perspective matter.
This does not mean there is never hesitation or fear of being vulnerable with this reality, especially in certain spaces on campus--but I truly feel because of the community I’ve found here on campus and because of my experiences I am able to overcome those feelings.
For any other student out there that is system impacted, and has experienced or is experiencing the hardship that is watching a loved one gone through the horrors of the criminal justice system, my hope is that you feel empowered and validated by the stories shared here, and that you are reminded that your existence in this world and here on this campus is not to be minimized or scrutinized, but your existence here is essential and you do belong.
The future for me is not 100% clear, but as of now my plans are to educate people on social justice issues through documentary film, and I am currently working on a project exploring the history of the United States prisoners’ rights movement.