You see them wandering campus in packs, lanyards a swingin'. Ever wondered who they are? What they do? Where they go? Get up close and personal with these fresh faces on campus with project #findnewfriends. This week, meet Kai Williams.
TEXT BY LUCIE PLASSE ('20)
IMAGES BY LUCIE PLASSE ('20) AND SOLENNE SPITALIER ('20)
WHERE ARE YOU FROM? I'm from New York City, originally Harlem and then the Bronx.
IF YOU HAD TO CHOOSE ONE ITEM IN YOUR ROOM THAT BEST REPRESENTS YOU, WHAT WOULD IT BE? Above my desk, there is a picture of a subway train that has been tagged; it's basically a graffiti train and then a drawing of a tag. My dad is a graffiti writer so he did my name in graffiti on the train because he used to do that when he was a teenager with his crew. It says my nickname, which is "Kai Kai" and it has my two favorite characters from the Boondocks, Huey and Riley; I love them. It's also very New York so yeah, I'd say that that's the item that best characterizes me.
FAVORITE PERSON AT WES SO FAR? My friend Ruby. She's lit! She's also from New York, she's from Brooklyn and she's very cinematic and beautiful inside and out. I really get along with her and we really click. I love that girl.
WHAT CAN WE FIND YOU DOING ON A FRIDAY NIGHT? Generally, my trajectory is to first chill with my friends in my room. My roommate and I have the same group of friends so that's pretty easy and simple, and we usually have everyone over. Then, after that, we try to scope out the parties, POC parties [pause], the best parties. So yeah, we like doing that at Malcolm X House, Women of Color House, and then just chill out.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU? People who come from similar situations as I do or circumstances that are full of limitations succeeding in the field that I want to go into, which is art in general, but specifically creative writing. People that no one thought would succeed changing the industry. That inspires me. The genius that is found in places where it is assumed that genius is not cultivated completely motivates me. Lin Manuel Miranda and Junot Diaz for example, are such giants in my life. Just writers that I love, actors that I love, and people of color doing miraculous things; that really inspires me. Especially being here and considering the sacrifices my parents are making by sending me here, it makes me want to generate as much artwork as possible so that when I leave I have something to show from my time at Wesleyan.
IF YOU COULD CHOOSE TWO CELEBRITIES TO BE YOUR PARENTS, WHO WOULD YOU PICK? Oh, Beyoncé! Definitely Beyoncé. And Lin Manuel Miranda, just because I feel like he'd be the best dad ever. I mean, he's dorky and I feel like your dad needs to be dorky a little bit. But he's brilliant, I mean both of them are.
WHAT ARE YOU INTERESTED IN STUDYING? I want to study English, because I want to be a writer. And I also want to do African-American Studies for sure, and reconnect with my roots. I'm also interested in Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.
WHAT ARE THREE OF YOUR FAVORITE FILMS? I loved "Top Five" by Chris Rock. I also really liked this little independent film that came out in 2012 called "Celeste and Jesse Forever". It's interesting because sometimes you find these little gems of films, and I don't think this one was particularly game changing, but I guess for me it did what I think movies should do, which is making me feel moved. Also, I love Hayao Miyazaki and "Spirited Away" is one of my favorite films. It's gorgeous.
WHAT'S THE MOST INTERESTING/COOLEST THING ABOUT YOU THAT YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT? I guess the thing I am the proudest of, in terms of the work I've done, is that I co-founded and I co-run a non-profit theater company for actors of color in the City. It's something that means a lot to me and that is fundamental about me. It's called "Eat at the Table Theater Company" and the name is derived from a Langston Hughes poem called I, too, sing America. It's something I really love to do. We had our first off-Broadway show last year and my cast is full of beautiful, interesting people who are so talented and so deserving of opportunities.
BEST PIECE OF ADVICE TO GIVE SOMEONE? Something that I figured out for myself about a year ago is that you need to be kind to yourself and love yourself. Because you can't rely on the fact that anyone else will and you can not control what other people think of you. The only person whose perspective on you you can control is your own and I think that if you don't support yourself and you don't love yourself, why should anyone else? I think that has really helped me, my perspective on life, and the energy I put out and project towards myself. I feel like self-care is trivialized but self-care is just so important, and it shouldn't be seen as selfish or self-centered.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CLASS AT THE MOMENT? My favorite class is probably my "#sayhername" class, the intersectional feminism course. A lot of that has to do with the girls in my class. I feel like we have really good discussions. It's all girls somehow and I think that because of that there is a real sense of safety there and people really share their own experiences. I also think it's a class where I feel very comfortable participating in and contributing to. I really like that, it's a different feel than a lot of my other classes, which are also a joy but not the same. I do think there is something special about it.
WHAT IS A QUESTION YOU HATE TO ANSWER? I hate being asked to describe myself in three words. Just because I pick certain words and I look back and always wonder if I really meant that. Also them always having to be adjectives, because I feel like I'm described by more than adjectives, you know? I've only been asked that in things where you are supposed to present the best, most academic picture of yourself. If you really ask me what three words would best describe me, I would probably pick nouns; or there would probably be profanity in there [laughs]. I don't think I've ever answered that question in a way that was really indicative of who I am.
IF YOU HAD TO TAKE US ON AN ESCAPE WHERE WOULD WE GO? My old elementary school had a farm in upstate New York in the Catskill Mountains. I'm really not an outdoorsy person, I'm very much an urban, city girl but I don't think you can be confronted with so much beauty and not appreciate it a little bit. It's quiet, and peaceful and if I wanted to get away from somewhere, I would want to go there. And even within that space, there are pockets that are even more private. When I was a kid, there was this bramble thicket and my friends and I figured out that there was a hole in it and if you crawled in through the hole there was another little hole under the thicket, so like, you would slide down and you would be in this little cavern. It was cute, it was like our club house. I think that's where I would take you.
WHAT TYPE OF MUSIC DO YOU LISTEN TO? FAVORITE ARTIST AT THE MOMENT? I listen to a lot of different types of music. I listen to hip hop, soul, R&B, and rap. I also listen to some pop music. My favorite artist at the moment, I'd say, is Princess Nokia. I love her, just because she's so interesting and she's super dope.
IF YOU COULD SELECT ONE PERSON FROM HISTORY AND HAVE THEM TRUTHFULLY ANSWER ONE QUESTION, WHO WOULD YOU SELECT AND WHAT WOULD BE THE QUESTION? I would want to speak to Malcolm X and I would ask him "What do we do now? Where do we go now?" That is, considering what just happened with the presidency, considering the state of complete police warfare on black people, and the hopelessness that so many people are feeling. I just respect Malcolm X so much, I know he's kind of a clichéd revolutionary to pick but I've loved him for a very long time and I think that he would have some good ideas on how to deal with all of this.
HOW WOULD YOU BEST DESCRIBE YOURSELF TO SOMEONE WHO DOESN'T KNOW YOU AT ALL? I describe myself as a mixed-race girl who has spent her life very much conflicted about those same mixed-races; who loves the city she is from; who comes from a family of activists and has anxiety about measuring up to that but feels revolution in her spirit. I would also describe myself as someone who loves to tell stories to anyone who will listen, and who is a little bit crazy but people still like her [pause], or at least I think [laughs].
Check out Kai's theater company "Eat at the Table" on Facebook.