Telling Our Stories: Reggie Williams
At Vigor, we are working to elevate the voices and experiences of our employees. Recognizing the unique and personal pathway each person has traveled is part of building understanding and better connections between one another. This series of interviews with Vigor employees reflects our Love and Evolution values and the ongoing work we undertake to live up to these values.
How did your experience with race influence your pathway to and at Vigor?
Being African American and Asian American, I realized at an early age that racism and stereotypes exist in our world. As a kid, I learned that there are good stereotypes (a certain race is good at math for example) and there are bad stereotypes (a certain race is lazy or unintelligent). I knew I didn’t want to be judged solely by the way I looked on the outside; I wanted my hard work and merits to shape their opinions. I also wanted to change people’s preconceived notions about people who looked like me. So I always felt an obligation to try to outwork other people because of it.
One of my most important experiences with race was with my best friend growing up. My mother had me take a test for an advanced placement class for grades 3-5. I met him in that class and could tell he was the “popular kid." He said to me: “My dad said the only reason you’re in this class is because they had to let a black kid in.” My mind was blown. It occurred to me that he could be lying and just saying mean things, or that it could actually be true. I was a third grader in the early 1990s. It is the first vivid memory I have of someone saying something racist to me. It wasn’t like he said the “n-word,” but he was the leader of that group and that subtle devaluing of my test scores and merit to be in that class because of my skin color is what stung. I carry that memory with me 30 years later.
People of all races should try to give each other enough grace and patience to learn and grow from each other.
What I also carry with me was my decision at that moment. I could have stayed angry and just avoided him for the rest of my school years. But I didn’t want to be the angry kid, or the kid who wasn’t actually smart enough to EARN his place in that class. So I made my mind up to work harder than everyone in that class, because I wanted to get the best grades. I wanted to be the best in everything. And it was over that school year that I earned everyone’s respect. I got the best grades. I was the best in the sports we played. And I also made it a point to try to be the nicest. Shaun didn’t start out being my best friend, but we grew to be great friends over the next nine years. Many of the people in that very third grade class became my closest friend group through college. People’s opinions and unconscious bias can change. And people of all races should try to give each other enough grace and patience to learn and grow from each other.
The biggest weapon to racism is diversity. In the work place, in schools, etc. It allows everyone to form their OWN personal opinions and experiences and to see the great truth. People are amazing. All genders, all races. Generally speaking, we are awesome!
How would you describe your experience as a person of color in ship repair/industrial work?
I’ve met a large amount of amazing people of all races throughout my time in construction and industrial work. White, Black, and every color in between. I started in this industry about 14 years ago and I’ve definitely noticed stereotyping in the past. In the industrial environment politics and diversity conversations aren’t frequently talked about openly, so what I’ve typically seen is a subtle prejudice. Comments like, “you don’t act black” or “you speak so well!” I never thought people meant it as a direct insult to me. I believe in their minds, it was sincerely a compliment. Unfortunately, that is why the subtlety of it cuts so deep. It’s a casual ignorance, which is harder to battle and has greater influence. Blatant racist intent is usually met with great resistance.
I believe Vigor has been going through a very remarkable change over the past few years in regards to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Like a family, everyone has something to contribute and everyone takes care of each other. Diversity of gender, race, ethnicity, age, sexuality, and background is better for us as a company. It contributes to employee morale, team building, and increased productivity within the business. It helps us understand our customers’ needs and come up with innovative ideas to fulfill them. And it feels great working in a place where everyone is seen, heard, and valued.
Taking care of each other means helping other people succeed, simply because other people’s success makes you happy.
What was your experience in the Race Forums and how do you see the ongoing work?
My experience in the Race Forums was illuminating. I was happy to see everyone willing to express their thoughts and share their experiences in an open manner. It was especially enlightening to hear co-workers of different ethnicities speak from their perspectives about how race (racism, privilege, etc) has impacted their lives. It was a platform to broaden the circle of discussion and an environment of inclusivity where everyone has a seat at the table. There were many stories of trials and tribulations, many stories of strength, and a desire to do something bigger than all of us. The common theme is that we are all the same, regardless of age, gender, color, or religion.
What does a Beloved Community look like at a place like Vigor or in any workplace?
A Beloved Community builds increasing levels of trust and works to avoid fear of difference. It helps you feel safe within the yards in which we work, be your natural self, and is inclusive and equal to all races, genders, and perspectives.
Taking care of each other means helping other people succeed, simply because other people’s success makes you happy. Sharing experiences, knowledge, and lessons that will help others grow here at work AND in their personal life.
What does Black History Month mean to you?
Black History Month is a time to reflect and celebrate how far we’ve come, and how far we’ve yet to go. Giving thanks to our ancestors and those before us for being brave. Black History Month means honoring the challenges so many African-American men and women faced, educating society on the challenges we still face, and celebrating the challenges they’ve overcome.