When Sybil Williams first got involved in helping students to organize American University’s student NAACP chapter in 2015, she had no idea she would receive a phone call four years later, telling her that she was nominated for the very first AU NAACP Professor of the Year Award.
On March 1, Williams attended the award ceremony, an evening filled with singing, poetry, refreshments, and opportunities to make new connections. Williams’ former student Joshua Dantzler (Alpha Phi Alpha member and chair of the Black Graduation Committee) announced the winner: Sybil Williams, for "going above and beyond to inspire, assist, and nurture Black AU students inside and outside of the classroom."
“Professor Williams has acted as an advocate in and out of the classroom and consistently goes out of her way to make space for Black students on a campus that has experienced various hateful attacks,” said Madison Dalton, vice president of AU NAACP. “We created this award to honor the extra work many of our professors do to uplift, educate, and mentor our students, and Sybil is a perfect example of that.”
Williams says she is deeply honored. “I think that the best teaching always includes deep listening, compassion, and most of all, embodying the kind of principals and ideas that I think go a long way toward creating a sustainable and just world filled with beauty,” she says. “This award from an organization with an amazing legacy of activism and leadership in the African-American community from up-and-coming student leaders means that my teaching and my service continue to be meaningful in building the kind of community I want to see here at AU and beyond.”
Teaching with a Purpose
At American University Williams is director of African American and African Diaspora Studies and a Senior Professorial Lecturer in the Department of Performing Arts. She teaches spanning from The African American Experience in the Performing Arts, to Feminist Artists of the Disapora, to Women’s Voices Thru Time. This fall she will be teaching African-Americans in the Diaspora.
Williams received multiple nominations from current and former students. One student wrote, “Professor Williams is a natural leader, and I always felt like I could trust her. Whether it was an academic conversation during her office hours, or a personal conversation about conflict, she always gave genuine feedback."
In addition to teaching, Williams has also spent the last 12 years cultivating her craft as a playwright and dramaturg. Her work has been professionally produced by Chicago’s ETA Creative Arts Theatre, New York’s National Black Theater, Pittsburgh’s Kuntu Theatre, the University of Pennsylvania, CALARTS, and Harlem’s Rebel Theatre.
Williams’ play Dream of Ophelia was nominated for a prestigious JEFF Award in 2000; and Liberating Prayer: A Lovesong for Mumia was published in the anthology August Wilson and the Black Aesthetic (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), edited by Dr. Sandra G. Shannon. Her musical From U Street to the Cotton Club was produced in Washington, DC.
Searching for Gabriela, a play with music featuring the poetry of Gabriela Mistral, was produced in Washington, DC. Zimbabwe: Or She Talks to Bob Marley was read as part of the Our Voices Women’s Playwriting Conference at Regis College in March 2011. Most recently, she was commissioned to create a musical celebrating the influence of African-American, operetta, and other forms of American popular music on the Broadway stage, titled Shuffle to Showboat for the 2011 Washington DC. Intersections Festival.
As a dramaturg, Williams completed a three-year project creating a docudrama to celebrate the lives of the Little Rock Nine on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Central High School Desegregation Crisis. She also continues to serve as dramaturg for the Latino/African-American Theatre festival Voices at the River. In 2011, she served as Humanities Scholar at Woolly Mammoth Theater on the Clybourne Park Project. She also served as dramaturg for the Essential Theater’s New Play Development Program for Betty’s Wish by La’Chris Jordan.
American University NAACP
AU NAACP is a student-run organization. The mission of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate race-based discrimination. The American University chapter for the NAACP will push toward this mission and ensure that the students at American University are receiving an equality of rights and push against any race-based discrimination.