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Daryl Ford-WilliamsDarryl Ford-Williams

JS: Hello this is John Stanko welcoming you back to the Urban Heroes series, interviews that we are doing with people in our community who are worthy of honor but very often they’re flying under the radar as we say and don’t get all the attention or honor we believe they are due. So we’re trying to correct that through the Center for Urban Biblical Ministry in Point Breeze. And right now on the phone for our interview I have Darryl Ford Williams. Darryl thank you so much for consenting to be apart of our program.

DFW: Thank you. I’m honored to be considered.

JS: Well we are honored to have you. So tell us a little about Darryl Ford Williams. What are you doing now?

DFW: I am vice president of production for WQED Multimedia and my area is on the television side. So I cover everything that we create locally, nationally, or internationally.

JS: And how long have you done this?

DFW: I’ve been here for 4 ½ years now.

JS: 4 ½ years and how’s it going?

DFW: You know, it’s really wonderful. It’s a great place to work. The nature of what we do is so heavily reliant on the philanthropic goodwill of corporations, of charitable organizations and of viewers and in this kind of economic climate that is challenging. But we’re always amazed by how much value people place in the work that we do here and that they do contribute despite the economic condition.

JS: Well that’s because you do a great job.

DFW: We appreciate that. Thank you.

JS: Its wonderful. I watch the High definition version on Comcast. I watch it all the time. There are so many great things that you put out. Now are you involved from start to finish? Are you involved in the creative process and developing some of the projects or do they get handed to you and you take them from there?

DFW: Yes. Well actually it can happen a number of ways. More often than not, I am involved from the very first kernel of an idea to developing that, considering the viability of it, the fundability of it, the best way to formulate that idea, and then building the team that’s going to execute the production. And then making sure it is up to the quality standard that I always try to keep for all of our work.

JS: And how long could that process take—is it short or long, does it vary from project to project?

DFW: Yes it does. It varies widely from project to project. Some things… you know we have our nightly flagship program, On Q, which we create daily. But the work that goes into that daily production can take several weeks to do. There are documentaries that take us a year or more to put together.

It can range vary widely from taking up to--- gosh, The War that Made America. I think took us maybe as long as the war itself. It probably took us a good seven years to do that. Documentaries like Peter Matthiessen and No Boundaries took us a good three years to get that done. So it does vary widely.

JS: So there’s a lot of variety in what you do. Do you enjoy that?

DFW: I do. I really love the variety in what I do. For instance, as I mentioned we just finished the documentary which aired in April on the author and environmentalist, Peter Matthiessen, who is known for his literary work such as Snow Leopard and Far Tortuga. Now we are in the midst of doing a local history series documentary on river towns all around Pittsburgh and that will be produced by Rick Sebak. [Those are] two very different works. I also have a tractor-trailer parked out in our parking lot for which we are shooting a children’s science series called Science Mission 101. So it varies very widely and I do like that kind of variety because it exercises your brain in so many different directions.

JS: Now it seems like you all have a lot of fun at what you’re doing. Where does joy and fun enter into it? Is that a big factor in what you do?

DFW: It is. When I talk to young people, interns especially, who come into what looks like a really fun environment and they get caught up in the fun, I encourage them to look for the way in which work happens in the midst of fun. Because it does look like you just come in and you have a great time, and all of a sudden this television show emerges.

What they don’t realize is that it takes quite a bit of preparation. Everyone has to know specifically what his or her role in the production is. And they have to pay great attention to detail. There’s quite a lot of work that goes into it. There’s proposal writing and budget manipulation that has to happen before you can even get to a dollar point that allows you to move forward. You simply can’t move forward unless you have the funding to execute your programs.

So there actually is a lot of detail-work that has to be done. There are constantly contracts that have to be written. But the creative process of coming up with an idea and figuring out how you are going to make it live is very rewarding. It is quite a lot of fun.

JS: I do a lot of traveling. And I channel flip and see other stations Dallas and other places like QED but QED just seems different. What makes it so different?

DFW: Well, there are a few stations [like us] in the country and we are very pleased to be one of them that are major contributors to the national system. So if your watching a PBS station in a small town, they may only transmit. They may only transmit what they get from the PBS system. We also produce for the PBS system. And so we are very different in that regard and we have a long and rich history of producing quality material that the whole nation gets to see and it emanates from right here in Pittsburgh.

Probably the most well known of those productions is Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. So we have a great reputation of contributing to the national system. And in that regard we are different from those stations that simply transmit.

Now, again, if we did not have the funding to create these wonderful programs, we would turn into a station like what you see in many cities, where there is no local connection, there is no product that brings our key value to that station and therefore to that city. We could just turn on the TV and give you whatever PBS gives to everybody else. There wouldn’t be anything unique or special or dynamic about us.

JS: I know we’re going through some funding challenges with the state. How’s that coming along?

DFW: It’s one of those huge challenges. I would love to say that all things will be just fine, but I’m not sure that they will. It’s one of the reasons why we are so vigilant with staying in touch with the community and letting them know how important they are to us. And how important foundations and corporations are as well.

It’s amazing to me how many people say they value what it is that QED does. They watch the programs but they don’t necessarily contribute. I think it’s important for people to realize that this is not a free service. You pay for every other television service that gives you far less value. I would be confident to say that we give much more value than what you get in commercial television. There’s much more depth. It’s a place for your children to watch TV. You get enrichment. You get education. You get exposure. You get a vicarious jolt from the experiences of people around the world in a way that is unique and different. But people don’t always pay for that. So we do encourage people to give. It’s very important.

JS: You have been in your current position 4 ½ years. How long have you been with QED?

DFW: That has been my role the entire time.

JS: What were you doing before then?

DFW: Gee. I had my own company for fifteen years. And in the course of that time—it was a media management company – I worked for television stations all around the country. I started that business as a result of my work in television news. One of my key responsibilities was always to improve our new product. As executive producer of news in Washington DC, that’s one of the things that I did. I cultivated our news product and cultivated the skills of news producers and writers.

When I left there, they asked if I would continue working with them from afar. I was moving back to Pittsburgh to get married so they were my first client. And I started offering that same service to stations all across the country and ultimately built a business, then added onto it managing the careers of on-air talent in news and news-related programming.

JS: Was it a tough transition to give up your own company to go back into the corporate world and work for someone else?

DFW: Somewhat so. It was difficult in that I loved the flexibility in what I did. I loved working for stations across the country, taking their very diverse situations and trying to find solutions for them and make their news product better. [I also enjoyed] cultivating opportunities for young talent who really had only had their first maybe second job, and they were ready to make that leap to a more competitive market but felt unskilled in the art of negotiation.

So I liked doing that. It was interesting. It was rewarding to know that it was for me. It was for my company and having the ownership in my company gave me a great deal of pride. The downside to that was that I traveled quite a lot. And that was difficult – having a family and traveling is really a strain. So it was a wonderful opportunity to be able to do the same kind of variety working across the country but staying right here in Pittsburgh.

JS: Now you say you came back to Pittsburgh. Now are you a Pittsburgh girl?

DFW: I am not. I am from New Jersey.

JS: What part of Jersey?

DFW: Northern Jersey. From Montclair, New Jersey.

JS: Oh. I’ve been there many times, in the shadow of New York City.

DFW: That’s right.

JS: So how’d you get to Pittsburgh the first time?

DFW: I came to Pittsburgh for my first job out of college. I had interned at the Westinghouse station in Boston, which is where I went to school. The news manager there remembered me from my internship and when he was transferred to Pittsburgh, he called me while I was still in my senior year and said, “Hey kid, you wanna job?” I came here and I actually turned it down because I had another job offer as a result of an internship that I had done in Washington. And moving to Washington D.C. was a little bit more exciting and the opportunity was a little bit more interesting to me. And I thought that would be the job I’d take.

But it was a reporter/management trainee position in Washington but the on-air talent union disavowed that relationship in management and talent in a trainee program. So the day I graduated, that job fell through. So I of course called Pittsburgh and said, “About that job…”

JS: So was that KDKA?

DFW: It was.

JS: So they were Westinghouse station at that time.

DFW: that’s right

JS: How long were you at the big K.

DFW: Well, let’s see. I came in ’79 and I left and went to Baltimore to produce at the ABC affiliate there. And KD brought me back and gave me a wonderful opportunity to produce my own show here. So I came back again and I stayed until ’87 when I went to Washington to have a management position in news at the ABC affiliate there. And I stayed there until I decided to get married and then I came back.

JS: Ok so lets go back to college. You went to school in Boston. What school did you go to?

DFW: Boston College.

JS: Boston. BC. You were an Eagle?

DFW: I was an eagle.

JS: And what were you majoring in?

DFW: I was a major in speech arts and foreign languages. I actually started out as an education major. Then it was my mother who had been a teacher and realized that really was not going to be my strong suit — that I probably would not find it satisfying. She said “You do know, however, that you really are a creative person. You ought to pursue something in a more creative field.” So I did. But my major started out as much more of a speech pathology major. There was no television major. There was no broadcast major to be had there.

JS: When you look back now even to pre-college [days], was media or television… did you dream about that? Did you fantasize about playing it as a child?

DFW: I watched it a lot. I always used to give my father a hard time when I started making a name for myself in the television industry. I said, “Do you remember when you told me I’d never get anywhere if I just sat around and watched TV all the time?”

JS: And that’s what you were doing then. So, you know, you watched [TV] a lot and you go to college. You have an adjustment in thinking. And then it seems like things just take off from there, not that there wasn’t a lot of hard work and blood, sweat and tears. But it just seems like doors started to open.

DFW: Yes, doors did start to open. And it really did start in college for me. While in Boston, I went to the public television station, oddly enough, to pick up a friend who was doing an internship. And while I was waiting for her, I was asking questions of some of the people in there. You know, “What’s this?” “What are these lights?” “What do you do here?” And an older gentleman, a rather rotund older gentleman, I remember him, said, “You know, if you had an internship, you wouldn’t have to ask these dumb question” That was just not the right thing to say to me because I took statements like that as a challenge I had to meet.

So I made arrangements immediately to get an internship and I went back in. The people in that station were so wonderful with college students. I mean they really did give you things to do that were meaningful and offered you opportunities, if you showed up looking like and acting like you were ready to take advantage of those opportunities. Or if you wanted to sit by the copy machine, there was a place for those who wanted to do that as well. I think I’ve always had a natural curiosity. And It was met by people who welcomed by questions. And so one internship led to another. And I tell students all the time that your work ethic, things that you probably learned at home, not at school, will be what distinguishes you as an intern and makes people reach out to you when there is an opportunity.

JS: Now you mentioned mom and dad. So family seems to have been close. And you had input.

DFW: Oh yeah. My father was—I can tell you—clearly the man who established my sense of work ethic. [He was a] very hardworking man. He would be on his feet for 12-14 hours a day and would still come home and do work in the garden. He always had time for us, always encouraged our studies, always wanted to know what was happening with us in school and always asked if we were doing the most that we could do and pressed us to reach higher.

JS: And what did he do?

DFW: My father was a pediatrician.

JS: So [he was] very involved with people; very demanding [work]. Yet wasn’t distant when he came home.

DFW: [He was] very involved with people, especially children. That was his life. He served tens of thousands of children in the community. And not just their physical needs, but always asked what they were reading. Asked them to bring their report card in the next time they came to visit him. Always encouraged mothers to read to their children and encouraged mothers to go back to school to set an example for their children. That was the kind of pediatrician he was.

JS: Sounds like a wonderful man. It sounds like you have the same kind of spirit. You’ve mentioned: “I tell students… I tell students…” so you’re involved in mentoring training. Talk to us a little about that.

DFW: We have an active internship program here. In my role, I don’t have as close contact with interns as I would like. But I do take the opportunity whenever it’s presented to take a few minutes to talk to our incoming interns and tell them what I remember about my internship. What a wonderful opportunity this is, and will be whatever they choose to make of it. It can be the start of their career. Or it can be just an interesting way to spend a couple of hours a week.

It’s their choice, but I talk to them about becoming what they hope to be and that the process happens now. They’re in the midst of becoming. And so they should dress like it. Ask questions like it. They should offer up their opinion like they are part of the team because that’s the opportunity that’s been afforded to them. I have a teenage son, so through his various youth organizations, I have offered up that same kind of input.

JS: What do you do outside of work—community involvement? Do you have any pet projects or any organizations that you give your time and effort to or does work… I’m sure it keeps you very busy, but [do you do] anything outside of work?

DFW: Yes, work does keep me busy. But I’m a member of a few organizations that I’m really proud of. I’m a member of the Pittsburgh Chapter of Links and we are an organization of women across the country who generally are professional women who serve the community in which we live. So we’ve done numerous fundraising efforts. And I’ve taken a leadership role in many of those fundraising initiatives that have benefited particularly African-American youth in our area. So I’m really proud of that.

I have been on boards that have, I think, given me exposure to some key leadership opportunities in various sectors of our community. I’ve been on the board of the Pittsburgh Ballet, the board of Shady Side Academy, Winchester-Thurston. And I think in those roles, you get to be a voice that is not always reflected in board rooms. And it’s very important to present an African- American voice, a female voice, and to help guide those organizations.

JS: Looking back now, what do you think your most significant accomplishment is? What would you pull out of the pile of all of the things that you’ve done and hold before our listeners and readers and say this is something that is at the top or close to it.

DFW: I’ve got to say, the things you do at work are wonderful and important to many people. But probably my greatest accomplishment is a personal accomplishment, and that’s raising a young man. My son is just about to be eighteen and he’s a healthy, strong, smart, young man of character and compassion. And that is clearly my greatest accomplishment.

Philanthropically, I feel I have given to my community. I’ve taken, as I said, a leadership role in numerous fundraising and independent charitable initiatives. Professionally, I’m proud to say I’ve gotten a few statues that sit on my piano and they just look pretty there. That’s the result of doing hard work someone thought was worth watching.

JS: Church involvement. Did you grow up in church? Are you involved now?

DFW: I went to a wonderful church growing up. I actually have a kind of diverse church background. I was baptized Episcopalian but raised Presbyterian and went to Elmwood Presbyterian Church in East Orange, New Jersey. Our minister was Rev. Joseph Roberts. And he then left New Jersey and went on to become the minister at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, which was Martin Luther King’s family’s church. And here in Pittsburgh, I am not a member, but I attend either Calvary Episcopal Church or Mount Ararat Baptist Church.

JS: Very good. And tell us about your family life now. I think you’re married to someone. We saw his name all around town recently.

DFW: Yes, you saw his name all over town. I’m so proud of him. My husband is the Honorable Joseph Williams. He’s sitting on Criminal Court in the Court of Common Pleas. He was the leader far and away in the primary in May and I expect him to prevail in November. But he goes to the bench following a long and distinguished legal career as a defense attorney.

And he also practiced a wide variety of law including international business transactions and real estate and general business law and criminal defense as well. So he comes to the bench with a lot of experience and we’re very proud of him. And then of course I mentioned my son, JD, Joseph Douglas, who is entering his freshman year at Hampton University where he will be in their five year MBA program and he is part of their Honors College.

JS: Wow congratulations

DFW: thank you

JS: So that is your most significant accomplishment. He’s following in his mother’s footsteps and will be a significant contributor to the community. What plans for the future? What do you see for Darryl Ford Williams in the next 5-10 years?

DFW: Well, I’m really looking forward to continue to shape the direction WQED goes in. I think that we have an ever-evolving landscape when it comes to television and television’s role in the whole multimedia landscape.

I think that television is different now. Television is not just the box that you watch in the corner of the living room. It goes with you. It’s portable. It happens when you want it to happen. You can time shift now. And I think that our challenge is to respond to the changing trends in the industry. And find a way to do that under the current financial situation that we find ourselves in. You know, how do you grow in a shrinking economy?

So that’s our challenge. And I’m actually looking forward to figuring that out. Personally as an empty nester or about to be empty nester, I’m looking forward to traveling for pleasure. I might just stretch out my fingers and pick up my piano again. I’ve had a love of creating art and I haven’t really done that in quite some time. So I may get back to that. I’ve got a book somewhere in me that I have to write. So I’ve got a long list of stuff I’d love to do.

JS: You’ve set a lot of goals and that will keep you fresh and energetic. How about books? What are you reading? What’s on your bookshelf or end table?

DFW: Well let’s see. I’m getting ready to head off to the beach. So I have a couple of beach reads that I’d love to tackle. One is called the Cain River. It’s by a woman, I believe her name is Lalita Tademy. And then I’ll be writing over the course of the summer. I’ve had this book that I’ve tried to write. And I got a little ways on it some years ago and my hard drive crashed and I never got past the inertia to get started again. But I’m thinking I will get started. I will be reading and writing over the course of the summer.

JS: How about any favorite quote or any verse or anything that impacts your life on an ongoing basis?

DFW: I do. You know, I often think of my dad and how much he taught me about perseverance. And what he used to say to be when we would say, “Oh dad that’s hard. That’s hard.” And he’d say, “Hard is what I do everyday. Impossible might just take me a little while [longer]”.

JS: That’s great did he make that up, as far as you know?

DFW: As far as I know he did.

JS: That is cool. What kind of book are you going to write? Fiction, nonfiction, your story? What are you writing?

DFW: I’m thinking its going to have to be a mix of fiction and non-fiction. I have a wonderful family story to tell about my family coming to this country and the challenges that they faced. It was really my great grandmother and how she went from a life of privilege to the struggle of trying to survive as a widow with three young children.

It was her fortitude and the romantic roots of her Jamaican heritage that I want to capture from what I know and what I’ve been able to piece together from researching my family’s history. And of course since I don’t know it all, I will have to mix that [with some fiction].

JS: As we wrap up, what advice would you give to someone listening or reading, someone who is wanting to make an impact with their life, in their community? What final words could you give them?

DFW:I think that a strong work ethic is not just about what you do in your job. A strong work ethic is what you teach to those who watch you function everyday. And you certainly teach more by example than you do by telling. And so I encourage people to live a vibrant and active working life. Not just on the job but in the way that you carry yourself in the community and in the way that you [related to] your family. And certainly what people will remember most about you is what they have seen of you not what they have heard from you.

JS: So be involved and be seen?

DFW: Yes

JS: Well, Darryl, it is certainly no accident that you’ve been nominated as an Urban Hero and certainly no accident that you were accepted. You are just doing such a great job in our community and as a Pittsburgher. Thank you so much for how you trumpet the life that is here which isn’t always heard about amidst the struggles and problems. And thank you for all the things you’ve done that nobody knows about that have made a difference. God has you in a significant place in the community. We just pray that He will continue to open doors for your where you can make a difference.

DFW: John, thank you. I appreciate your time.

JS: Oh, thank you. Keep up the good work and we look forward to giving our Urban Heroes’ followers updates on the good things that are happening in your life. Thank you and goodbye.

DFW: Bye

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