In the 15 years since graduating with a degree in Mass Media Communications from Clark Atlanta University, Tareia Williams has ascended to the top of the sports PR industry. As the Director of Communications for Turner Sports, she chats it up with basketball legends Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley, and Kenny Smith during filmings of NBA on TNT. Of course, there’s real work to be done, too.
Williams leads PR campaigns for Turner’s move into the direct-to-consumer space, the unveiling of B/R Live as Turner’s premium live streaming destination, and the brand’s award-winning suite of digital products, which includes NCAA March Madness Live and PGA Championship Live. She also leads PR efforts to support live events, like the NBA Awards on TNT and the annual NCAA March Madness Music Festival. Williams is also active in the community, paying it forward by developing the next generation of PR superstars.
Through her PoweR organization, she gives PR students at Clark the chance to develop and execute real PR campaigns while also networking with current PR professionals. Put simply: She is a hustler, baby. And, according to Williams, everything she knows about the grind, she learned at Clark.
We sat down with Williams to discuss how her time Clark Atlanta University prepared her for the fast-paced world of PR, and why she thinks HBCUs are more relevant than ever.
Why did you choose to go to an HBCU, and how did you choose Clark Atlanta University? HBCUs are a big part of my family, so I was familiar with the rich history at a very young age. I knew that I wanted to attend an institution that valued my culture and enabled me to learn more about my heritage around other young, gifted, and black students.
Specifically, I chose Clark Atlanta because of their amazing mass communications program. Talented people such as Jacque Reid, Bomani Jones, Kenya Barris, and others have participated in the program. Even Academy-Award winning director Spike Lee took his film classes at Clark Atlanta while attending neighboring Morehouse College. I believed that Clark Atlanta could nurture and develop my curiosity for this discipline and I was right.
What was the most rewarding experience of attending an HBCU? The community. It wasn’t just relegated to one organization, classroom, or study group—it was an entire university. There was someone I could identify with everywhere I turned, and there was someone or something I could learn from every day. That was eye-opening and very rewarding. The Clark Atlanta community is still fruitful after graduation and long into my professional career.
How has attending Clark benefitted you in your career? I knew I wanted to do something behind the camera in the entertainment industry, but I couldn’t pinpoint it. I landed on PR because I was looking for a career that combined a major function of business along with the entertainment portion. PR is all about the hustle, of course, and attending an HBCU definitely helped me learn how to do that.
Clark Atlanta’s motto is “Find a Way or Make One," and while I was there I learned how to work around the “no." I’ve also leaned into that motto since I started my professional career. It has allowed me to stand firm, never give up, and always find a way to make it work.
Do you think HBCUs are still relevant, now that students can attend any school of their choosing? Absolutely. Maintaining and cultivating black excellence is more important now than ever, and attending an HBCU is at the core of it. I honestly believe it teaches you to be stronger in who you are because you have an entire community standing with you.
Do you believe that ALL African-American students should consider attending an HBCU? Why or why not? I think African-Americans should consider getting an education where they can receive the most support from professors and the student body, where they feel safe, and where they can develop into a productive member of society. By doing their research, weighing all the criteria, and narrowing their choices, hopefully that list includes an HBCU. I will say I have heard some of my friends who did not attend an HBCU say that they wish they had. #JustSayin
What are the benefits of HBCUs for non-African-Americans? For non-African-Americans, I think attending an HBCU opens their eyes to a world and community that they previously didn’t have much access to. I also think it helps them become more knowledgeable from an educational and career standpoint, which will obviously help with future endeavors.
What is the biggest misconception about HBCUs? I think one of the biggest myths around HBCUs is that they aren’t up to par with general market schools, and that’s just false. HBCUs have things that general market schools don’t have—the fire and drive. Smaller schools—specifically HBCUs—have this desire to prove everyone wrong, and nine times out of ten, we do.
What do you believe are the three biggest contributors to your current success? My community. I keep saying that, but it is true. There are several CAU grads working at Turner, and I tapped into that pipeline and was connected to the right people to help me start this journey.
My hustle. I didn’t really know what hustling really meant until I got to college. I grew up in an environment where I was one of the top-performing African-American students so I thought I was the cream of the crop. Then I was thrown into an environment where everyone was a high-performing over-achiever—and they all looked like me. I learned quickly that I had to step up to get to that level.
My foundation. By that I mean my family and my faith. Without those, I wouldn’t have had the support to apply and attend Clark Atlanta University, and I wouldn’t have had the support to live and work in San Francisco before starting at Turner. To this day, I lean heavily on my family and my faith as they sustain me through it all.
Looking back on your college experience, is there anything you would do differently? If I could go back to college, I would definitely study abroad. I think it would have opened my eyes to the world—to other countries, languages, and communities—even sooner.
What advice do you have for students who are preparing for college, whether applying to schools or for scholarships? Do your research: Ask questions, talk to current students, and look at the curriculum. Are the class sizes too big or too small? What do the ads, brochures, and commercials look like? Do they include someone who looks like me?
Don’t make assumptions: Always be willing to take the risk. Apply for the scholarship offered to the middle child, the left-handed student, or the tap dancer, because every little bit helps. And don’t be afraid to venture out of your city. There is an entire world out there, and I think seeing it starts by finding a college away from home.
Have a backup plan: When applying for college, apply to multiple schools—safe schools, risky schools, and “pie in the sky" schools. Initially, Clark Atlanta wasn’t on my list AT ALL. I visited my first choice and weighed my options, but I just didn’t “feel" it. So after some soul-searching and talking to other family members I looked into Clark Atlanta. It was perfect.
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