Cynthia D. Williams Honored for Advocacy, Upstanding Character

Community Engagement; Diversity

In his final sermon just two months before his assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. expressed his desire for a legacy grounded in justice, peace, and righteousness.

“If you want to say I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness.”

In honor of Dr. King’s enduring dedication to service, the WashU School of Medicine Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion bestows the Drum Major Award upon individuals who exemplify the essence of an upstander – those who boldly confront and combat injustices.   

This year, Cynthia D. Williams, the assistant dean for community partnerships at the Brown School, is among the distinguished recipients of this prestigious award. Over her four-decade career at the Brown School, Williams has been an unwavering advocate and ally for faculty, students, staff, and community leaders alike.

Williams’ dedication to advocacy and empathy knows no bounds, as attested by her nominator: “Ms Cynthia is always advocating for others and is a prime example of someone that is an upstander. She is constantly thinking of others and will speak for those who can’t speak for themselves.”

Expressing her deep gratitude for the honor, Williams underscores the importance of genuine advocacy: “I am profoundly honored to receive this award, highlighting the significance of advocating for others. Being recognized for authentically being myself and dedicating unwavering effort to ensure that everyone in our community is acknowledged, heard, valued, and appreciated is not only deeply inspiring but also serves as a poignant reminder that using my voice, regardless of the risks involved, is not only commendable but also a moral imperative.” 

Williams further added: “It is worth noting that historically, as a Black woman, this type of advocacy was often unfairly stigmatized, associated with terms like ‘militant’ or ‘angry black woman.’ However, this award’s recognition now signifies a shift towards appreciating the genuine essence of passionate advocacy, recognizing it as a noble pursuit that transcends stereotypes and promotes inclusivity.”