JLM Member Spotlight: Ashlei D. Williams
Current Placement: Visual Branding Committee
Job Title: Founder & President of GJC Publicity
1. What made you join the Junior League of Memphis? When did you join?
Campus School. Lindenwood Aftercare. Community Resource Center. Growing up, that was a day’s work for me at least once a month. Not to mention the Saturdays spent on my best behavior at the Repeat Boutique in hopes that I could take something home. A member of the Junior League of Memphis, my mom always had me glued to her hip; showing me how important it is to have and use your voice as a woman.
The unique pairing of elegance and accessibility always struck me about Junior League. In one moment, I was in the CRC watching women donned in professional attire calling business to order. And in another, I was at the boutique seeing them in their mom-jeans selling an antique. Well-spoken, brilliant, confident, happy, attentive, genuine women. Nothing about them was rushed or impersonal. They spent real time putting in the work.
It is this Junior League that I joined in 2018. I joined upon returning home to Memphis after a little over a decade spent in other cities. Upon my return, I sought out organizations that would help me actively plug into the people and places of what I call “New Memphis.” And while the leadership groups and non-profits I discovered did that, I knew The League uniquely spoke to the essence of like-mindedness and diversity that I was pursuing.
2. What’s been your favorite aspect of the Junior League of Memphis?
I appreciate Junior League of Memphis’ recent focus on the urban core. As a business owner, I see Memphis from an entirely different lens than I did when I left. I see it as a place of unique culture, rich entrepreneurial roots, extreme grit and untapped potential. I am admittedly on a mission to bring local and non-local talent into the city to burst the bubble of commercial and residential growth. So, learning about and helping the city in its development through JLM has been powerful. From serving with Habitat for Humanity to helping with the annual 5K/10K race, I have been reminded of the range of communities in our city and charged to close the gaps that stand between them. I value the unity that comes from just “showing up” in The League. The opportunities are so diverse that it really is on you as a member to give – and take – where you see the needs.
3. What or who inspires you to volunteer?
Voluntarism is an ingrained family value. I’m not sure where it comes from exactly – with a plethora of educators on both sides of my family and a legacy of service through the women in my family who are members of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. Collectively, I’d say, my family is the “who” that inspires me to serve. The “what” is a more simple answer – leadership. At Spelman College, I was a Bonner Scholar, which is a national community service scholarship that requires service projects, service site placements, and service-driven training. Through the program, I learned about “servant leadership.” There are many definitions for the phrase, but one from the Society for Human Resource Management resonates most with me currently, “The servant leader moves beyond the transactional aspects of management, and instead actively seeks to develop and align an employee’s sense of purpose with the company mission.” I am inspired to serve because I know I’m called to lead. And, I view service as an opportunity to lead with purpose – to impact people and places in ways that play into a bigger picture for all of us.
4. As a child, what did you dream of becoming when you grew up?
I wanted to be an attorney. As with many Black families, the elders in my family pushed me towards careers that they perceived to be prosperous but had not experienced in their lifetime. I landed on a career in law because I figured I would find a space there with my love for wordsmithing. Three years of college coursework and two summer internships later, I discovered that my English degree would best be put to use through a career in journalism. And, here I am today – with that same English degree plus a master’s in Journalism – in a career in entrepreneurship, communications and marketing. But, that is why I appreciate the question. I appreciate the full circle opportunity to become an elder who represents the unconventional career path that most creatives take and the responsibility of showing that passions not paychecks should drive career choices.
5. What’s your “happy place?”
This is a very pandemic-inspired answer: anywhere where there is live music. As a former choir nerd, my entire life has been consumed by music. At times, I miss performing. But the past few years have confirmed how much I miss watching performances. From intimate lounges to Broadway musicals, I love escaping into the mixture of vocals, instrumentation, and the energy that only comes from performing for a group.
6. What’s the last book you’ve read?
“Clarity & Connection” by Yung Pueblo is my most recent read. Daily devotional reading and weekly journaling are two of my favorite routines that I have developed as an adult. During the pandemic, I found that doing one or both in my morning routine alongside a hot cup of coffee allowed for self-reflection and anxiety relief that I simply did not have time for in the “old normal.” I loved the practices so much that I began looking for other practices to add. Pueblo’s book got added to my routine at the end of 2021 on a whim. His inspirational content would pop up on my social media feeds and one day I saw that he was actually an author, so I ordered “Clarity & Connection.” It turned out to be the perfect addition. While there are central themes, it is not a narrative format. So you can start and stop as you would like. I read 3-5 pages per day and finished it in a month. I recommend it for anyone who feels they have done the introspective work and are now ready to take that knowledge into different types of relationships in your life.
7. Who would you like to swap places with for a day?
I would swap places with a Fortune 500 CEO. Curiosity is a partial driver for this choice. My career has been spent in nonprofits and small businesses. I have always wanted to experience day-to-day working in a large corporation or agency. The second reason for this choice is preparation. While I am more interested in serial entrepreneurship than I am in dedicating my career to steering a corporate chip, I do want to be able to compete at that level. I welcome all opportunities to gain business acumen first-hand. I love learning history, theories and methods and then taking them back to the “little guys” who need them the most.
8. Tell us about your ideal weekend.
I like to start my weekend with a nice dinner on Friday – both takeout and dining out do the trick. On Saturday, I like to socialize at brunch or a lounge in the evening. On Sunday, I like to relax with TV time or rest with plenty of naps, whichever is needed the most.
9. If you could master a skill that you don’t currently possess, what would it be and why?
I would like to master another language. There are many business benefits to being fluent in multiple languages. But my interest is cultural. As an adult, I’ve grown to appreciate immersive travel. I can only imagine how much more enriching my experiences would be if I could meet people where they are by speaking their native tongue.
10. What’s something on your bucket list?
That list is quite lengthy! But one item that stands out for this moment is experiencing the national Junior League Connoisseurs Journey for Sustainers. These one-of-a-kind journeys take Sustainers to sites that feature exceptional scholars, speakers, and guides. I would love to have this experience to meet new League sisters in amazing places!
11. What else would you like to share about your JLM experience?
As with many historical organizations for women, the rights and values of the Junior League have expanded due to movements and laws. I respect the space that the JLM has specifically carved out for professional women. Leading JLM trainings and appearing on panels has reinforced that my work and my knowledge are valuable. And, there is no shortage of need for that feeling among women.