I call people who do amazing things big or small #Firestarters. A #Firestarter is someone who sees an opportunity for change in their community and digs down deep to make it happen. They are leaders who turn moments into movements.
Many of us brown and black girls are raised with resilience, faith and fortitude—all things that make a #Firestarter. So never doubt what you can do in politics. In fact, never doubt what you can do in life. It’s your time—own it! I’m going to share how I carved a path for myself as a lobbyist. Some of it happened by accident, but I wouldn’t be where I am without those three things: resilience, faith and fortitude.
Austin Under 40 Winner for Government Relations and Public Affairs.
Rome Betts Award winner in Advocacy, American Heart Association.
Cass Wheeler Integration Award, American Heart Association.
Capitol Insider Top 5 Non Profit Lobby Groups.
I could go on about the awards I’ve won for my work in advocacy, lobbying and government relations but they don’t explain how I got to where I am today and, more importantly, where I want to go. I’m sharing them with you as proof of how far faith, fortitude, and resilience can carry you because I never thought I’d end up an award-winning lobbyist.
I began a career in television news at the age of sweet sixteen. I was a KLFY TV10 Teen Reporter and would even edit my own news pieces. Naturally, when I began at Louisiana State University I was a Mass Communications major and found my home in the Broadcast school. I worked at a TV station my entire time at LSU as a 2 On Your Side Producer, Associate Producer and eventually full-time Morning Show producer.
There was always a plan. It was to be Barbara Walters, of course. At that time, there was not a single black or brown news anchor on network news.
From TV to Press
Then at the ripe age of 24, I thought I had landed my dream job: working press for a U.S. Senate candidate. On November 5, 2002, Election Day, I abruptly found myself without a job. I remember the day so vividly. To prepare for what I thought was just the beginning of my future as a press secretary, I had found a Kasper suit on sale, which was a big deal for a 24-year-old political campaign staffer. And when I woke up, I went straight to the JC Penny hair salon in the Columbiana Mall to get my hair in a chignon. It was the only place I knew in Columbia, South Carolina that had early morning appointments.
Then I didn’t have a plan. My boss, who ran for US Senate for Strom Thurmond’s seat, didn’t win his race. And I didn’t have a job. Things had always added up and this time they really didn’t. What was worse is that I had to call home and tell my parents. It felt like the ultimate failure.
So I turned to a mentor, someone who just lost their own race and said, “What do I do? I have to call home.” And that wise man told me, “Terri, it’s going to be alright. Just become a lobbyist and you’ll have a long career.”
A Lobbyist, Like Elle Woods?
This is where I must admit to you something I’m just starting to own. I didn’t really know what a lobbyist was, nor had I ever met one. I immediately recalled the movie, Legally Blonde 2, where Elle Woods who was the main character and was played by Reese Witherspoon saved dogs. The words were out of my mouth before I could think twice. “Like Elle when she saved the dogs on Capitol Hill?” He looked at me with a slight grin and nodded. I knew he would get the reference because he knew my love for Elle.
I’ve always been driven, intentional, and determined. I began looking for lobbyist jobs the very next day. By February, someone had given me a badge stating I was an officially registered lobbyist.
My first day at the Louisiana State Capitol was the first day I’d been under a rotunda since a 5th-grade field trip.
I owned my newness. I asked a lot of questions, and I remained humble. Each day, I strived to be among the first to arrive and last to leave. I also read the rules each night, no less than ten pages.
Then it happened, I ended up co-running the campaign to make all of Louisiana’s restaurants smoke-free just months after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Everyone said it couldn’t be done and after some bad amendments on the bill, I started to believe them. But I kept my head down, knowing as a lobbyist it was my job to fix the mess of the legislation.
Victories Are Good
I pinch myself every time I think about it. The Louisiana Smoke-Free Air Act went into effect in 2006. That win landed me a very big promotion. Shortly after, I left Louisiana to become Advocacy Vice President of a six-state region, managing up to 32 staff lobbyists and dozens of contract lobbyists.
I led an amazing team and in a four-year period, we were able to take Texas from 35 smoke-free cities to 103. I won’t even get into the numbers of state laws we passed.
When I really think about all that I have accomplished several things come to mind:
1. Where you start might not be where you end up. Working in television news made me a quick thinker, strong decision maker and polished my public speaking. These are the very skills that make me a good lobbyist.
2. Passion will always lead you to where you want to be. My love of community service extends to my work in government relations and strategic partnerships.
3. You don’t have to come from a certain pedigree to create change. Anyone can advocate for laws.
I urge you to take chances, #Firestarter and never back down. People will tell you that you can’t do it, a male lobbyist might even throw gum in your purse while you’re lobbying (it happened to me), yet remain strong. It’s the only way you’ll survive the detours in life and find your way along the journey.
This blog post was originally posted on www.terribwilliams.com. It has been re-posted with permission.