Adriane Johnson-Williams has plenty of Girls Inc. of Memphis memories that are similar to those of other alumna—everything from being in a dance troupe and doing pottery to learning about human sexuality. She did, however, have what is likely a unique experience among Girls Inc. girls—one that she’ll never forget.
“One day a staff person who was very angry with another staff person brought a gun to the center,” Adriane recalls. “I froze. But I saw Ms. Betty Washington, the center director, go over the young woman with the gun and talk her out of it. And then the young woman collapsed into her arms and started to cry.”
What Adriane said she learned that day was a central truth of what it means to be a Girls Inc. girl.
“I learned was that Mrs. Washington was going to protect us,” Adriane says. “And I learned that even with an incident of a gun showing up, that I was physically safe in the center. She wasn’t going to let us get hurt.”
Safety, Adriane says, was just the beginning of what that experience taught her.
“That kind of safety made it possible for me to learn the limits of violence in resolving conflict,” she said. “Because I felt safe I could develop and access other tools to manage disagreements. Because I was safe, so were others. There was no need to fight to defend myself or anyone else.
At that same center in LeMoyne Gardens she also learned, she says, about the power of vulnerability.
“At Girls Club it didn’t matter that I wasn’t going to be a professional dancer,” Adriane says. “Because I was in a dance troupe. I also sang. I learned that there were spaces where I could experience joy and not feel like it was going to be snatched away from me at any moment. All in all my body was not a barrier to doing what I loved.”
Adriane was active at the center (still called Girls Club then) until sixth grade and spent her high school years at a boarding school in Virginia. After college, graduate school and a successful career in urban education reform she returned to Memphis, She found her way back to Girls Inc. where she spent four years on the Girls Inc. of Memphis board, serving on the program committee and as vice chair before being named board chair, the first alum of the program ever to serve in that position.
In Memphis her work has taken her from Seeding Success to Pyramid Peak Foundation, where she served as a program officer, and on to LeMoyne-Owen College and a stint as special assistant to the president for strategy and planning. Today she is founder and principal of Standpoint Consulting LLC, a management-consulting firm focused on centering the lived experiences of people within organizations to help those organizations improve their outcomes.
Her experience with Girls Inc. continues to inform every aspect of her life, she says.
“The impact of making girls feel safe, the impact of giving us room to take risks, the value of teaching the limits of violence is immeasurable,” Adriane said. “In Memphis it means that black and brown girls are stepping into the world with greater confidence, knowledge of our worth of our capabilities.”
Girls Inc. Alumna
Participant from 1983 to 1988