Jesse Williams

My 5 Minutes with the President

Jesse Williams stars in ABC’s hit series “Grey’s Anatomy” as Dr. Jackson Avery. A native of Chicago and graduate of Temple University, Williams began his professional career teaching American, African and African-American history in low-income Philadelphia public charter schools.

From there, Williams moved to New York City and, after working at a law firm, began his professional acting career, performing off Broadway at the Cherry Lane Theatre, under the direction of award-winning playwright Edward Albee in “The Sandbox.”

His feature credits include “Brooklyn’s Finest,” “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2” and the upcoming “The Cabin in the Woods.” Williams is the executive producer of the Official 2012 Sundance Selection Question Bridge: Black Males, a trans-media and video installation that is currently on exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum, the Oakland Museum of California and the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art.

Williams next co-produces and stars in the biopic “Snake & Mongoose,” as legendary drag racer and team owner Don “The Snake” Prudhomme. 

ROBIN BRONK: If you had five minutes in the Oval Office with President Obama, what would you discuss with him? What issue would you like him to know about?

JESSE WILLIAMS: If granted the opportunity, I would like to discuss public education reform with a specific focus on the content and consequences of our historical curriculum and its relationship to the entangled mess that is present-day identity politics.

In public education, we disguise a mandated “European History” curriculum as “World History,” which at their most absorbent stages of development, fosters an ingrained dynamic of white supremacy and implicit bias that is truly crippling to all American children. Without access to, never mind encouragement about, the historical contributions of their ancestors, our poor and disenfranchised youth will continue to drown in a rudderless orphan state, without cultural context or constructive, attainable goals.

There is a vast ocean of squandered talent and potential among the youth of this great nation, and they need leadership. Leadership at home, certainly, but leadership in the classroom and hallways of America can return hope to many aspects of what we call civilization. It can actually make school desirable, instead of a structural nuisance. The connective tissue between history and “right now,” between self-esteem and personhood, attainable goals and the school-to-prison pipeline, is in crisis, and I’d like to discuss solutions. 

 RB: If you could ask President Obama one question, what would that be?

JW: What risks are you willing to take [in your second term] to get U.S. citizens to use the other 90 percent of their brains, and hearts? 

RB: What piece of advice would you give President Obama as he hits the campaign trail for the upcoming election?

JW: Nip the blatant lies in the bud immediately. This time around, let’s not let them fester and gather unobstructed momentum. That said, President Obama has proven to be a brilliant and thoughtful campaigner whom I expect will marry the hope campaign with a pragmatic urgency as he charts a course for four more years.

RB: If you were going to send the president to one of your favorite places in the United States for one day, where would that be? Why?

JW: To spend an entire week in both failing and transformational low-income/at-risk high schools and their surrounding communities. To make a patient and thorough, firsthand examination of one of the nation’s most malleable assets: its disenfranchised youth.

RB: What CD/piece of music would you recommend that President Obama add to his collection? Why?

JW: The album “New Ancient Strings” by Toumani Diabaté with Ballake Sissoko. Our president lives an unfathomably stressful life and this album offers serenity with a foundation. The complexity of the 21-string Kora, from a rich West African musical tradition, is unique and often overlooked in the “classical” music pantheon. The album’s elegance and pace are ideal for hosting, travel, reflection and writing.

RB: Would you ever consider a political career?

JW: Because politics matter, I will likely consider it at times, but I doubt that it would actually become a personal pursuit. 

Robin Bronk is CEO of The Creative Coalition — the leading national, nonprofit, nonpartisan public advocacy organization of the entertainment industry. Bronk is a frequent speaker on the role of the entertainment industry in public advocacy campaigns and represents The Creative Coalition and its legislative agenda before members of Congress and the White House. She produced the feature film “Poliwood,” airing on Showtime, and edited the recently published book Art & Soul. Bronk pens this weekly column with assistance from Risa Kotek.