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Student Stories

Breaking Barriers: Kristina Ashley Williams

Published: 01.29.19
By Samantha de Leve

Academy graduate student Kristina Ashley Williams is eclectic, diverse, limitless. A social activist, artist, educator and entrepreneur, Williams is a magnetic personality who effortlessly draws people into community. With the recent launch of her company CULTURxEAT which is set to produce an app (ZiM), conference (futurXfest) and accelerator, along with her recent acceptance into Founder Gym, an online training center for underrepresented founders, Williams is well on her way to realizing her vision of bringing together artists, techies and activists to co-design the future of social equity.

Williams understands the power of community intimately. After losing her single mother as a junior in high school, Williams was left to navigate the world on her own, but around her grew a community of support. “I was able to see light at the end of the tunnel for me because of the fact that I had a team of teachers, coaches, and friends’ parents who refused to let me be defined by any circumstance.”

Williams rocketed through college and earned her first master’s degree in teaching at the USC Rossier School of Education. As an educator, Williams focused on teaching kids, not just literacy, but how “to be good humans” – that is, true global citizens who were culturally-sensitive, empathetic, and embraced diversified identities. Williams worked as Director of High School Services for the Boys & Girls Club of America across multiple locations in the Bay Area serving youth communities. During this time, Williams was awarded the Menlo Park Mayor’s Outstanding Service to Community Award for her contributions.


Revolution of the Angry Black Womxn, Video Installation by Kristina Ashley Williams

In 2016, Williams decided to take a risk and pivot. She left her job, picked up a camera and began to document Black Lives Matter protests and social changemakers such as Cornel West and Alicia Garza. She produced a documentary and the gallery video installation, Revolution of the Angry Black Womxn, profiling over 30 womxn sharing their realities of trauma, in addition to publishing photojournalistic features in outlets such as Huffington Post, Blavity and most recently, Essence Magazine which published Williams’ photo of Raquel Willis – the first transgender person to be named executive editor of OUT Magazine. “I highlight work of the marginalized, because we all deserve for our voices to be heard…because we all make up society.”

For Williams, her art elevated her ability to discuss and highlight the larger social issues that she deeply cared about. She’s now taking her cause into the tech world. Through her company CULTURxEAT, Williams brings a range of innovations ranging from an app (ZiM) powered by augmented reality to gamify public art experiences to a conference (futurXfest) bringing artists x techies x activists together to collaborate. As she said in one panel on artistic activism, “If there are these emerging markets and emerging technologies, I want to make sure we [marginalized people] are represented in those spaces.” It’s no small ambition to break the cycle of artistic history, but Williams seeks to ensure that new media and technologies offer representative artistic voices from the very inception of the medium itself. 




Williams’ vision is resonating with the community – recently ARVR Women named Williams a Futurist in Residence which highlights women of color specifically in the ARVR space. She was also named a 2018-2019 Collective Safety Fellow at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and was recently accepted into Founder Gym, an online training center for underrepresented founders who want to build successful tech startups.

As Williams works through her second master’s degree in Integrated Design, Business and Technology at the USC Iovine and Young Academy, her footprint and networks in the social equity and tech space is broadening. Her entrepreneurial endeavors only underscore her fundamental drive: to bring people together and to build and enrich communities wherever she goes. In a technology culture that all-too-often focuses on product over people, Williams has seized on the human connections that make those technologies valuable.

To learn more about Kristina and her projects visit:
www.KristinaAshleyWilliams.com
www.culturxeat.com