Remember the girl-next-door Laura Winslow who caught the eye of Steve "Did I Do That" Urkel on “Family Matters?” Actress Kellie Williams's sassiness, quick wit and fresh face not only endeared her to a nerdy suitor, but all of America for a record eight years. Although Williams, now 32, has left her defining role behind, the Washington, D.C., native has been spending her time heading her nonprofit art programs in the nation's capital. ESSENCE.com caught up with the down-to-earth philanthropist to get details on her breakout show, why she is compelled to help today’s youth, and how one special guy changed her mind about marriage.
ESSENCE.COM: You are continuing to make your mark on society through the Kellie Williams Programs, which serve youth in the nation’s capital. What is your motivation?
KELLIE WILLIAMS: We all get to that age when we ask, What have I done for anyone else? Right before [I turned] 30, I was compelled to help others. Now my business helps teens in Washington, D.C., create programming for themselves and their peers. We have worked with CNN and other businesses. I hope more people become involved with our young people because they are left to raise themselves, essentially. I was exposed to adults that give back. In the future I would love to create a television network just for teens.
ESSENCE.COM: Definitely. And you will always be Laura Winslow to us. How did you end up on the show?
WILLIAMS: It feels like a long time ago (laughs). I come from a huge family—22 aunts and uncles–so I rarely dealt with other people, which made me extremely shy. My parents put me in an acting program when I was 4 to get me used to [being around other people] and I loved it. They let me do it professionally and I performed for years in commercials and theater. Then, when I was 11, I got a call they were looking for someone in Hollywood and it was “Family Matters.” I didn’t know what to expect. I was so excited and my family moved to Los Angeles.
ESSENCE.COM: Were you rooting for Steve and Laura to work out on the show, and were you surprised when it ended after eight years?
WILLIAMS: I was rooting for them actually. For us, we were like brother and sister, but I knew people were hoping we'd be together on the show. We knew when the end was coming. I mean he was 6 feet tall with those pants on, which was a little bizarre. Afterwards, I had worked so long, I took off to find what I liked other than acting. I traveled a lot and went to school. Today, I would love for television and film to actually mirror the world we live in. It was great to be a part of a show that did that at one time.
ESSENCE.COM: How were you able to avoid some of the traps of child stardom like your on-screen sister, Jaimee Foxworth, who played Judy, and was on “Celebrity Rehab?"
WILLIAMS: I had some old-school parents and they kept me grounded and allowed me to have a childhood. Jaleel [White] and I talked about that, because looking back on it, people were living these interesting lives but we had no idea. For Jaimee, I saw her out and I told her she didn’t have anything to be embarrassed about and to hold her head up. You have compassion for people because you could be there.
ESSENCE.COM: Did the show impact your dating and how is your love life now?
WILLIAMS: I am engaged now, which is a miracle. All the guys I worked with were like brothers and I didn’t really have a real boyfriend until I was 28. I worked so much and delayed that part of growing up. If it were up to me I would have my mother, father and pastor and do the wedding for $500 with a cookout, but my fiancé wants the big wedding. I’m excited though and he’s a great guy—the guy people think doesn’t exist anymore. We met through a friend and less than a year later he proposed. I never thought marriage was for me and I loved being single. When you don’t believe that love will come it will when you least expect it, just look at me!