Before she became a coanchor on the daily show The Fox News Specialists, Eboni K. Williams tried her hand at practicing law, acting and radio hosting. Today the author of Pretty Powerful: Appearance, Substance, and Success has found her niche as a voice on one of the nation’s most-watched cable news networks.
The 34-year-old is also cohost of Curtis & Eboni on 77 WABC Radio in New York City and executive producer of a documentary about the killing of Eric Garner. Of the film, she tells ESSENCE, “American Trial [is] designed to shatter all those preexisting narratives.
[We] find out what really happened and what we can do to prevent this type of tragic death from happening again, and elevate people’s consciousness on the issue.” Here Williams dishes on taking risks and venturing into new fields.
ESSENCE: You were a trial lawyer before becoming a journalist. Why the shift?
EBONI K. WILLIAMS: New Orleans has done a beautiful job of rebuilding since the storm, but 2005 to 2006 was a crazy period to practice law there. Lots of people I worked for are still incarcerated; many were indicted. I saw the underside of politics. That’s why I wanted to work in media—to bring more transparency and accountability to our political system.
ESSENCE: What steps did you take to switch to media?
WILLIAMS: I spent a year just doing the L.A. hustle. I went from trying cases in North Carolina for seven years to waitressing to being a bottle service girl at night and auditioning during the day for various film and commercial projects. I found it unsatisfying, because I missed the intellectual rigor of trial work. So that’s when I told myself, I gotta figure something out. It was 2011 and the country was gearing up for the 2012 Obama reelection. A friend suggested that I consider being a talking head because I’ve always been a bit of a political junkie.
ESSENCE: So what did you do next?
WILLIAMS: I started with talk radio. A guy named Mo’Kelly invited me to be on his show. I started doing legal analysis on the Casey Anthony case and I loved it. I fell in love with talk radio because it gave me a huge microphone to talk deeply about issues concerning law and justice.
ESSENCE: What are some of the challenges of working at Fox News and being a Black woman who identifies as an Independent?
WILLIAMS: It’s important for me to be seen as a Black woman, because it’s a part of my lens; it informs my worldview. People see Black women and they want to put us in a box. So the challenge is to fight for acceptance and my choice to lean into a part of who I am, and not to subscribe to prevailing presumptions of what Black women look like and how we should think. We get to do it how we want to do it.
ESSENCE: In what ways are you using your platform at Fox to raise awareness about the Black community?
WILLIAMS: I want to have an impact. For example, when the Manchester coverage dominated the news in May, there was also a young man, Second Lieutenant Richard Collins III, who was stabbed to death in what was suspected to be a racially motivated hate crime on the campus of University of Maryland, College Park. I wrote a tribute and said, “I want two minutes at the end of my block to acknowledge this young man.” That would have never happened but for me being there. And that’s not a plus for me. That’s the least I can do for being in my position.
This feature originally appeared in the September 2017 Issue of ESSENCE Magazine.