Porsha Williams Won’t Back Down: ‘It’s Life or Death in America Right Now’

Don’t ever let the glitz, glamour, and drama of the Real Housewives of Atlanta fool you: Porsha Williams is a real one. Thanks to her grandfather, the late civil rights icon Hosea Williams, she has the spirit of protest and Black liberation in her blood. And while she definitely has an on-screen goofiness about her (think: that “titties social distancing” comeback), ever since the tragic death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, the 39-year-old reality star and entrepreneur has taken to the streets, showing just how serious and sharp she can be and has always been—especially when those Bravo cameras are turned off.

Over the past few months, this dedication to peacefully fighting white supremacy and police brutality has even landed her in jail. On July 14, Williams traveled to Kentucky for Breonna Taylor—the 26-year-old Black woman shot and killed in her home in March after police broke into her apartment—to encourage Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron to finally charge the officers involved with her death. And on August 25, she was arrested again in Louisville, alongside Love and Hip-Hop‘s Yandy Smith, rapper Mysonne Linen, and Until Freedom co-founder Linda Sarsour, as they again protested for justice for Breonna.

Just prior to her second arrest, ELLE.com sat down with Williams to talk about why she will never stop saying Breonna Taylor’s name, advice for those feeling hopeless about the state of Black lives in America, and whether she believes the COVID-19 crisis and uprisings in the name of racial justice will change the tone of RHOA.

Since the uprisings started, you have been in the streets protesting. What was the moment you told yourself, “I have to get out of the house and do something”?

For me, I am African-American. I love that about myself, and I love my culture, so sitting and watching that video of the unfortunate murder of George Floyd activated something in me to jump up and use my voice. I have a platform, and I felt compelled to use it to bring awareness to what is happening to Black folks in America and the need for us to take action in America.

Also, I have marched with my grandfather, civil rights activist Hosea Williams, before. I had to do my part now. I have to elevate now for my people and take it to the next level. Silence is compliance, and not saying anything means you are okay with what is going on. And how could I sit in the house while my fellow Americans are out there protesting?

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While many of us have been protesting for Breonna Taylor in our homes and on our local streets, you went to Kentucky from Atlanta to make your point. Why?

I was starting to feel helpless, and while I was doing everything I could do at home—posting on social media, doing interviews, and protesting here in Atlanta—it started to feel like we weren’t being heard. Was there anything to do to escalate the situation or gain the officials’ attention so they could finally do something? When I found out there was going to be a protest in Kentucky, it was a no brainer for me. Now, I found out about it a day or so before it was going to happen, so I talked to my fiancé and told him this is what I wanted to do, and he supported me, telling me, “I stand with Breonna as well.”

But it wasn’t an easy decision because I have a one-year-old daughter and could potentially be putting myself at risk to be intimidated or harmed by the police. Same with my mother; she has been staying with us during the pandemic. The risk of COVID-19 and her being older and at risk, bringing that back home was definitely something I was concerned about.

But at this point, we can’t be silenced. It’s life or death in America right now, and we have to use our voices for Breonna Taylor. Justice for her is justice for all. What happened to her could have happened to any of us. That is not justice. I am Breonna Taylor, and I am fighting for her and all of us. I dared not have stayed home.

“Silence is compliance, and not saying anything means you are okay with what is going on.”

Speaking out for Breonna is so important, especially since Black women are victims of police violence too. Yet so much of the conversation is solely centered on Black men.

Those comparisons are going to made, especially when globally you see George Floyd’s name everywhere, given that his death was the catalyst for this new movement that got everyone enraged and in the streets. But we also want and need to make sure we raise up names such as Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland, and other Black women who have been murdered by the police.

Black women: We birthed the movement, we hold a very strong place within society, and we should not be taken away from our families either.

I think about Breonna so much, for her to be innocent, in her home—her sanctuary—riddled with 8 bullets in her young body. We cannot stand for this, and absolutely, our women need to be protected, as well as our Black men.

Over the past months, what has protesting been like for you? How has it made you feel?

It’s been very empowering, but also very scary. Seeing the brutal truth of what is going on—some police are acting like cold-blooded killers and are not here to protect and serve. It was hard to see peaceful protesters who are trying to send a message and who want change were being pepper-sprayed and treated horribly. Even worse, while we were out there, the president is telling mayors around the country that they are weak for not being hard on us.

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Back in June, you were teargassed at a protest in Atlanta. That must have been terrifying.

It was very frightening, because it came out of nowhere. Now look, the media has made it seem that there is a lot of crazy going on and I have not witnessed any of that when I was out there. The police just started shooting at us, and I was like, “OMG!” It was really disheartening, and I was very upset. But I was fine and telling people around me to not worry about me because I am out there so my daughter and other young people can have a better future. That’s why you shake it off and you keep going. I can deal with some teargas, especially when you look to the past, where Black people were getting bit by police dogs and beaten with batons and barbed wire and getting killed in the streets. But they kept going and sacrificed themselves in order for the message to be heard and the visuals to be seen on TV screens across the country.

With the recent shooting of Jacob Blake, it can feel like all of our protesting is falling on deaf ears. What’s your advice for those of who are feeling helpless?

We’re human, and when we put our efforts into speaking out, we expect outcomes. Sadly, we’re not seeing that right now. My advice is to bear down, push further, apply more pressure. We are on the right side and we have God on our side and he wants his people to be treated properly and correctly.

Despite your arrest, do you plan to keep protesting?

Absolutely! This is a movement, not a moment. It’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon. This is something to be taken seriously, and we need to be part every single day to find a way to get justice.

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Knowing that shooting for a new season of Real Housewives of Atlanta will start at some point, do you think the pandemic and the uprisings will shift the dynamic of the show?

That’s what’s so ironic during the pandemic: It has made everybody reflect [on] what means the most to us. Your personal actions could be life or death for your family members. And being a celebrity doesn’t matter. Cars don’t matter. Clothes don’t matter. Nothing is going to matter if Black people are being killed.

Now…the show is centered and built on what’s entertaining and its cattiness, and there’s no shame in that and I won’t run away from that. But we can have all that and still talk about what really matters to these powerful Black bosses doing it for the culture. We will continue to stand for what we all have always stood for and still sprinkle in there some shade. [Laughs]

When your daughter gets older and looks back at this time and sees what you did, what do you hope she feels?

I hope she is inspired. That’s the most I can ask. I also hope that she is standing in a different world and she is not afraid because of a broken taillight or falling asleep in her car or afraid to make mistakes because those mistakes won’t be a death sentence. I want for her to activate her voice and be outspoken and know I love her very much.

Kellee Terrell is an award-winning filmmaker and journalist who writes about race, gender, health and pop culture.

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