Intimate Conversation with Bonnie Taylor-Williams
Bonnie Taylor-Williams, a twenty-plus years cancer survivor, a professional third generation Hair Weev* technician, designer and instructor credits her mother for igniting her love for reading. Bonnie’s mother began sitting Bonnie and her brothers at the kitchen table and walking them to the neighborhood Chicago public library instilling the importance of reading at a very early age. Unwilling to completely rely on her children’s school teachers and they had great teachers, Bonnie’s mother taught them how to sound out the words, breaking them into syllables, teaching them spelling, how to look them up either in the back of their spelling books or the dictionary and how to create sentences.
As a child Bonnie loved listening to the history of her family through the stories shared and told by her mother Juanita, her grandmother Selena and her great grandmother Mary. Bonnie’s love of reading books and listening to the family storytelling was soon escalated into desires of writing books herself but wondered how it could be possible when she had never seen any books with people or characters on them that looked like her. Neither had she seen any writers of any books she had read that looked like her as a child until that one day her mother surprised her with a brand new book. The book was “I Know Why the Caged Bird sings” by Maya Angelou.
Maya Angelou was one of the people who came on TV along with Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcom X, President Kennedy, Barbara Jordan and Muhammad Ali that everyone in the house had to be real quiet and listen, so that the adults could hear. Therefore Bonnie knew who she was. After reading “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” it was like the lighting of the Christmas tree, an electrifying spirit of hope and excitement filled her heart, mind and body.
Bonnie stated, “It has taken me several years to complete this dream/ book due to everyday life which translates to a lack of dedication. Now, I am loving this writing thing, I knew I would! It takes dedication like anything else you really desire.” *Weev: patented spelling
BPM: How did you get where you are in life today? Who motivated you?
Through prayer, perseverance, great guidance, awesome examples to follow, hard work and obedience. Although I had awesome, inspiring examples to follow through my family, especially my mother, my grandmother and my great grandmother leading the way I was always a good listener. I didn’t want to learn the hard way, if they told me “this is good or this is bad” I listened. Not all of the time but most of time I took heed and followed. My family motivated me for the most part and I was exposed to many others in my grandmother’s business that played significant parts in my life as well. Intelligence over ignorance (if you don’t know or are unsure keep your mouth closed) is something my mother was adamant about along with respect, honesty, fairness, treating others the way you want to be treated and she always instilled in me that I could do anything I put my mind to.
My grandmother taught me the importance of work ethics and people skills. She believed in hard work “Get up early and stay up late! Nothing comes to a sleeper but a dream” she’d say. If you want anything you have to work for it. If you don’t work you will steal because you will get hungry. My great grandmother would give you her advice but when she really wanted you to understand the consequences she would say “You gone have a hard row to hoe”. I didn’t want anything to be hard or difficult in my life if I could help it. Of course that’s not real life, there will be challenges and there have been but not because I didn’t listen to my elders or was blatantly disobedient. Obedience is better than sacrifice.
BPM: What inspired you to sit down and actually start writing this book about your family? Why now?
I’ve actually been working on books about my family for years but never completed them. As a child I always loved listening to my family share stories whether we were home with our mother on a cold snowy day listening and learning about her childhood, sitting at the counter in the kitchen as my great grandmother cooked and told stories of her life growing up in Friars Point Mississippi or listening and laughing about the many characters of my grandmother’s salons before I was even born…I LOVED IT! I wasn’t the only one; my brothers loved them as well we often wished that we were back there in those times.
Also many others including clients and employees would often tell my grandmother she should write a book. Although my grandmother has done many things including co-writing a Hair Weev text book with Natalie Haskell of New York she never had time to write a book on herself so I decided I would. It’s time to show my appreciation while we’re both still here. She has influenced and motivated many others, this book “WITH THESE HANDS; A COUNTRY GIRL CAME TO TOWN” is giving her her flowers while she can smell them. They say write what you know, I know her and I know the story. I am paying tribute to her because I like so many others believe she’s extraordinary.
BPM: Could you tell us something about your childhood watching this legacy unfold?
I always felt Blessed. It was exciting, educational and fun. It seemed like there was plenty…of everything; work, food, money, excitement, hair, hustling, pretty cars & clothes and above all respect. Never having to stand in line anywhere we went, especially at Gladys’s Luncheonette because Selena was well known, if they didn’t know her they knew of her, admired and respected her. Watching my mother, uncle and aunt working for and with my grandmother and what it meant to the clients was very impressive, truly exceptional. As soon as my brothers, my cousin and I could read, write and count we were learning the business, Hair Looming (making up hair), tagging and bagging hair and on Saturday mornings delivering dinners that our great grandmother sold in the neighborhood.
Although my mother Juanita took us on vacations when we were small my grandmother Selena began increasing her territory which meant increasing her entourage which included us her grandchildren. We traveled together as a family doing various tradeshows in many cities and states. We already knew how to behave, greet the people etc. now we were learning how to show and sell. The Bronner Brothers show, The NBCL and the Allied Cosmetology Association were yearly staples that we would attend.
The most important lesson I learned as a child…Keep God First. Aside from attending church every Sunday, choir rehearsal every week we were taught to begin everything with prayer. Whether we were having a business meeting, hosting one of our annual Hair Weev conventions which were held nationally or just teaching a class which we taught internationally as well and still to this day in my mother’s school bus transportation business we begin with prayer.
BPM: What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
Reminiscing! I really enjoyed remembering the stories and reliving the feeling of the spirit in which they were shared.
BPM: Did your family help write the book? Did your grandmother have any input?
No one else worked on writing the book except me. However, my brothers Bryant and Scotty equally share the love of our family stories. When I would get to certain story that I know we all loved I would let them know and we would have a good laugh and or they would critique me as well as bring up another significant story or person. My mother Juanita would join in too. I am sooo grateful for her having one of my favorite publicity photos of my grandmother which is used for the cover of “WITH THESE HANDS”.
My grandmother is the reason for the story, although she didn’t help write the book she was happily surprised when I presented it to her on my IPad. She began reading the story I asked her to read and to her amazement it was about her! She screamed as she looked up at me “WHO WROTE THIS?” “THEY GOT IT, THEY GOT IT DOWN”! I responded “Me”! She laughed before shedding tears of pride and joy. “It’s going to help somebody, it’s going to sell!” She approved!
BPM: Are there business tips or hair care tips featured in your book? If so, discuss them.
There are no specific tips featured in the book but a few people who have read the book including my editor Dr. Maxine Thompson have stated that they have learned some business tips from reading the book.
BPM: How does your book relate to your present spiritual practice or journey?
It has confirmed yet again that I can do all things through Christ. Also time and health are the most precious commodities we have. I am grateful to be a survivor, a cancer survivor who comes from a legacy of survivors and I don’t want to waste any time.
BPM: Did you learn anything personal from writing your book?
Yes, I learned that actually sitting down dedicating your mind and your time to writing and completing a book can be challenging with everything else in one’s world constantly revolving and evolving but when you do it’s quite rewarding.
BPM: What were your goals and intentions in this book and how well do you feel you achieved them?
My first goal has always been to share the story for so that others can know about the history of hairdressers. Another reason I wrote the book was to give someone hope; to let them know you can always begin again, as long as you’re alive because every day we get another chance. An unplanned pregnancy, a divorce, a mistake, any act or decision that caused a detour in the path of your dream destiny cannot cause the death of your dream only you can by not pursuing it. If you’re above ground you’re already on top! I hope to bring laughter and perhaps some familiarity to people. Of course I would love for it to be an award winning, phenomenal success but if it helps some, inspires some and make some laugh then it will have served it’s purpose.
BPM: What projects are you working on after this one is released?
I'm working on the second part to this book and a book about my great grandmother, her hardworking entrepreneurial spirit even as she sharecropped in the south, yet leading her children and descendants in the spirit faith and hope through prayer, focusing on possibilities instead of the lack thereof.
BPM: How can readers discover more about you and your work?
Through my website: bonnietaylorwilliams.com
Facebook: Bonnie Taylor-Williams
Twitter: Bonnie Taylor Williams @BonnieTaylorWil
Pinterest: Bonnie Taylor-Williams bonnietaylorwil
Follow on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bonnie.taylorwilliams
With These Hands by Bonnie Taylor-Williams