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Actress DominiQue Williams' Audition While On Bed Rest Led To Her Big Break In 'Shaft'

"What is meant for me will be for me."

BOSS UP

While tending bar at a local hotspot, aspiring actress, army veteran and ATL transplant DominiQue "G.I. Jane" Williams found herself serving entertainment mogul Will Packer and his wife. After a lively chat, to Williams' surprise, Packer offered her his contact information to stay in touch about an upcoming role. She wrote it down on a copy of his receipt.

To her dismay, while searching for that same receipt a day or two later, DominiQue realized that it was long gone. At the end of that fateful evening, it had been collected with the rest of her receipts for the night. For someone else, the story would have ended there, a suspenseful little "almost made it" anecdote to tell the grandkids 40 years from now.

But as I soon came to understand during our conversation, DominiQue Williams isn't settling for cliffhangers or a life half-lived.

"What is meant for me will be for me," she says with conviction as we delve into her journey from the beginning.

Infectious optimism is her stock-in-trade. DominiQue glows with what the old folks would call an "in-spite-of" kind of joy. It's carried her through a network of storms and rewarded her with a windfall of wisdom in just 29 years of living. She can tell you all about surviving and thriving through military training, fighting an arduous battle with an aggressive illness, and the life-or-death decision to leave home at 23.

You wouldn't guess she's experienced so much or even think to feel sorry for her; you wouldn't have to. DominiQue tells her story with ease, humility and not one trace of self-pity. "I'm not dismissing [my] process because I understand that it's for my good. There is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for me," she says during our interview.

Leaving The Nest, Finding Her Best

Image courtesy of DominQue Williams

DominiQue always aspired to more than her small hometown, Cincinnati, Ohio, could offer. Acting presented precisely the right outlet for her unforgettable personality; animated and diligent, curious and determined. Though she applied to the local arts high school, things didn't go as planned.

Shortly after, DominiQue set her Hollywood dreams aside and focused on the "more realistic" goals. The kind of monotonous, hemmed-in realism a small town demands of its residents, no matter how big and brilliant and bold their dreams.

"There was nothing [in Cincinnati] for me. I've always had really high ambitions and it just wasn't where I wanted to settle because that's exactly what it would be...settling."

While in college, the Reserved Officer Training Corps (ROTC) offered captivating stories of international army travel and Dominique joined The U.S. Army without much hesitation garnering a new nickname "G.I. Jane." It was both an homage to her favorite movie G.I. Jane, the 1997 military drama/action film starring Demi Moore and DominiQue's new look sans hair. Not only was the name fitting, it was foretelling.

"The military provided discipline and they humbled me. [I realized that] if I could do that, I can do anything. The results that you want don't happen right away but if you are diligent, determined, and persistent, they will come," DominiQue says with a kind of conviction that can only be born of experience.

Flying Against The Wind

Image courtesy of DominQue Williams

Fast forward to 2013. At an age when most young women are making their first post-graduate career move, DominiQue was hit with life-changing news: a cancer diagnosis. "It felt like an out-of-body experience. I didn't believe it and I really didn't know how to handle it," she recalls.

With little understanding of her illness and no one to equipped to help her fight it, DominiQue found herself spiraling, unmotivated to seek further treatment or care for herself.

"[I thought] 'I have to get out of here. If I don't get out of here, I'm going to die.'"

Packing as many of her belongings as would fit into her Camaro, on Christmas Day 2013 DominiQue left Cincinnati for a seven-hour, one-way drive to Atlanta, Georgia. "I never looked back. I left my whole house. I [felt] that if cancer was going to be something that [ended] my life, I at least [wanted] to go live my life and I knew I couldn't live in Cincinnati."

What she'd been dying to find in Cincinnati saved her life once in Atlanta. New friends seamlessly incorporated her as family, taking an interest in her health and introducing her to traditional and holistic practitioners. They drove her to doctors' appointments, sat with her when she fell ill from chemo treatments, and used social media to raise money, alleviating the financial strain of medical bills.

Consistent treatment and her newfound community's support helped DominQue to feel like herself again and, with time, beat her diagnosis. She holds close an invaluable lesson:

"I remember thinking that even if I wasn't getting better, I was feeling better. A lot of people don't know that long before the disease will defeat you, [a negative] mental state, spiritual state will kill you first. So, moving saved my life."

Chasing Destiny

Image courtesy of DominQue Williams

The move to Atlanta provided both a cure and an opportunity to continue living out her favorite quote:

"I'm willing to work for everything I prayed for."

Despite initially losing Will Packer's information, DominiQue's resilience rose to the top. She called a friend in the industry for help contacting the Hollywood hitmaker.

"We were sent to the gatekeepers and the answer was no [at first] but six months later my friend gives me a call and he says, 'Hey, Will Packer wants to know if you would be interested in an audition. I said, 'Me?'" she recalls with an ever-present awe.

Her friend echoed a sentiment to which DominiQue was no stranger, "Yeah, you. He didn't remember your name but he remembered your personality."

Just as Time and Opportunity met again, another obstacle presented itself: DominiQue was pushing one month with pneumonia on strict bed rest orders for at least two more weeks. Her friend's response? "He said, 'You can stay in bed if you want but this is a big opportunity. You just have to get up and go nail it," DominiQue lets out a raspy laugh.

Not even knowing what she was auditioning for, she submitted her audition reel with the help of another friend and returned to bed rest. A few weeks later, DominiQue got the call. She had landed her first movie role in the 2019 Shaft sequel starring Samuel L. Jackson, Richard Rountree, and Jessie T. Usher.

As her acting career begins, she looks to the greats for inspiration but holds space for her own exploration of a range of roles. She wants to do it all.

And with the knowledge she's gained, DominiQue is giving back no matter how far Hollywood takes her. "I want to speak to women who struggle with terminal illnesses, college students, [and] girls in the inner city."

Her ultimate desire is to stir up hope for those who are facing stacked odds because, as she knows well, sometimes your journey is about more than just you. "In order to get through you've got to go through. Sometimes what you go through isn't always [just] for you, it's for someone else," she implores.

DominiQue wastes no time on self-pity for past failures to launch, not with so many miles of blue skies ahead and the lives she now understands she was destined to touch.

"When I was going through [being sick with cancer] I felt like, 'Why is this happening to me? [I felt like I was] being punished.' But when I saw the people it was [inspiring] how many people reached out to me on social media and come up to me to this day… Discussing my story is helping them through losing loved ones or going into the military. Me aspiring to do something is inspiring other people."

Check out Shaft, in theaters now.

For more of DominiQue, follow her on Instagram.

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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