60 Years of Stories! Erica Williams
Friday, October 14, 2022
“I am grateful for all the support I received from St. Louis Community College. The admissions office welcomed me, the financial aid office was committed to finding me all the resources they could offer, and my professors gave me the room to think and learn in the way I love. Overall, STLCC gave me the opportunity to be my best self.”
Erica Williams, founder and executive director, A Red Circle, and 2003 STLCC graduate
Erica Williams is the founder and executive director of A Red Circle, a nonprofit that works for community betterment in North County through a racial equity lens. A Red Circle operates programming in education, the arts, mutual aid, food justice and more, and attained recognition for its work with a What’s Right with the Region award from FOCUS St. Louis in 2019. With an infectious smile on her face, Williams reflects, “My life is awesome. I am living my dream, and it’s amazing I get paid to do the things I get to do, like growing food, empowering community members and mentoring youth.”
Williams grew up in Velda Village, a small municipality in the Normandy School District, and has lived in North County her whole life. After graduating from McCluer High School in 1993, she needed a break. “I had two goals: get married and have kids.” Today, Williams and her husband, Bailey, are happily married with five children together, and she has accomplished a lot more.
Early in her career, Williams bounced around jobs in the banking and nonprofit spaces; her sole goal was to make money to support her family. Around 2000, she worked for a local nonprofit called Employment Connection, whose mission was to connect individuals with professional development opportunities. As part of their programming, they invited a speaker to share options for higher education. The presentation got Williams thinking. “My first two kids were already in school, and I decided it was time to invest in my education again.”
Researching the options, Williams learned St. Louis Community College at Florissant Valley was affordable and close to home. She chose the legal studies program. “I like organization and helping people, so I thought I would enjoy being a paralegal,” she said. She attended STLCC-Florissant Valley from 2001 to 2003, earning an associate degree and then transferring credits to Maryville University to complete a Bachelor of Arts in legal studies in 2005.
Completing two years at STLCC made continuing her education much more accessible and affordable. “STLCC was very good at getting us all of the resources we needed. It was so easy for me to transfer my credits to Maryville, and my financial aid was such that school was free. I could use my stipend to buy supplies for school and then necessities like food for my family.”
An adult learner with small children, Williams was able to take advantage of the flexibility of community college. “STLCC was dialed into me as a ‘nontraditional learner.’ I was able to bring my children and set them up with toys to play with while I sat in my evening classes.”
Williams excelled in her studies at STLCC, becoming a member of Phi Theta Kappa honor society. “I absolutely loved my time at STLCC-Florissant Valley. I was allowed to explore and learn in a way that I hadn’t been able to in high school. At STLCC-Florissant Valley, I was valued as a smart Black woman. I didn’t have to hide it.”
To her, ‘Flo Valley’ is a “staple of the community.” Her two oldest children, Eric and Jessica, also hold fond memories of their own classes at Florissant Valley, and it’s likely that another Williams kid will attend STLCC-Florissant Valley in the next few years.
“STLCC is definitely worth the investment from the community. I think we even need to invest more in community colleges. STLCC affords students the opportunity to figure things out. It gives them freedom and tools to learn in a way that other higher education institutions cannot offer.”