Minor League Baseball has placed diversity and inclusion at the forefront of its growth strategy. We strive to create an industry where all identities are represented, welcomed, valued and empowered to enhance our league's culture, creativity, innovation and comprehensive service to the communities we occupy. We strive to be the most fun and inclusive league in all of sports and entertainment.
While conversations regarding diversity and inclusion happen daily in the Minor League Baseball office and among our 160 clubs, we recognize the need to do more to elevate the voices and stories of those who currently work in our industry. There is something uniquely powerful about sitting face-to-face with someone and listening to his or her experience.
The goal of this series is to spotlight the people, programs and stories in the baseball industry that champion diversity and inclusion and advance the mission of Minor League Baseball's diversity initiative. In recognition of Black History Month, every week in February, we will profile a black leader in our industry. This week we profiled the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp's Director of Community Relations, Andrea Williams.
Andrea Williams is used to being a catalyst for change at this point. In her first full-time role in Minor League Baseball, Williams was the first African-American woman to be named Director of Ticket Operations for the Quad Cities River Bandits. She is unapologetic in her pursuit of her goals and doesn't allow traditions or stereotypes to hold her back.
Now entering her fourth season as the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp's Director of Community Relations, Williams is confident in her work, and she credits the motivation to continue to pursue a career in baseball to those who fought for her right to be here. She makes it a point to continue to ensure she is paving a path for the next generation of black leaders in the field.
"I am very motivated by the hard work, toils and achievements of my ancestors. I also take it very seriously that everything in this life I have done means nothing if I don't pave a way for someone to come after me," said Williams.
Williams visits Andrew Jackson High School as part of a sports marketing mentoring program
Williams is a woman of service, and altruism flows through her speech. She takes pride in the important role she plays in the Jacksonville community and makes an effort to serve all corners of the city. The Jacksonville metro area has the 26th-largest black population in the nation, and Williams, in a joint effort with Jumbo Shrimp General Manager Harold Craw (the sole black general manager in MiLB), makes it a point to reach out to communities of color.
"When we developed the foundation and core principles of our community relations department, it was very important to both Harold and me to make sure we reached out to the kids from neighborhoods like ours. We both credit a portion of our success to programs and mentors who impacted our lives, so we do our best to be the same kind of light. I think in this role, especially in Jacksonville, you would really do a disservice to the community if we kept our scope that limited. We like to think we have a comprehensive program to include people from all backgrounds," Williams said.
As one of the few black female executives in the league, Williams is cognizant of the impact her identity may have on her experience, but she doesn't let that keep her from taking pride in her role.
"While I wouldn't say I've experienced any bias in terms of my promotion in this industry based on race or gender, I will say I have shocked a few executives when I walked in the room or introduced myself by my name and title. I have also dealt with some uncool jokes from people in the community," Williams shared. "I learned from family members, it's not about what happens to you, it is how you react. No matter how I feel on the inside, I have to make the decision on what to do. [I ask myself,] Is my reaction going to help or hurt me in the long run?"
Williams is involved with a multitude of Minor League Baseball's diversity and inclusion initiatives; she's spoken at the MiLB FIELD Program, is involved with MiLB's Women in Baseball initiative and participates as a mentor in the Women in Baseball LIFT Mentorship Program. She aspires to create an industry where women have more representation and is always ready to play her part in helping move the game forward.
"I loved the concept of the LIFT Mentorship Program; Belicia [Montgomery], Jess [Nori] and the Women in Baseball Leadership Committee have poured a lot into the program and it shows. I could not wait to do my part to support them. I also think the key to maintaining and growing women in this industry is connection. Programs like this are excellent ways for me to give back and provide any knowledge I can to anyone who will listen. I have a wonderful mentee, Kelsey Carter [of the Bowie Baysox], and she has told me numerous times she appreciates simply having someone she can relate to, to talk to."
Williams sitting on a Women in Baseball panel during the 2016 Baseball Winter Meeting in Washington, D.C.
This year Minor League Baseball has more women and people of color working in the front offices across the 160 clubs than ever before.
"I think we are just now truly benefiting from the diverse talent pool. It's exciting to see, but with that said, there is still a lot of room to grow. It is the job of everyone at the ownership level, the national office and the team level to make sure we are doing all we can to promote diversity in our sport. The uptick in representation this year is proving that," said Williams.
It's a credit to individuals like Williams who not only have helped pave a path for the next generation of leaders through her work, but also have made a conscious effort to help, listen and elevate the voices of those like her. We need more women like Andrea Williams in Minor League Baseball.
Benjamin Pereira is an associate at Minor League Baseball.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.