Mariam Williams is passionate about preserving the stories of marginalized communities.
The writer, dancer, and educator is the new director of the Chronicling Resistance Project, an archival effort to document more than 300 years of resistance history in Philadelphia by collecting letters, photographs, reports, scrapbooks, and other materials from civil, women’s, and LGBTQ rights struggles.
An artistic response to the 2016 presidential election’s impact on minority communities, Chronicling Resistance aims to uplift people who are underrepresented in U.S. archives. The curated materials eventually will be housed in an exhibit at the Free Library’s Parkway Central site. The Free Library was recently awarded a $600,000 grant for Chronicling Resistance from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
“We know that for a very long time archives, mainstream institutional archives, have not prioritized collecting, preserving, or amplifying stories from some of the most marginalized communities,” Williams said. “We want to within this project try to heal from some of those institutional harms that have been done to marginalized communities.”
Williams joined the Chronicling Resistance project at the beginning of its discovery phase in the summer of 2018.
“Chronicling Resistance felt like a continuation of some of the work I had been doing before I moved to Philadelphia,” Williams said. “I thought, yes, this is something that would allow me to continue that work I was still passionate and am still passionate about, unearthing stories that we don’t see every day and using archival research to do that.”
Before moving to Philadelphia, Williams was the program coordinator at the Anne Braden Institute for Social Justice Research at the University of Louisville. There, she worked to further the institute’s mission of connecting activists with academic research to further social justice initiatives, including civil rights and Black liberation movements.
With Chronicling Resistance, Williams will help to “think about ways that our institutions, our libraries — and — especially public archives can bring these stories out in new ways that really resonate with the communities most touched by them.”
Among theobjectives of the project is to “catalyze civic engagement," so that people could see themselves in history.
Williams noted that the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement and protests against police brutality over the summer amplifies the importance of Chronicling Resistance.
“It’s an uncanny moment,” she said. “I think it also just speaks to the necessity of people being able to tell their own stories.”
Williams also said that the project’s mission to educate audiences about acts of public resistance is particularly urgent in light of President Donald Trump’s opposition to antiracism education, describing it as “child abuse.”
The grant from the Mellon Foundation marks a major achievement for the project, and it will be used to fund programming as well as the salaries of key members of the project, including the consulting curator and the fellows who are in the process of being hired.
“It’s really, really exciting and really humbling to receive this funding now to know that … they’re thinking not just about institutions, but about communities, [and] about marginalized voices,” Williams said.
Chronicling Resistance will culminate with an exhibition that will be housed at Parkway Central in 2022. What exactly that exhibit will look like is still being determined. In the meantime, those who wish to engage with the project can visit the website, sign up for the mailing list, and listen to the Chronicling Resistance podcast.