Alumni Spotlight: Marsha (Pierre-Jacques) Williams '01, Women's Basketball

Marsha (Pierre-Jacques) Williams '01, playing basketball at Brandeis, and working in her garden

Alumni Spotlights are Q&A's with former Brandeis student-athletes, across a myriad of disciplines, as they reflect on their Brandeis experience and how it has shaped their lives today. Read more spotlight features here

Name: Marsha (Pierre-Jacques) Williams '01
Job Title: Co-Founder and Operations and Family Engagement Director
Institution: KairosPDX

Marsha (Pierre-Jacques) Williams originally hails from Queens, New York. She is a first-generation Haitian-American who played four years of basketball under coach Carol Simon, graduating in the Class of 2001. She played 82 games as a reserve for the Judges. Williams was also active outside of athletics, working with the Carribean ConneXion club and as an admissions recruiter.
Since graduating, Williams has gained 20-plus years of experience working and leading community organizations and church-based ministries. In her professional experience, she has worked in academic medicine at Harvard University and Oregon Health & Sciences University, (OHSU) medical schools. Williams was the first non-doctoral trainee to complete a two-year Fellowship in Pharmaceutical Policy Research with the Harvard Medical School Drug Policy Research Group and The World Health Organization (WHO). She has over 12 publications and has researched, wrote, managed, and coordinated over 15 research grants in the health care sector.
In 2012, Marsha co-founded KairosPDX, an educational non-profit in Portland, Oregon, focused on closing racial achievement and opportunity gaps for systemically marginalized children, their families and their communities; and she has served as the Operations and Family Engagement Director for the organization since the opening of Kairos Learning Academy in 2014.
Williams has also worked with Financial Ministries for over 14 years in Boston and Portland, she has been trained and serves as a Biblical Financial Study Group Leader and Money Map Coach with Crown Financial Ministries and Small Group Leader with Compass Ministry.
She currently resides in Portland, Oregon, with her husband, Rashad '01, and their four children, Sylas, Shyla, Sauvion and Shani.

Describe your overall experience as a student-athlete. What does it mean to you now/what did it mean to you while you were an undergraduate?

As a Brandeis student-athlete, being a student always came first. I always needed to make sure my academic obligations were met, alongside whatever was needed for my athletic training to be able to execute on the court. I developed perseverance, and while I come from a strong lineage of resiliency, I learned to embody passion and commitment for my community. I had to understand balance, teamwork, and goal-setting to operate in a way that was integrated into the multiple aspects of my student life. In addition to being an athlete, I was a member of multiple student groups and spent significant time active in the Caribbean ConneXion Club, serving as an Executive Board Member for multiple years, as well as working specifically on recruitment of students of color in the Admissions Office.

What originally attracted you to Brandeis as a student-athlete? 

The opportunity to get an excellent education while also playing collegiate basketball. Coach Carol [Simon] did a great job selling the dual opportunity, immediately making me feel welcomed and connecting me with teammates that were genuinely invested in positively experiencing both aspects.

How did your time as a student and student-athlete at Brandeis prepare you for your career and life after college?

While at Brandeis, I took full advantage of learning about other people’s lives and cultures – I participated in the Korean Student Association, and I lived with Orthodox Jews and kept Shabbat. As a non-Jew, I had an opportunity to experience being amongst a cultural and religious group that is typically the minority, in most places in the US, become the majority. I observed people having freedom and respect for their heritage to be embedded in normal practices of their community.  It strengthened my faith to be in this environment, as I had to be able to explain my beliefs and truly understand my own why, in a way I never had to before.

When I think about the work I am doing at KairosPDX now, we have developed a community of belonging that is focused on actively coming against racism in public education, while providing culturally-affirming teaching and learning as part of our community culture. It feels empowering to reflect on this area of similarity to my current work.

Do you have any advice for current or future Brandeis student-athletes?

Brandeis is a unique place. There is an undercurrent of social justice that is embedded in the institution's founding. The opportunities to engage and embrace our society, especially in this current season we find ourselves, are right at your fingertips.

Our professors at Brandeis are top-notch and will help you to explore your interest in ways you may not have even anticipated. Be sure to take full advantage of opportunities to get exposed to different ways of thinking and to embrace options that allow you to dig deep into cultures and beliefs, so you can evolve.

Discipline is key – it takes a lot of sacrifice, being a student-athlete, but the rewards you gain when competing at your best, will in fact far outweigh the challenges. They will develop into an amazing experience that will hone your skills for whatever you wish to do beyond Brandeis.

What do you miss most about your Brandeis experience?

The relationships with my teammates. I developed lifelong friendships and learned a lot from an impactful group of women.  We got to collectively work hard and play hard, on and off the court; we enjoyed traveling and exploring cities and embraced and supported each other through many life experiences & trials.

What personal or professional accomplishment are you most proud of since you graduated?

Professionally, I am proud to be in a position where I am doing systems-change work for my local and extended community creating a sustainable organization, KairosPDX, that is actively changing the narrative for black and brown people and our future leaders.

Personally, I am proud of the family Rashad and I established in faith. We have been blessed with beautiful children that have shaped our lives in ways we could have never planned or anticipated. We are living our lives embedded in the hope they consistently give us for our society’s future.

This interview was lightly edited for clarity.