With the convergence of Valentine’s Day and Black History Month, I wanted to highlight someone very special to me: my husband, Tank Williams. I don’t want to gush too much here since afterall, this is a business blog, but Tank’s been my support and rock through thick and thin, and if it weren’t for his encouragement (and hungry appetite), gr8nola probably wouldn’t exist.
Beyond that, Tank’s a man worth getting to know -- from his perspective growing up as a black kid in Mississippi to defying all odds by receiving an athletic scholarship to Stanford University as a complete underdog (he received the last football scholarship, only after another recruit backed out). However, by the time he graduated in 2002, he was a First Team All-American and 2nd-round NFL draft pick. His 7-year NFL career wasn't easy either, as he faced challenges due to multiple injuries, which ultimately led him hungry for more in his career off the field. Since retiring from the sport in 2009, he’s pursued successful ventures in different fields, from real estate development to sports broadcasting to investing.
To know Tank is to love Tank, and I’m excited for you to learn about the incredible man who keeps me motivated, inspired and supported throughout my life journey.
First, the more serious questions...
1. What was it like growing up Black in the south?
This is actually a tough question to answer in a concise manner. I enjoyed living in Mississippi as a kid and young adult. I had friends that consisted of all races and still keep in touch with many to this day. That being said, there was evidence of systemic racism all around me. Whether it was the Confederate emblem in the state flag or having to attend a town hall meeting as a kid with my parents due to frayed race relations in my hometown, issues around race and equality were always apparent. Yet it never bothered me too much because I felt those issues existed before me and would likely exist long after me. Unfortunately, it was easy to become numb to issues like this because they’re woven deep into the fabric of life in the South.
2. What was it like to transition to the Bay Area?
Have you ever lowered yourself into a steaming hot tub on a cool winter night with your favorite cocktail in your hand while your favorite song was playing in the background? That’s what it felt like to attend college in the Bay Area. Now I understand that racism and inequality exists everywhere but the relaxed attitudes and accepting culture that I experienced at Stanford was refreshing as hell and is likely the reason I still live in CA to this day.
3. What’s your advice for non-BIPOC people to address systemic racism and avoid performative allyship?
First, I believe it’s important to see issues from multiple perspectives because that allows one to have empathy for others, even if an issue doesn’t resonate with them personally. At the same time, it’s imperative that our allies not only recognize the inequities that exist in society but also speak up against them. I believe it’s important for non-BIPOC people to fight just as hard to resolve these issues if we’re really going to realize true change.
Now, for some more fun questions…
1. How did you and Erica meet?
I met Yao (Erica) where most people meet their significant others….in Vegas. I was at a club with some teammates and she was with a mutual friend from college. I invited her and her friends to our table, she enjoyed our libations, she ate all of my food and then she threw me the deuces. LOL! The next day, she hit me up/ stalked me on social media and the rest is history….
Wait a minute! Why do you call Erica "Yao"?
Well, she claims that she’s 5’8” tall but Maury Povich quickly determined that this was a lie. That being said, she somehow convinced her friends in college to call her “Big Asian” and she conveniently passed this information along to me when we met. Because Yao Ming was the biggest Asian I knew at the time, “Yao” seemed like an appropriate nickname and the rest is history.
2. Tell us how gr8nola came to be, in your words:
Honestly, it’s still kind of crazy that she started this business with magically delicious granola because the girl wasn’t that gifted in the kitchen when we first met. Her first run at homemade cookies looked more like Toadstool from Mario Kart but she’s come a long way. As many of you know, gr8nola is the BOMBAY and it’s a damn shame that the world can’t indulge in her homemade cookies because they’re fire too!
3. What’s been your proudest moment for Erica or for the business?
I’ve had many moments where I’ve been proud of her. When she won her first big contract to supply granola at Google headquarters, I couldn’t have been happier. It was her first big break with the company. That being said, I find myself more proud when I see her deal with adversity and come out the other side better from it. Running a business isn’t easy and that counts double during Covid, but the way she’s been able to pivot the business and stay afloat while also finding the time to positively impact the lives of her Girl Up mentees has been truly inspiring.
4. Having a window into the journey of a female food entrepreneur - what have been your biggest learnings?
I understand that even though I have to deal with the inequities of being a black man, I still have the privilege of being a man. It can be really hard for women to garner equal pay, equal opportunities and upward mobility in the workplace and that fact can be amplified as a female entrepreneur. Yet, she doesn’t let these roadblocks get in her way. Similar to the way she stirs up a hurricane in the kitchen when preparing gr8nola, she bulldozes through adversity and challenges in her business in a similar manner. But even though she and other women have found success while navigating these barriers, we must continue to shine a light on these issues until they no longer exist.