Meet & Greet with Carl Maxey Center’s Shari Williams-Clarke
~September 14th, 2023
In August, Shari Williams-Clarke became the executive director of the Carl Maxey Center, nearly a year after the organization’s founder, Sandy Williams—no relation to Williams-Clarke—tragically died in a plane accident.
Williams-Clarke moved to Spokane in 2017 to take on the role of senior diversity officer and vice president for diversity and inclusion at Eastern Washington University. During her tenure, Williams-Clarke created the university’s strategic plan for DEI and created the Ivy Leadership Academy to expose high school students to higher education and encourage college attendance.
During her time at EWU, the school was the recipient of the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity award from Insight Into Diversity magazine for two consecutive years.
Williams-Clarke also has immersed herself in the community since her arrival. In 2017, Fairchild Air Force Base inducted her into the Honorary Commander Program, which was created to partner with and educate influential members of the community.
The Carl Maxey Center is a nonprofit organization founded by Sandy Williams that serves the needs of Spokane’s Black community. Located in Spokane’s East Central neighborhood, the center offers free walk-in clinics to people in need of legal help, rental assistance, and business and entrepreneurship support. Prior to retiring from EWU in June, Williams-Clarke had planned to volunteer her time to community outreach and the Carl Maxey Center.
Williams-Clarke has a doctorate in education leadership and higher education from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She is a community liaison for the Spokane Independent Investigative Response Team, which investigates police shootings, and is on the board of directors for the Downtown Spokane Partnership.
The Journal recently sat down with Williams-Clarke to discuss her new role and how she hopes to honor Williams’ legacy.
You had just retired from EWU. Did you apply for this role?
I was approached by the board about the position when it was first advertised. I have a background in social work, in addition to being an educator. There were parts of the position that were very attractive to me, because I knew this role served the community. I was part of the initial discussion when Sandy had this vision. I have an old picture of us in this space before it was this space, and we were literally writing on the walls and planning her vision. I’ve been a part of it, and my husband and I have supported it since its inception.
The position circled back to you?
It did. Sandy and I have done quite a bit together over the years, and she’s a huge supporter of diversity, obviously. With her also being the publisher and editor of The Black Lens, there were lots of opportunities for interaction.
There was an event once that was held on a Sunday at Ebony and Ivory Beauty Salon that brought together community leaders to work with a group of girls. They were looking for mentors and role models and discussing careers and futures. Only one other community leader showed up, even though a lot of folks said they would be there. Sandy came in with the Black Lens and engaged with these young women in an unbelievable way, gave them advice and counsel. She was just incredible. I looked at her and said, ‘Sandy, thank you so much for being here. Thank you for coming.’ Her response to me was, ‘Well, I’d go anywhere with you because I believe in what you do.’
When this opportunity came up, that was seared in my brain. Sandy said she’d go anywhere with me. I thought about her work and this role, and I have a skillset that has been proven over quite a few decades that I could do this role. It’s my passion and my purpose. I’m supposed to be here at this time.
What plans did you have for retirement before this opportunity?
I’ve been very engaged in the Spokane community and the underrepresented populations since I got here. I thought I would do volunteer work along with Sandy in some way at the Maxey Center. I’m also very engaged with my sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, which is also the sorority of Kamala Harris. I’m not bragging, but she’s a sorority sister.
So I knew I would be doing a lot of community service and programming with my sorority but other than that, I hadn’t thought about what I was going to do. My husband and I were going to take some time to figure it out.
What goals do you have in your first year at the Maxey Center?
I definitely want to raise our level of excellence. Anything we do, we’re doing it for the Black community, for underrepresented populations. We want to work from a place of pure excellence and doing the very best we can. I am also looking to develop a strategic plan for the center so that everything we do ties into our strategic initiatives of culture, equity, social justice, and economic development.
I’m developing a professional development series for the staff, so they have the skillset to better work in this climate. We need to be able to work and know more of who we are, what our values are, and make sure we’re understanding what’s happening around us. We’re going to do that through the professional development series that I’m implementing.
The renovation of the space right now is a huge component to bringing things up to speed. It’s been a tough year for the community and particularly for those individuals who have worked here so closely with Sandy. People are grieving and we want to do the work that we do amid honoring her memory and carrying on her vision.
How has the center been since Sandy’s death?
There has been so much support from the community that it has helped give some form of stability to the staff. They all have such incredible respect for Sandy and the work they are doing. We all talk about our Sandy stories. We share pictures so that she continues to live on through this space. We’re still here and still a vibrant agency. Part of that vibrancy could be because of commitment to her and this vision. There is so much that is lacking in folks’ lives, and we can try to be part of trying to help fill some of that lack here. You don’t have to be Black to be served here. If you have a need, you come here and we’re going to try to help you.