KNOXVILLE, TN (Oct. 2, 2020) – Elandria “E” Williams, age 41, died on Sept. 23, 2020. The Highlander Research and Education Center staff and associates are crying out with immense shock and sorrow at the death of a cherished member of the Highlander family who served on Highlander’s Education Team from 2007-2018. You can view the full obituary here.
E transitioned unexpectedly on September 23, 2020. Highlander’s team is among thousands of people across the region and world mourning the loss of this visionary thinker, educator, organizer, co-conspirator in work and faith, mentor, chaplain, chosen sibling, and friend that E was to so many. E’s relationship with Highlander was lifelong and created incalculable relationships and impacts nationwide.
A statement in-part from Rev. Chris Buice, Sr. Minister TVUUC: “It is with great sadness that the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church family announces the untimely and unexpected death of our favorite daughter Elandria Williams, a child of our church who became a dynamic denominational leader, most recently as co-moderator of the Unitarian Universalist Association.”
An online Wake for Elandria: A Time of Remembrance and Celebration on Thursday, October 8 at 7 pm. est. There will be brief ingathering words before going to breakout rooms for informal remembering and storytelling. This event is open to family and friends, new and old, far and near. Bring a memory to share. Hosted by TVUUC, 2931 Kingston Pike, Knoxville. Please register here.
A virtual memorial service is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 10th from 2-3:30 pm, on the Facebook page of Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church. You can log in at 1:30 pm for special musical selections by E’s cousins and comrades in the struggle for justice. The service will include remembrances from family, friends, co-workers for social change, and denominational leaders that will include Susan Frederick Gray, President of the Unitarian Universalist Association.
The Highlander family sends love, gratitude, and our most humble condolences to E’s parents Erven and Elnora Williams, twin brother Frederick, and the nieces and nephews E cared for and loved so much, and all of E’s family.
We want to also acknowledge E’s connection with the People’s Hub, Beautiful Solutions, the Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism, and the wider Unitarian Universalist Association family.
Elandria was a child of parents who were leaders for racial justice and economic democracy. At a young age, E came to Highlander as a Children’s Justice Camp participant. E ventured out and spent years of countless efforts organizing and educating under the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in East Tennessee. E returned to Highlander Center in 2007 as a member of the Education Team.
In 11 years at Highlander, E’s educational work ranged from supporting hundreds of young people through the “Seeds of Fire” youth program to designing the “Appalachian Transition Fellowship,” and laying the foundation for the “21st-century Social Solidarity Economy” network across the South.
True to E’s endless generosity and enthusiasm to collaborate, to build networks, and to be in radical relationships, E facilitated collaborations between the People’s Hub and Highlander teams beyond their time on Highlander’s staff.
E was the guide for so many grassroots leaders and movement builders across the South, Appalachia, the nation, and the world that connected Highlander’s work in the early 21st century. E’s presence, facilitation, and relentless commitment to personal connection catalyzed people’s relationships and helped them dream bigger and commit more deeply to the revolutionary work of education for social change. For young and emerging leaders across the region, E was the connector who helped them realize that they were not alone and that their struggles and liberation are bound together.
For all of us, E pushed every conversation and strategy to pull in the people from the furthest margins to meet and learn from each other. E simplified what felt complex and troubled the waters of easy short-cut answers. E sang and danced and argued and laughed–sometimes all at once–with a commitment that made life zoom to the present. E invited, even demanded, that everyone do the same.
E was a gift and shared their gifts so openly. Among the many gifts they shared, we remember fondly the way E practiced their people-first values, often by tossing any agenda, plan, or priority aside if someone was hurting and needed care and compassion. Together with a brilliant mind and righteous Spirit, E truly led from the heart.
While we grieve, our hearts go out to everyone who loved, learned, and engaged in the revolutionary struggle with E.
We are rocked by this tremendous loss in such turbulent times. Our souls and bodies yearn for a world that E inspired so many to imagine. Our commitment is to keep building a world and tend to one another because that’s what E asked us to do.
Elandria most recently served as the Executive Director of the People’s Hub, where she helped to craft online training programs, broaden access to education for change to the disabled. Under E’s leadership, People’s Hub flourished and grew and dismantle the Far Right, built the Solidarity Economy and participatory governance, tend to climate change, and built a healthy movement culture.
Rev. Chris Buice encourages all to please surround E’s parents Erven and Elnora Williams and brother Frederick with love. Those of us who taught E in Sunday School nurtured E in youth group, empowered E as a young adult, watched E blossom as a grassroots community organizer, and served with E in congregational and denominational leadership positions continue to be blessed by E’s courage, E’s convictions and E’s gigantic heart that filled our world with love.
Condolences can be sent E’s parents by mail to Elnora and Erven Williams, 7537 Berkshire Blvd., Powell, TN 37849; or by Email to [email protected]