by Brian Lamar, Assignment Editor
For Sonya Williams-Barnes, empowerment of Mississippi’s African American community isn’t just a focus in February. For her, it is an everyday mission.
District 119 Representative Barnes, a well-respected local businesswoman, and legislator works day and night to ensure she is working hard for all people of Mississippi regardless of color in the community she serves. Her motivation to work selflessly for others wells up from an ingrained upbringing from her number one hero, her mother.
A lesson she learned early on in life was to simply care for others. According to Barnes, she was fortunate enough to not have to look far for a guiding light. “I was fortunate enough to not have to look to the television or radio or entertainers to set an image that I wanted to be. I lived in a household with someone that was the best example I could have hoped for,” she said.
“My mother was my role model. Her caring spirit and her way of always instilling in me and my siblings were of charity,” Barnes said. “To give back and to help others was paramount.”
Always remaining poised and graceful although things may not have been easy to push through. Doing what she knew was right was what was most important to her.
Being both an owner/funeral director of Lockett-Williams Funeral Home and a Mississippi State Representative of District 119 in the Mississippi House of Representatives who serves on multiple committees and has had numerous leadership roles, being tired doesn’t mean she gets to take a day off from the struggle.
“My motivation that keeps me going is seeing the needs of the community and those that I serve and the remembering the disparities and the inequities amongst different communities and wanting better for the people I serve,” she said. “When I don’t feel like doing anything and wanting to lay in bed and relax seeing and knowing the disparities makes me get up and push through that tiredness”.
Through the long days of reading and writing legislative proposals and keeping the funeral home running like a well-oiled machine, Barnes’ most prominent daily struggle is one of education. Barnes believes that different backgrounds influence different paths in life and sometimes the ability to capitalize on opportunities isn’t that simple.
“Getting people to understand the difference between equity and equality is a constant battle. Many people feel that everyone has the same opportunity, but they don’t simply because they start on different playing fields. The opportunities that are given to some can’t result in the same outcomes as others because they didn’t start out the same,” Barnes explained.
According to Barnes, being down and out about your current situation isn’t going to get you the desired results. Determination, resourcefulness, and a positive spirit go a long way.
“My advice to all people is that you have to take the deck of cards of life that has been handed to you and make the best of it, but that isn’t enough. Always bring people up with you. Whether it is through mentoring or giving someone else an opportunity so that their lives can be better. Always give that part of you,” she said.
With recent national events in the news, female African Americans have been given a glimpse of what their future could be. According to Barnes, this is reassuring.
“It gives our little girls hope and a clear picture that there are no limits of what they can achieve or what they can do if they set their minds to it. For a little black or brown girl to see Kamala Harris as someone who looks like her in the role she is in now is inspiring,” she said.
According to Barnes, Vice President Harris is not the only person in this day and age to look up to.
A personal family friend of Barnes is another example “Stacey Abrams is someone who put a plan together and showed the world that if you put your mind to it you can achieve it. There are many more role models out there. It is ladies like them that may not be nationally named or popular household names that give that same inspiration in their community. It is my hope that I can be a positive influence in someone’s life as well”.
With the seemingly emboldened movements of white supremacists and anti-semitic in recent events, Barnes believes that the way forward is to continue to fight.
“Racism is probably just as prevalent as it was in the 60s. We have to continue to push forward and make demands to remove barriers. It is our duty as African American leaders in our communities to continue the effort. Even for the everyday citizen who may not have much civic engagement, whether you be black, white, or other when you see something that is not right, it is important that you call it out.” She said.
“To be silent is just as much wrong as it is to act in the same way we have seen recently and in the past,” Barnes said.
Representative Williams-Barnes is a 1987 Pass Christian High School Alumnus.