SAAM Volunteer Spotlight: Connie Williams

 
 

Connie Williams’ volunteer work with the Savannah African Art Museum came about so naturally it seems to have been predetermined. Connie, a native of Indiana who made her way to Savannah by way of Kentucky, has volunteered as a Docent at SAAM since March, but the building blocks for their eventual meeting seem to have been put in place years ago.

Connie has been traveling to West Africa since 2004, when she made her first visit to Ghana with the Tamale, Ghana Committee from the Sister Cities of Louisville organization. At the time, she was an entrepreneur who also worked in banking and finance. She traveled to West Africa to empower its female citizens about finance, helping them achieve their own business and career goals. Since that trip 17 years ago, Connie has returned to Ghana annually and visited Nigeria several times, benefitting from the experiences as much as the countless people she has supported and cared for.

Connie has had a hand in the completion of several projects in Ghana, and she’s seen to it that her friends’ visit to the United States are productive and smooth.

“The son of the vice president of Ghana attended the University of Louisville. While he was here, we took care of him. Whenever the vice president’s family and friends would come to the U.S. to visit their son, I’d help organize their visits. We’d do projects here as well, and I helped Tamale’s mayor and his staff meet with different political factions so they could establish relationships,” Connie said.

To thank Connie for her years of support and dedication to the people of Tamale, Ghana, they bestowed upon her the honor of becoming a chief in a village of Kpanvo. She’s now one of 13 female chiefs and is proud of the accomplishment.

“That’s really pretty cool to be honored like that. At first, I resisted because that’s a big role – being a chief! I wasn’t sure, but they were persistent. And it all came about because of the business projects and relationships that the people and I fostered.

Upon becoming a chief, I was given the name of FuyaNa, which means ‘a woman with substance and with vision.’ It was really very sweet,” she said.

Today, she still works with some groups from Ghana. She owns property in the nation and has a trusted circle of friends who’ve become like family. Still a business owner, Connie supports African businesses by purchasing shea butter during her trips and using it in the natural spa products she lovingly crafts and sells in the U.S. through her own company, Savanna Naturals, Inc.

Connie made her way to Savannah purely on a whim. She’d always wanted to check out the Hostess City, so while visiting a friend in Atlanta last year, Connie decided to drive a few more hours and spend some time in Savannah. She’s glad she did.

“I came here, and I loved it. I turned to the friend I was traveling with and said, ‘I’m moving here.’ And I decided to just do it. Everything fell into place. I packed up and came down,” Connie said.

As a partially retired small business owner, she’s able to be flexible with both her location and her time. After becoming a full-time Coastal Empire resident, Connie realized she had extra time on her hands and wanted to fill it constructively. Because of her extensive travel history, she sought out work that pertained to Africa or African Americans. That’s when she came across SAAM.

“I started with a tour in the middle of the pandemic. Throughout my visit, I told them about my travels to Ghana and Nigeria and shared some stories. By the end of it, the museum’s staff expressed interest in communicating with me further about art and culture. They said, ‘You know, we do have volunteer opportunities.’ I wasn’t doing a lot, so I filled out an application to become a docent, they accepted me, and from that point, I started volunteering a few days a week,” Connie said.

SAAM founding director and chief curator Billie Stultz is glad Connie’s interests brought her to the museum

“Connie is a fantastic addition to our volunteer docent program. Her knowledge of African art and culture as well as her travel history give her the ability to lead fascinating tours through our collection,” Stultz said. “She adds flare and layers of depth to her presentations, and I think our visitors really appreciate it. I know I do!”

Her favorite part of volunteering at the museum is meeting people from all over who come in to visit. A lot of art in the collection ties into the Nigerian culture, specifically Yoruba pieces, which Connie already was familiar with and could talk about. When she leads tours through the galleries of West African art, Connie said she has two or three stories that she’s experienced herself and people love to hear them. It allows her to add little details and interesting bits to her tours.

“Being a docent really excites me because visitors are eager to learn about the pieces, and it’s great that it’s accessible to people who don’t have to pay to see or hear about this incredible collection. It’s a plus. I love seeing people go through there and learn while sharing with them a few stories I know or experiences I’ve had.”

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