“I’ve lived a charmed life.”
Regina Williams-Preston’s leadership philosophy finds its roots in her family and her history as a South Bend native. She considers herself lucky to have “really amazing parents who loved and cared for me and provided a balance between protecting me from and preparing me for the world.”
As a child, Regina attended Holy Cross School, where she gained a solid academic foundation and learned many of the values that continue to guide her today. She recalls regularly walking below a cast iron plaque bearing the Golden Rule. She reflects that “seeing it every day and seeing my family members – mom, dad, grandma – really living those values out” inspired her to do unto others as she would have them do unto her. One of the key lessons she recalls is that she always needs “to be grounded and see things through a lens” that must change with the times. This early foundation provided her with a “charmed life” while also preparing her “for what’s out there” by giving her a “sense of self and space.” She developed an understanding of the importance of safe, consistent housing that continues to resonate in her work today.
As a child, Regina thought she would grow up to be a veterinarian and entered college as a pre-med major. This, however, proved to be a diversion, for she “loved school and playing school” and eventually found herself wanting to be in the classroom full time as a teacher. Her first teaching assignment was in a “self-contained classroom filled with little black and brown boys” who were considered “impossible to teach.” As she worked with them, she quickly realized that these boys weren’t any less intelligent or any more troublesome than other students their age. Regina came to recognize that they were being treated differently because of their skin color.
Seeing how these boys were being singled out motivated her to put into practice the “real advocacy” skills she learned through her involvement with the Community Forum for Economic Justice. She soon found herself as an educator and an activist. To help combat the problem she worked with other educator activists and the local chapter of the NAACP to help found CAFE (Community Action for Education), a grassroots organization comprising educators, parents, and community members. One of CAFE's primary focuses centers on impeding the School to Prison Pipeline, a practice of disproportionately disciplining children of color and poor children as compared to their peers.
Regina currently serves on the South Bend Common Council representing the Second District, which has been her home her entire life. Of her path to the council, Regina says, “getting on the council wasn’t something I aspired to, but being involved in school advocacy people knew I wasn’t afraid to speak up.” She found herself asking “what if I was on the inside where I could bring the voice of the people?”
She continues to strive to help others “uplift their voice, give them power, help them move to wherever they are going to be.”
Information compiled from oral history collected by The Michiana Women Leaders Project
Regina was a 2018 CMWL honoree.