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Rufus Williams

Accountant and Chicago Board of Education President Rufus Williams, Jr. was born on December 30, 1956 in Chicago, Illinois to Dicye Belle and Rufus Williams, Sr. Williams was raised in a household of six children in the North Lawndale and West Garfield Park communities on Chicago’s Westside. During his childhood, he attended Crown Elementary School and Dvorak Elementary School before graduating from Morton Upper Grade Center. In 1974, he graduated from Orr High School where he was a member of the school’s basketball team.

Without the finances to pay for a higher education, Williams postponed his plans of attending college to work at a fast food restaurant. He eventually earned enough money, received a scholarship and with the help of his parents, enrolled at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In 1978, he graduated magna cum laude with his B.S. degree in accounting in 1978. Williams was then hired as a certified public accountant for Arthur Anderson & Company. He worked there until 1988 when he became the corporate audit manager for the Baxter Healthcare Corporation. Williams later went on to work for Harpo Entertainment Group as a senior manager. There, he was instrumental in establishing the operational structure and financial management of Harpo Studios. Oprah Winfrey then encouraged him to follow his dreams of becoming an entrepreneur. In 2000, Williams founded Olympus LLC and began providing business management, contract negotiations and career development sources. His clients consisted of a variety of entertainers and athletes including veteran baseball player Gary Sheffield.

Williams was appointed to the Chicago Public School (CPS) Board in 2005 and served on the board of trustees of the CPS Teachers Pension and Retirement Fund before succeeding Michael Scott as the school board president in 2006. As president, Williams has helped to form the Charitable Fund for Inner-City Athletic Equipment, a fund that provides athletic shoes to CPS student athletes from low income families. In 2007, Williams launched Real Men Read which was designed to encourage a love of literacy in young boys, while encouraging long lasting school-community partnerships.

In addition to serving as president for the Better Boys Foundation, Williams has served as Vice Chairman and Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of Providence-St. Mel School and as the president of the Local School Council of Whitney M. Young Magnet High School.

Williams was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on February 22, 2008.

Accession Number

A2008.025

Sex

Male

Interview Date

2/22/2008

Last Name

Williams

Schools

Orr Academy High School

Crown Elementary Community Academy Fine Arts Center

Dvorak School of Excellence

Morton Upper Grade Center

Lane Technical College Prep High School

Southern University and Agricultural and Mechanical College

First Name

Rufus

Birth City, State, Country

Chicago

HM ID

WIL45

Favorite Season

Summer

State

Illinois

Favorite Vacation Destination

Bermuda

Favorite Quote

I Am The Master Of My Fate, I Am The Captain Of My Soul.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Interview Description
Birth Date

12/30/1956

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Catfish

Short Description

Accountant, education chief executive, and financial chief executive Rufus Williams (1956 - ) was the president of the Chicago Board of Education. Williams founded his own company, Olympus LLC, which provides business management, contract negotiations and career development sources for its clients, after working as a certified public account at Arthur Anderson & Company and as senior manager at Harpo Studios.

Employment

Arthur Andersen

Baxter International

Harpo Studios Inc.

Olympus LLC

Favorite Color

Red

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/238980">Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Rufus Williams' interview</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/238981">Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Rufus Williams lists his favorites</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/238982">Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Rufus Williams talks about his maternal family background</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/238983">Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Rufus Williams talks about his maternal family's migration to the North</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/238984">Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Rufus Williams talks about his father's family background</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/238985">Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Rufus Williams talks about his parents' migration to Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/238986">Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Rufus Williams considers how he resembles his parents</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/238987">Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Rufus Williams lists the neighborhoods where his family lived in Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/238988">Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Rufus Williams recalls his earliest childhood memory</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/238989">Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Rufus Williams describes the sights, sounds and smells of growing up in Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/238990">Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Rufus Williams talks about gang activity on the West Side of Chicago, Illinois in the 1960s</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/238991">Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Rufus Williams talks about his activities with the Boys Brotherhood Republic growing up in Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/238992">Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Rufus Williams remembers his experience at Anton Dvorak Elementary School in Chicago, Illinois and its principal, HistoryMaker Barbara A. Sizemore</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/238993">Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Rufus Williams recalls his influential teachers at Anton Dvorak Elementary School in Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/238994">Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Rufus Williams remembers meeting Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1966 and the emergence of the Black Panthers in Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/238995">Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Rufus Williams remembers segregation in the 1950s and 1960s</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/238996">Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Rufus Williams talks about his experiences at Albert Grannis Lane Technical High School and Orr Academy High School during the 1970s in Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/238997">Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Rufus Williams remembers the aftermath of the 1968 Chicago Riots on the West Side of Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/238998">Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Rufus Williams describes fashion styles in the 1960s and 1970s in Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/238999">Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Rufus Williams describes his experience with religion while growing up</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239000">Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Rufus Williams recalls the death of his oldest sister in 1977</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239001">Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Rufus Williams describes his freshman year at Albert Grannis Lane Technical High School in Chicago, Illinois, pt. 1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239002">Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Rufus Williams describes his freshman year at Albert Grannis Lane Technical High School in Chicago, Illinois, pt. 2</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239003">Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Rufus Williams remembers his hopes and dreams during his time at Orr Academy High School in Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239004">Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Rufus Williams recalls life lessons he learned in eighth grade at Morton Upper Grade Center in Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239005">Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Rufus Williams remembers playing on Orr Academy High School's basketball team in Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239006">Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Rufus Williams talks about the gang presence on the West Side of Chicago, Illinois during the 1960s</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239007">Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Rufus Williams describes how his motivation to be successful protected him in his neighborhood</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239008">Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Rufus Williams recalls selecting a college to attend</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239009">Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Rufus Williams talks about his siblings' college education</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239010">Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Rufus Williams remembers not being able to afford college</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239011">Tape: 3 Story: 12 - Rufus Williams recalls being robbed while working at Burger King</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239012">Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Rufus Williams remembers an influential history teacher at Orr Academy High School</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239013">Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Rufus Williams recalls being admitted into Southern University and Agricultural and Mechanical College in Baton Rouge, Louisiana</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239014">Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Rufus Williams describes the impact of receiving an academic scholarship from the Better Boys Foundation</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239015">Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Rufus Williams talks about choosing a career path in college</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239016">Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Rufus Williams talks about playing basketball at Southern University and Agricultural and Mechanical College in Baton Rouge, Louisiana</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239017">Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Rufus Williams remembers pledging Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity at Southern University and Agricultural and Mechanical College in Baton Rouge, Louisiana</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239018">Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Rufus Williams describes his social and academic experiences at Southern University and Agricultural and Mechanical College in Baton Rouge, Louisiana</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239019">Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Rufus Williams shares advice that made him successful at Southern University and Agricultural and Mechanical College in Baton Rouge, Louisiana</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239020">Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Rufus Williams describes the benefits of attending a historically black university</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239021">Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Rufus Williams recalls joining Arthur Andersen and Co. in Chicago, Illinois right after his college graduation</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239022">Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Rufus Williams describes being hired at Arthur Andersen and Co. in Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239023">Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Rufus Williams describes the training process at Arthur Andersen and Co. in Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239024">Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Rufus Williams recalls working toward a promotion at Arthur Andersen and Co. in Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239025">Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Rufus Williams describes trying to become a manager at Arthur Andersen and Co. in Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239026">Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Rufus Williams recalls two difficult assignments at Arthur Andersen and Co. in Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239027">Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Rufus Williams talks about his family life and work with the Better Boys Foundation during his time at Arthur Andersen and Co. in Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239028">Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Rufus Williams explains his decision to leave Arthur Andersen and Co. in Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239029">Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Rufus Williams explains his decision to work at Baxter Healthcare Corporation in Deerfield, Illinois</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239030">Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Rufus Williams describes joining Harpo Studios, Inc. in Chicago, Illinois and moving to the Lincoln Park neighborhood</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239031">Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Rufus Williams recalls his aspirations when he became vice controller at Harpo Studios Inc. in Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239032">Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Rufus Williams remembers working with Oprah Winfrey to help set up the Oprah Winfrey Foundation</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239033">Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Rufus Williams remembers his introspective conversations with Oprah Winfrey while working at Harpo Studios Inc. in Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239034">Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Rufus Williams talks about his experience working at Harpo Studios, Inc. in Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239035">Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Rufus Williams explains his decision to remain at Harpo Studios Inc. in Chicago Illinois in 1991</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239036">Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Rufus Williams explains why he decided to leave Harpo Studios Inc. in Chicago, Illinois in 2000</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239037">Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Rufus Williams talks about the origin and evolution of his wealth management company, Olympus LLC, in Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239038">Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Rufus Williams describes negotiating Gary Sheffield's baseball contract</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239039">Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Rufus Williams comments on the Detroit Tigers 2008 baseball team</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239040">Tape: 6 Story: 10 - Rufus Williams explains how he was appointed president of the Chicago Board of Education in 2006</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239041">Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Rufus Williams reflects upon the importance of his role as president of the Chicago Board of Education in Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239042">Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Rufus Williams talks about former Chicago Board of Education presidents, HistoryMakers The Honorable Kenneth Smith, Sr. and Michael Scott, Sr.</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239043">Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Rufus Williams considers the ways to improve the education of African American children</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239044">Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Rufus Williams describes starting the Real Men Read mentoring and literacy program in Chicago Public Schools</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239045">Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Rufus Williams remembers Bill Cosby's 2006 speech at Chicago Public Schools' Power of Parents conference</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239046">Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Rufus Williams reflects upon his goals as president of the Chicago Board of Education</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239047">Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Rufus Williams considers some of the challenges he faces as president of the Chicago Board of Education</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239048">Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Rufus Williams recalls a conversation about education with HistoryMaker Barbara A. Sizemore</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239049">Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Rufus Williams considers how long he will serve as president of the Chicago Board of Education</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239050">Tape: 7 Story: 10 - Rufus Williams reflects upon his life</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239051">Tape: 7 Story: 11 - Rufus Williams reflects upon his legacy</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/239052">Tape: 7 Story: 12 - Rufus Williams describes how he would like to be remembered</a>

DASession

1$1

DATape

6$7

DAStory

7$1

DATitle
Rufus Williams talks about the origin and evolution of his wealth management company, Olympus LLC, in Chicago, Illinois
Rufus Williams reflects upon the importance of his role as president of the Chicago Board of Education in Chicago, Illinois
Transcript
At that time, there was, there was a young lady who had been interning at Harpo [Studios Inc., Chicago, Illinois]. And I'd see her. She was clearly interning, clearly young, very attractive. I'd wave you know as we went through and I learned later that she had actually married this professional baseball player who she met at the basketball All Star game with another young lady who worked at Harpo who I knew very well because I had helped her get a job there because she had been a scholarship recipient of the Better Boys Foundation [(BBF), Chicago, Illinois] and they had become friends. And so she married--I learned that Deleon [Richards] had married Gary Sheffield and you know I thought that was, wow. In 2000, Gary had been involved in a lot of businesses and he was cap--just providing a lot of money for working capital for those businesses. And Deleon had talked to her friend. Her friend had told her you know what you should probably talk to [HistoryMaker] Rufus [Williams]. And she did and so we talked in that May. That was in '99 [1999]. We talked in May of '99 [1999], and then we talked again in October. Around Thanksgiving, Gary and Deleon came to Chicago [Illinois] because Deleon lived in North Chicago. And I met them for dinner. We hit it off. I flew down to St. Petersburg [Florida] where they lived right after Christmas and started helping Gary manage through these businesses. And, and really managing through them was kind of managing them away because I didn't think--as they were, he was putting in too much money. And I didn't think that they were really gonna be successful given what they were. So we started managing them away. And over that next six month period, I spent a lot of time working with Gary and a lot of time working with Harpo. And then came the conversation with Oprah [Winfrey] and just figured you know what, this is really what I was looking to do. I can't have a better client to start with. So, or this was about as good of a client to start with as you can have. And so I decided to leave and start my own business doing business management for athletes and entertainers.$$Okay, so what did you call your business?$$Olympus.$$Olympus?$$Olympus LLC [Chicago, Illinois]. It was right around, you know, that was right around the, right around the [2000 Summer] Olympics [Sydney, Australia]. And I think it was around the millennium [2000] and a lot of people were naming stuff Millennium. It was around the Olympics. I had gone down. I had actually gone down to the [1996 Summer] Olympics in Atlanta [Georgia] with my son [Bradford Williams]. We were two blocks away when the bomb went off. And it was just kind of in all of these things I decided you know in thinking about what my business was, I'm sure that was there and I thought about it and the people who I would work with and Mount Olympus [Greece] being the place where the gods alight from, it seemed like the right place to provide that stability. And so I named my company Olympus Incorporated and started, started providing that service to whoever I thought could use it focusing primarily on athletes and entertainers. Figuring that I--the work that I could do, it was really thinking about Oprah has a staff of people managing all these things for her. What about those people who come into the wealth and don't have the time or the capacity and have a staff working for them. This is the uniqueness of what I have because I probably, probably are not gonna encounter people who have as much money as she does. Probably have not, will not encounter people who have had as many options to do what a number of things that she does. So I will probably either not see anything I haven't seen before or certainly won't see anything I can't help figure out. And with that, I thought those were the uniqueness of my abilities and I started my business based on that. Over the years, things, things go as they go and as I would expect, I have an opportunity to show my full competency to my clients and particularly in Gary's case, it moves on beyond just managing his money to also negotiating his contracts. So it goes full circle. And that's what my business has become.$Okay. All right, now how has, how's it been being president of the [Chicago] Board of Education?$$There is no more important job that I can have. I am a product of Chicago Public Schools [CPS]. My son [Bradford Williams] is--my son left private school and picked Whitney [M.] Young [Magnet High School, Chicago, Illinois]. He didn't pick public schools. He picked Whitney Young of all the schools in the city and he could have gotten into all of them. So that was a very conscious decision. Watching him go through public school and my son decided that he wanted to go to Yale [University, New Haven, Connecticut]. And he decided to apply early. And he applied only to Yale and he got in. So he has been one of those that we continue to say--that I continue to say if this--we know the schools are good. We know that this is what they can do. And it is my push to try and get everybody not to go to Yale, but get everybody at a point that they can feel confident to go wherever they wanna go. I know that it works. I know that it worked for me. I know that it worked, it worked for him. It is one of the biggest challenges because there is so many things to do. And for me I am trying to change a lot of things and I know more than anything. I'm trying to change a culture. I'm trying to change a culture outside where we know that our children can be successful, that we know that parents are the key people that make that work. I'm trying to make sure that the right accountability and the right pressure is put in the right places. But I think more than anything else if we believe that we can get something done and we put forth the work to get it done, then we can get it done. I don't think we're putting forth the work to get it done. I don't think the people believe well enough that our children can be successful. And that is the culture that I'm trying to change. I'm trying to change it on the outside and I'm trying to change it on the inside. Our district is the third largest school system in the nation. I think that as we go the nation goes. When we show them we can do we can show the world that we can do. So it's a really big undertaking as we look to the future. And to me, you know I go out to schools as much as I can. I read to children. When I look in the eyes of a kindergarten kid, I was at a school today for their African American history month and as those children sat there and they looked up at me when they learned who I was in some awe, I know that that child is expecting me to do the best I can by him. And in some fifteen years or so, he will let me know one way or another whether or not I have. The mayor is responsible for our schools in Chicago [Illinois]. And under him is the board of education. And I'm the president of the board of education. He makes it painfully clear all the time that I am responsible for our schools and I take that responsibility very seriously. So as we try to move it and I try to move it with expecting excellence, I'm not accepting excuses, not accepting victimization. Recognizing that we don't have all the resources that we need, I expect everybody to do everything they can with the resources that we have. And we will work on the other hand to try to get more. But I think you know there were times and places and schools where there was nothing and people have gotten to a lot. We've got a lot of work to do and I fully believe that we can get it done.