Dr. Shondra Williams believes wholeheartedly in the adage that it takes a village to raise a child. As a girl growing up in New Orleans and being raised by a single mother, community programs helped her access education and health care. Dr. Williams knew she wanted to give back in the same way to help future generations, and to do that work in her hometown.
“I like to say I was born here, I was educated here, I live here, I work here and I play here,” Dr. Williams said. “I’ve been in Louisiana my entire life. It’s special to me that the community health work that I lead today mirrors the same programs that benefited me as a young person growing up here.”
Dr. Williams was instrumental in the launch of Jefferson Community Health Care Centers, Inc., which will mark its 20th anniversary next year. She’s especially proud of the fact that it resumed services as soon as possible after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, providing vital medical care and social support in a city that was still reeling from devastation. Since 2012, Dr. Williams has served as the CEO of InclusivCare, where she practices accountability, transparency and commitment to help the organization build a strong infrastructure to meet today’s health care needs.
Dr. Williams said InclusivCare adds or adjusts services based on community feedback. In recent years, that has meant an uptick in mental health care as more people grapple with anxiety, depression and other psychological challenges.
“It is a national crisis and we see it in our centers every day, especially since the pandemic,” Dr. Williams said. “These mental health issues can lead to people not having optimal physical health and sometimes not being able to be employed. Those are real world effects. Before someone can take care of themselves in terms of proper medication, healthy eating and exercise, their mind must be healthy. The good news is that people are feeling more comfortable talking about these issues and finding ways to address them.”
Dr. Williams is also leaning into a newfound passion for early childhood education. InclusivCare recently opened an early child care center, and Dr. Williams said she especially recognizes how much someone’s life can be impacted by their experiences before age four, since so much brain development takes place during that time.
“We want to do what we can, whether it’s helping people understand the importance of high-quality education, making sure we have the best and brightest educating our young people, or supporting parents so they have the ability to provide that to their children,” Dr. Williams said. “I see this as one of our biggest 21st century challenges. Education is the root of everything and is critical for the workforce of the future.”
Although she holds multiple degrees, has published numerous articles and has received national recognition for her work, Dr. Williams herself is committed to continual growth and learning through professional development, readings and taking the perspectives of others into account, regardless of their background.
“I love to get outside the walls of our practice and work with other community and business leaders, government officials and associations,” she said. “I also love working side by side with the people here. They all inspire me. I think about people’s lives and what I can do to improve their circumstances. It’s so rewarding. There’s never a dull moment.”
Those thoughts also include how she can help young women in New Orleans and beyond achieve their own dreams, whether that means working in health care or pursuing their own passions.
“I tell young women to find a mentor because I think that’s extremely important,” she said. “Find someone you can bounce ideas off of, who is a good listener and who can help you navigate complicated waters. Oftentimes, we think about how much we cannot do and how much time we do not have. I like to think about what we can do and how much time we do have. That means lifting each other up as much as possible.”
The “She Is” campaign is a partnership between Hancock Whitney and The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate, The Advocate and The Acadiana Advocate to curate and share stories about women who are thriving – what motivates them, how they motivate others, and how women can continue to drive impact. Visit www.hancockwhitney.com/she-is for more details on Hancock Whitney’s ongoing work with female leaders and to share your own favorite “She Is” story.