Fresh off of a recent Golden Globe win for Best Supporting Actor in a Television Series as Gregory Eddie on “Abbott Elementary,” actor Tyler James Williams visited Cornell on Saturday, March 25 to share insights about Hollywood, his career path and his hit ABC show.
Excited Cornellians gathered at Statler Auditorium on Saturday, cheering upon Williams’ entrance and singing along to his viral Disney Channel original song “Don’t Run Away.” The one-hour event hosted by the Multicultural Community Fueled Activities Board began with a discussion moderated by MCFAB chief of operations Mariama Bah ’24, followed by an audience question and answer session.
Williams expressed his gratitude for his life experiences early on in the discussion, which include playing the role of Chris Rock on the UPN/CW sitcom “Everybody Hates Chris,” starring as songwriter Cyrus DeBarge in the Disney Channel original movie “Let It Shine” and Noah on AMC horror television series “The Walking Dead.”
“Every career is a long road, it’s a journey, and you have these beautiful stops along the way. Being able to see my cast [win] — that’s what did it for me,” Williams said. “The industry is constantly evolving and that’s not always easy to adjust to. But for me, the love of the work is what’s carried through.”
According to its president, Jordan Crayton ’24, MCFAB is a group funded by the Campus Activities Office with the goal of bringing performers of color to the University. MCFAB has previously brought prominent artists to Cornell including Chris Redd, Doja Cat and Spike Lee.
“MCFAB really wants what’s best for the community,” Crayton said. “Like our name says, we are community-fueled and we want our community to feel represented in the performers that get to come to campus.”
According to Crayton, the goal of the event — which took two months of planning — was to generate opportunities to engage with successful performers of color and provide an inspiration for students.
“I’m hoping that students, especially aspiring actors, will be inspired by the Q&A,” said Samantha Smith ’26, MCFAB’s chief marketing officer. “We’re just hoping to give everyone a break from their exams and just have a night of fun.”
With 608 registered attendees and a waitlist of over 100 people, news of the event spread quickly on campus. Dana Cabus ’26 heard about the event from friends, immediately registering herself.
“This felt like a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Cabus said. “The event being free was a major perk.”
According to Crayton, the event took two months of strategic planning.
“Everyone has dreams of who they would like to come here, but with money constraints it isn’t always realistic,” Crayton said. “We looked at different media involving performers of color, and gauged how popular they would be by the amount of buzz they have surrounding them in the press. Then we tried to match them to our budget and timeline.”
With over twenty years of experience in the industry, Williams shared stories about his career trajectory, various roles and character arc on “Abbott Elementary.” He also touched on dealing with societal pressures on actors and students.
“You have more time than you think,” Williams advised the audience. “I don’t care what your career field is, I don’t care what it is you’re planning to do. The fastest way to get there is slow.”
Student attendees appreciated Williams’ heartfelt words and career advice, many claiming it was relatable to their own experiences at the University.
“This is refreshing to hear because at Cornell, I — and many of my peers — feel rushed to meet goals and deadlines without really enjoying the process along the way,” Samara Cathirell ’24 said.
Cabus expressed her appreciation for the advice that came with someone with such extensive experience in the performing industry.
“His advice about dealing with pressures from society really resonated with me, especially coming from someone who’s been in the limelight for twenty plus years,” Cabus said.
During the question and answer portion of the event, participants asked questions about everything from his music to the on-screen romance between “Abbott Elementary” main characters Gregory and Janine.
“I knew I absolutely had to attend this event because it would be such a great opportunity to see an actor who has been in shows and movies I love,” said Marina Blackman ’26. “I have a lot of great memories watching these productions, so once I found out that I had the chance to hear [Williams] talk in person at Cornell, I knew I had to go.”
The event’s attendees — many of which grew up watching him — said they were excited to hear Williams’ raw insights.
“I loved hearing his creative process of embodying a character, and how he finds commonalities among the characters he plays,” Cabus said. “The Q&A felt like he was talking to his audience as old friends. He’s so down to earth and humble about his fame.”
Blackman and Cathirell also cited the question and answer session as their favorite part of the event.
“It felt like an older brother was coaching us,” Cathirell said.
The event gave lasting impacts for some Cornellians who resonated with Williams’ story.
“My biggest takeaway is to do what I want to do no matter what other people, or society, tells me to do,” Mira Clarke ’26 said.
However, Clarke noted she would have enjoyed photo opportunities with Williams, and Cabus said he wished the event had been longer than an hour.
With the success of the event, MCFAB Board members Smith and Crayton said they hope to increase involvement of the club on campus through general body meetings and are in the process of planning new events for the community.
“Events like these matter to me because it is incredibly inspirational to see successful people of color thrive within white-dominated industries,” Cathirell said. “It reminds me that I too can find my niche and be happy even amongst those who don’t look like me.”
Syrielle Clement is a Sun contributor and can be reached at [email protected].