Interview by Sara Brinda

In this interview with Burnesser Toni Williams, Sara Brinda explores Toni’s favorite social change issue, uncovers her greatest fear, and gets a glimpse of what it might have been like to hang out with Toni as a child.

Can you tell us about a project you work on at Burness?

The 7th annual County Health Rankings were recently released, and that’s a project I manage at Burness. There are so many things that work together to influence health. Can you afford healthy food at your local grocery store? Can you safely walk around your neighborhood? Do you make enough at your job to take care of your family? These things—and so many more—affect how healthy you are and how long you live, and the Rankings offer data on all these factors. Data is only as powerful as the action it inspires and the Rankings help communities see where they’re doing well and where they can improve.

What was different about the project this year?

One of the most interesting things we explored this year is residential segregation, which is when racial or ethnic groups live separately from one another in a community. In communities with high residential segregation of blacks and whites, blacks tend to have lower housing quality, more poverty, fewer jobs and under-resourced schools. As a consequence, residents experience greater stress and have higher risk of illness and death. In short, many in these neighborhoods live sicker, shorter lives.

There needs to be shift in our mindset if the factors that contribute to good health are available to some but denied to others, and that’s what we see in a lot of these neighborhoods. Work is needed to make sure that opportunities and resources are available to all.

What is one thing you love about working at Burness?

Burness is a company that works with organizations that are championing social justice issues in some form or fashion—whether it’s building healthy communities, tackling childhood obesity, or ending poverty. We and the organizations we work with have audacious goals and I love that! I really do wake up excited about the work I’m doing.

In my work specifically, I love spending time in communities doing inspiring work, like the places that win the Culture of Health Prize . I personally get jazzed just being in the midst of these folks in the Prize communities. They are courageous and committed to tackling some complex and entrenched issues so everyone has a real opportunity to live their best life. I mean, really—how can you not be inspired by that?

And now, a couple of questions that are not about work! Your colleagues love your stylish collection of glasses. How many pairs do you estimate that you have?

28 pairs! I have had this eyewear fetish since childhood. I collect great frames wherever I see them, and get my prescription put into them at Capital Eyes downtown. One recent acquisition is a pair of black cat-eyes with a hint of hot pink in the rim. I’ve been wearing a lot of fuchsia lately so I can rock these particular glasses. My biggest fear in life? A change in my eyeglass prescription.

What was the first record or CD you bought?

I saved up my birthday money, to get I Want You Back by the Jackson 5. I’m a huge Michael Jackson fan—huge, huge! In fact, my first concert, when I was 8 years old, was The Jacksons. I was completely out of control, dancing and screaming at the top of my lungs. My sister was completely embarrassed by all my antics. But I didn’t care, Michael and I were going to be together, and nobody was going to tell me otherwise.