Midlands Technical College
"Midlands Tech became a place where I felt safe. People made me feel like if I could get through college, I could do anything."
My name is Bianca Williams, and I’m an attorney in Greenville. My practice focuses on estate planning, probate, and bankruptcy. I am also licensed in North Carolina and in the District of Columbia (inactive). Most notably, in this season, I am the proud founder of Premature Millionaires. It’s a non-profit organization geared at changing the mirrors of foster children here in South Carolina and making the difference.
I had the privilege of attending Midlands Technical College from 2006 to 2010 where I acquired a couple of degrees. Initially, I was enrolled in the Associate of Arts program, and I later transferred to the University of South Carolina, Moore School of Business. I also was enrolled in the paralegal program and then I also received a real estate certification from Midlands Tech. I’m a proud alumna of that institution, and now, I also teach there in the paralegal program.
How did you end up going to Midlands Tech?
I was born in Miami, Florida. I lived there for about two years before moving to New Haven, Connecticut. I lived there for about eight years and I moved to Columbia the day before my 18th birthday in 2006.
I’m the child of teenage parents. At the age of 10, I ended up in foster care. I spent my time in foster care in the State of Connecticut from the ages of 10 to right before my 18th birthday. At that point in time, I actually had reunited with my biological family. They were already residing in Columbia.
Like many students in foster care, one of the things you dread is turning 18. Until recently, you age out of foster care when you turn 18 in many states, including South Carolina. Although I had been legally adopted, I still relied on that system for a lot of benefits: suitable housing, living with a foster family, and being able to have my financial needs taken care of. At 18, I was no longer legally entitled to those. I was determined to be an adult and needed to determine what my plans would be.
I always knew I wanted to go to college, and I had applied to go to college in Connecticut. However, I didn’t have the finances or support system necessary to continue on that journey. When I got back in touch with my biological family, I came to Columbia to visit them. It was around the 4th of July 2006, and one of the schools I wanted to go to was Midlands Technical College.
It worked out well because most colleges start in August. I had a low SAT score, but I was able to take the placement test and start college immediately, even though it was September or October. I started part-time and worked my way up to full-time. Everything just fit. I’m a Christian, and it felt like God ordered it all to work out.
Was Midlands Tech a school you were already interested in?
Like for many students, I think there was a stigma surrounding technical schools and community colleges. Because of the lack of knowledge as a first-generation college student, I never imagined going to a technical college. I never heard about people campaigning to go to technical schools. People made you feel like if you went to that school, you weren’t good enough to go to a “real” school. I wanted to go to a four-year university, but because of my circumstances, I didn’t have that luxury.
With Midlands Technical College, it seemed like everything was unfolding itself in my favor. When I visited, they had a paralegal program, which was something that I knew I was interested in. From a cost standpoint, it empowered me to be able to transition here and have some financial support from my biological family. With hindsight, technical college is a path I now encourage people to take.
Was there a point where you realized you were excited about technical college?
Most certainly. I was very involved as a student at Midlands Technical College. I was a student ambassador. I was the president of our Phi Theta Kappa chapter. I worked for the student information center. I gave tours.
By the time I finished my second year at Midlands Tech, I was getting ready to transfer to the University of South Carolina. One of the things I noticed about my peers at USC was that I was the only one that was going to have a degree. If something happened, if life changed, if I couldn’t finish school, I would at least have an associates degree. I also noticed the big financial difference. I was an undergrad and I didn’t have any college debt.
Can you share some of the obstacles that you overcame to be here?
Growing up in foster care, you are always faced with statistics. I always hear data about foster children being homeless when they age out. You hear that foster children don’t graduate high school or college.
I was in foster care as a result of being sexually and physically abused. As a result, I learned I would need to be a witness in my own trial at 10 years old and testify against the individual who did those things to me. That legal process went on for a span of five years. When I initially started the trial process, as a minor child, I was told I would not have to directly testify against that individual and could testify on camera. Because of the time that passed, I was 15 when the trial was scheduled and was treated as an adult. Testifying on camera was no longer an option. I had to face my abuser, and there were so many impacts of that because it was a family member.
I finally got to a point where I was willing to testify in person. But when I worked up the courage, my case ended up being dismissed. At 15, the justice that I was promised was gone. After that, I vowed that if given the opportunity, I would make a difference.
Leading up to my high school graduation, I acted out a lot. I would get into fights. I dealt with a lot of bullying, I dealt with the stigma of being a foster child. I dealt with the stigma and the data that I wouldn’t make it. I dealt with the pain of never getting justice. I remember I was on probation for a fight and a juvenile judge asked me, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” I said, “I want to be an attorney.” He said, “I don’t know how you plan on being an attorney if you’re going to keep coming before me.” It was like a light bulb went off for me. I had always been a good student academically, but I was acting. In that moment, something shifted.
Midlands Tech became a place where I felt safe. Although I was a first-generation college student, people made me feel like if I could get through college I could do anything. Once I was given that opportunity, school was the place where I could conform and no one knew my story.
Internally, I still faced the obstacles, pain and trauma. Externally, I performed. It was the one thing that allowed me to thrive because I wanted to make a difference.
How did Midlands Tech help you on your journey to make a difference?
One of the things I remember is that all of the brochures said, “You can get anywhere from here.” I thought it was just a catchy tagline. But looking back, I came to the school as a first-generation college student. Not only did I perform and excel, it opened doors for me. It was at Midlands Technical College that I was recognized and I was a part of the South Carolina All-state Academic Team. It was at Midlands Tech that I got exposed to the Phi Beta Kappa organization and I was the president. There was also a Bridge Program at Midlands Tech that allowed me transfer directly to the University of South Carolina. My transition to the University was so smooth. Today, I’m in year six as a practicing attorney, I’m licensed in three states, and I run a non-profit.
Tell us a little about your non-profit, Premature Millionaires.
I founded Premature Millionaires to change the narratives of children and teens in foster care and promote new beginnings and positive outcomes. We are focused on empowering vulnerable young people currently in foster care or those who have aged out of the state foster care system by providing advocacy, mentoring, financial wellness coaching, and other educational and inspirational resources designed to help them survive and thrive.
The name was significant because I had heard of other foster care organizations and the one thing I noticed with a lot of them is they used the word “foster care.” As a former foster child, the term carried a stigma. For a lot of those students and individuals who aged out or got out of the system, the last thing they wanted to do is be associated and be backed into a system where it had so many negative connotations.
With Premature Millionaires, my primary goal is to work with other professionals to help mentor these individuals. As a first-generation college student, the only attorneys I knew were my court-appointed ones or those I saw on TV. I didn’t really have anybody to help me navigate that or explain the profession to me. I’ve counted it as a blessing that not only am I an attorney, but I also have several friends who are attorneys, doctors, dentists, politicians. I said, “You know what? I want to tap my network. I want to be a resource and mentor to these children to provide not only mentoring resources, but also financial resources, scholarships and financial assistance.”
What is most meaningful to you about where you are now?
I had a full circle moment in the fall of 2018 when I was hired by Midlands Tech College as an adjunct professor for the paralegal program — the same program that I went through. I’m a huge proponent for representation. In the legal profession, I didn’t generally work with people who looked like me.
When I went through that program, I was very appreciative of all of my professors. One of the things I had always said was if I was given an opportunity to come back, how refreshing and how important it would be for students to see a professor who looks like them and went through the same program. It was both a personal achievement as well a professional achievement.