A quick chat with event planner extraordinaire AJ Williams.
N MAGAZINE: How did Nantucket first enter your life?
WILLIAMS: I’ve been coming here since I was sixteen. Our family fell in love with the beauty and the preservation of the island. Our first stay was at the Jared Coffin House. We rode bikes and went to the beach. Nantucket was the first place I heard the word “awesome.” Now we are building a home here.
N MAGAZINE: What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?
WILLIAMS: Here are three: I was a semifinalist on Master Chef, I was a runner-up at both Miss Mass Teen USA and Miss USA, and I was born on the island of Jamaica.
N MAGAZINE: What are the three most critical elements of throwing a successful event?
WILLIAMS: Creating energy, an experience at every stage of the event, and being flexible.
N MAGAZINE: You’ve worked with some bold names over the years. Who was most memorable?
WILLIAMS: I loved working with Anthony Anderson, Queen Latifah, Common, Vanessa Williams, Jennifer Hudson, Michael McDonald and Don Felder of the Eagles—but I was most honored to work with President Bill Clinton. We worked very hard to secure his appearance and with only a month’s notice. We share the same birthday and I knew he loved the cannoli from Mike’s Pastry. To keep him at the event longer, I bought him a dozen. He stayed thirty minutes longer as a result.
WILLIAMS: Events will be different for a while. Charity events are already coming back and weddings will come back fast when restrictions are lifted. We have implemented strategies and safety measures to encourage behaviors that reduce the spread of diseases among staff and attendees. Some practices we will keep moving forward to protect everyone.
N MAGAZINE: Are there specific changes you foresee?
WILLIAMS: We are glamorizing the new reality with curated food stations/bars with decorated barriers instead of buffets, and branded Plexiglass walls in front of registration. Packaged food items and cocktails with lids will be integrated for a while, but we see that as an opportunity to make it fun—brand- ed masks with fun or mission-focused messaging and adding items like maracas or small percussions to engage audiences that are distanced. The key here is flexibility, unity and making it fun!
N MAGAZINE: How have you evolved your business amid social distancing requirements?
WILLIAMS: We are providing more intimate and well-curated events for our social and nonprofit clients to best engage audiences. Our live and online (hybrid) events planned for fall/winter are popular because the virtual experience is interactive and a true two-way experience. Guests receive a fun, branded “Party in a Box” with tools to use for social distancing. Virtual events miss the impact of engagement, and engagement is so essential for the events I plan, especially for fund- raising and mission-focused content.
N MAGAZINE: One of your biggest clients is the Museum of African American History. Why is that institution so important, especially today?
WILLIAMS: The Museum of African American History (both Boston and Nantucket) is one of my favorite clients. We have so much Black history on Nantucket. African Americans settled here from the beginning, in the 1700s. The Nantucket museum has preserved the original buildings, making this island more unique. Visitors come away with the knowledge that all Americans, regardless of race, are shaped in profound ways by the African American experience. Black history is American history. To grow beyond the past, the larger community needs to recognize and learn its history.
N MAGAZINE: Are there specific parts of this history on Nantucket that you find most inspiring?
WILLIAMS: A few years ago, over thirty thousand artifacts were discovered eight feet underground on Nantucket and are on display. The site showcases the African Meeting House, a church built in 1826 and the home of a seafaring Boston family—it was originally built by Seneca Boston and inherited by her son, a whaling captain named Absalom Boston. Florence Higginbotham, an African American woman, purchased the property in the early 20th century, keeping its ownership in the Black community. Florence would invite everyone into her home as she stood daily at the five corners of the intersection with a plate of cookies, greeting folks that passed. That’s a hidden part of Nantucket history. The museum brings it out of the shadow, providing a new understanding of the diversity of the Nantucket community. It’s a place everyone should visit.
N MAGAZINE: If you could change one thing about Nantucket what would it be?
WILLIAMS: What’s to change? We have the best sunset on the East Coast, beautiful beaches you can drive on, amazing restaurants. It’s my favorite place to be during a storm. The energy socially here is contagious anywhere you go. Can’t beat the thrill of driving down Milestone in the fog! We have N Magazine. I could go on and on. Mmmmmm, I wouldn’t change a thing, unless you can bring The Bean back.