The Coolest Black Family in America, No. 19: The Hunter/Williamses

The Coolest Black Family in America, No. 19: The Hunter/Williamses

Caroline Hunter and Ken WIlliams took on Polariod over apartheid, and their struggle for justice only strengthened their relationship

Alexandra Phanor-Faury

by Alexandra Phanor-Faury, June 24, 2013

The Coolest Black Family in America, No. 19: The Hunter/Williamses

Caroline got married in 1977 after six years of dating. “He was a great partner and a friend. We had an honest, trusting and loving relationship.” 

The couple had trouble getting hired after Polaroid. Caroline worked various part-time jobs in education before she was hired as a math and science teacher. She’d later go on to earn a master’s in education from Harvard and become the assistant principal of Cambridge Rindge and Latin School. Ken was hired in the audio-video department at the Cambridge Public Library, where he remained for 27 years. All the while the pair continued to commit themselves to community service. Ken, a jazz lover, held fundraising concerts to raise money for struggling countries like Somalia.

Three years prior to giving birth to their daughter Lisette in 1983, Caroline suffered a traumatic loss when her first pregnancy resulted in a stillborn birth. “It was a very difficult time and I slipped into a deep and dark world,” she says. “Thankfully I had a wonderful support system in Ken and many women who came forward and shared their own experiences.” Counseling and therapy allowed Caroline to move forward.

“When Lisette came into our life, she brought so much joy into our life. I got to watch Ken be a new father to her in the best possible way. We just doted on her so much. People would always come over and ask why everyone else lets them hold their babies except for us. She was everything to us.”  

Ken and Caroline passed on the importance of community service, education and questioning authority onto Lisette super early. “We were very involved in her schooling. Ken and I would go in and talk to teachers about specific lessons. Just because it was written in a textbook doesn’t make it true. It wasn’t simply about do your homework. We made sure we were aware of what she was learning.”

“I was 7 or 8 when I noticed what my parents did, remembers 30-year-old Lisette. “I would go to my dad’s job at the library, and we would be planning these concerts to raise funds for different countries. When Nelson Mandela was released from prison, my parents were invited to meet him. It was at that moment that I remember thinking, ‘this is really cool!’

“As an adult today I can appreciate what my parents fought and stood for. That has definitely rubbed off on me. I used to have an account with Bank of America, but when I learned they were one of the corporations who refused slavery reparations, I closed my account,” explains Lisette, who works for a mental health agency. “I’m so proud of what my parents did, and I can’t imagine what my life would be like if they hadn’t had such a profound impact on me.”

Lisette describes her upbringing as happy, with an abundance of love and laughter. “They argued like any other parents, but they were very conscious of not doing it in front of me. Their relationship shaped what I want in my personal life. How I want to be treated is shaped by how I observed them treat each other with respect.”

Sadly, in 1995, when Lisette was 13, Ken was diagnosed with colon cancer. “It was unsettling and very hard to watch Ken go through this,” says Caroline. “I went to every chemo appointment with him, and we also made arrangements for Lisette to attend some with me to demystify the process for her.”

Ken was blessed with three years cancer-free before it returned; it would ultimately take his life only two months after his relapse. “It’s not easy to lose a parent at any age, but it’s a lot harder to say goodbye when you are a teenager,” says Lisette. Ken passed away at home with Lisette, Caroline and the family dog at his side. “He was such vibrant person, and that was not the life he wanted. This is why he refused chemo the second time around. It was just awful for him. When he left the hospital, everyone came out to say goodbye. He had such a loving heart and he was an easy person to love,” shares Caroline.

Once the grief and the pain subsided, Lisette, still in her teens, wanted to honor her father’s legacy with a scholarship fund. For the past 14 years, Lisette and Caroline have awarded humanitarian and art scholarships to high school seniors in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and in Martha’s Vineyard, their second home. So far they’ve given out $20,000, raised through annual golf tournaments (Ken was an avid golfer). “She is her daddy’s child. She is compassionate, passionate, very introspective and caring. I don’t worry about her hurting the world,” says Caroline.

Since Ken’s passing, Caroline has been the recipient of awards and accolades, and several South African and American authors and documentarians have

More great reads from Alexandra Phanor-Faury

Stay in the Know
Sign up for the Ebony Newsletter