With Hollywood knocking on her door, Kelley Williams-Bolar will be marking 2014 as the year that her story is finally told in summation.
In 2011, Williams-Bolar was jailed for sending her two daughters to school in a predominately White school district in which her father lived. This year, audiences will be able to get a more in-depth look behind-the-scenes when her story is brought to life with her upcoming book, The Kelly Williams-Bolar Story set for an April 1 release and a movie, directed by Stephen Stix Josey and starring Garrett Morris and A Different World’s Charnele Brown, who will portray Williams-Bolar.
The family had lived in an Akron, Ohio housing project neighborhood where lacking schooling options spurred her to ask her father if she could she use his address to enroll her children in a school in his Copley Township school district in Ohio. Her children were enrolled for two years until the school district filed criminal charges against her for enrolling her children in a school district where she was not a legal resident. Williams-Bolar, like many of her supporters, to this day, asserts that the charges were racially motivated.
“There weren’t that many minorities out there,” Williams-Bolar says. “This was their way to narrow down our enrollment. I didn’t hear them say that, but at the same time there were only a sprinkle [of non-White students].”
Williams-Bolar’s father, Edward L. Williams, was charged with a fourth-degree felony of grand theft, in which he and his daughter were charged with defrauding the school system for two years of educational services for their girls despite the fact that Edward Williams was a legal resident of the neighborhood. The court ruled that sending their children to the school was worth $30,500 in tuition, which Williams-Bolar was responsible for repaying. She asserts that although she became singled out, she was not the only parent at the school who had made the same decision.
“I knew the other people who were doing the same thing, one woman in particular. [When my story made the news] I knew she was scared to death, I knew she thought I was going to say something. She kind of distanced herself,” she says.
When Ohio governor John Kasich made the decision to reduce her sentence of ten days of jail time and changed felony charges to misdemeanors when swayed by the national outrage, Williams-Bolar’s luck appeared to have gotten better. More than 100,000 signatures were collected by Change.org and ColorofChange.org in support of her. According to Colorlines, Kasich went on to use Williams-Bolar’s case to highlight the need for more school choice options, like school vouchers, that allow students to leave the public school system.
However, although the news whirlwind died down slightly upon her release, hardship still circled Williams-Bolar and her family. Her father was still being held on charges relating to the investigation fueled by Williams-Bolar’s case, and he wound up losing his home and later dying while in prison in 2012.
His death and her notoriety took its toll on her well-being. “I went into a deep depression,” Williams-Bolar remembers. “I could barely make it to work and talk. There were some serious trials there.”
Two years after his death, Williams-Bolar has been able to find and maintain work in her field of education while enrolling one of her daughters in private school. However, she is currently struggling to pay the tuition.
“My daughter is in a private school. After my case made the news, a gentleman paid for her school for the first year but he hasn’t paid for this year, so I’m busting my butt trying to get her to be able to stay there,” Williams-Bolar admits. She resolves that having her daughter in private school right now is the safest and best choice given her alternatives.
“Hopefully public schools don’t become obsolete,” Williams-Bolar says. “But, you have to know what is going on in the school and with your child. If you know that the state school is not working, you have to find out what your options are. Some parents are choosing to enroll in private schools or home-school. Home-schooling is not always possible because most parents have to work. You find what options are. ‘Keep them safe and educated’, should be every parents quote.”
Williams-Bolar created the website ChildsReign.org to offer pre-orders of her book and document news about her case and her subsequent work as an education advocate. Hoping that her new book and movie deal will shed light on her story while offering her opportunity for more speaking engagements so she can earn money for her daughter’s private school, Williams-Bolar is focused, yet realistic.
“Time heals,” she says, “but I will never be the person I was prior to everything that happened.”
Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman is on Twitter and Facebook at @SOYAOnline.