Partner Spotlight: RISEWITHUS

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Partner Spotlight is a new series designed to highlight the vendors that partner with ABA to offer discounted products, services, and business opportunities to ABA members. Each installment, we interview a different partner to learn more about their organization and why indie bookstores matter to them. 

RISEWITHUS is a consulting agency that specializes in helping organizations better understand and implement Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) principles. Founder and CEO KJ Williams and Managing Director AJ Williams met with Bookselling This Week to talk about their work, their experiences with booksellers, and their love of books.

Bookselling This Week: RISEWITHUS was founded in 2018. What did that origin look like? How did you end up where you are today?

KJ Williams: In 2018, I was still working as the Diversity Programs Manager for the Washington State Bar Association. I was traveling throughout the state, facilitating workshops for the attorney general’s office on microaggressions and implicit bias. But I was constantly getting requests to facilitate these workshops outside of the Bar Association. A very close friend of mine encouraged me to launch my own consulting business.

That’s really what it came from: other people were pushing me to do it, because I couldn't facilitate under the auspices of the Bar Association for organizations that were in different industries.

AJ Wiliams: I came aboard in 2020…right before the pandemic hit in a big way. I was at a nonprofit. The vast majority of my background is working in the nonprofit sector with youth — from direct service to upper management. And I was pretty tired with the pace and the cycles that we go through in the nonprofit sector. I was ready for something else.

BTW: You work with all kinds of organizations. Is there anything unique or different about working with booksellers that you’ve noticed?

KJW: There’s a more general openness. And I think that’s because the booksellers that are choosing to attend our workshops are people who are well read. They have a broader perspective and seem to be much more open. I would say the energy in the workshops is lighter. And I think that’s because of the exposure they have to many different types of people through the writing that they are sharing in their bookstores.

AJW: Every industry is impacted by the political and social landscape, but bookstores are closer to the epicenter — the books being banned, the culture, the community, and bookstores as a space of leisure but also of necessity and intellectual growth.

I think the part bookstores play is very unique.

BTW: Some of our readers will probably have seen y'all before at our Institutes. You’ve attended several at this point! How has that experience been for y’all?

KJW: Going to Institutes has been one of the best experiences that I’ve had in terms of presenting — and we’ve traveled throughout the US presenting for different conferences! Booksellers (in my limited experience) are very friendly and very open — the culture, the environment, the energy in the room, the way they express themselves. Their level of curiosity has been transformative in that, as they are asking questions, it leads to other conversations that you don’t necessarily expect.

BTW: So for someone who has maybe seen y'all at the Institute's, what might be different if they contact you and sign up for some of these trainings on an individual level?

AJW: You can get more specialized, tailored services. It depends on what you’re looking for, but we’ll be able to dive deeper.

They’ll still get practical strategies, but they’ll be able to walk through those more slowly and have the opportunity to practice. They’ll also have resources given to them tailored to their experience and their request.

We make sure that we leave the organization with plenty of resources. If we’re doing an online session we record and edit those. We have participant workbooks and follow up resources so you can retain all that information and train others. We also offer things like training the trainer!

BTW: Do you want to talk a little about the role of books and indie bookstores in your life?

KJW: Books really were the savior of my life. I grew up in a home that was challenged in many ways, but my mother and grandmother were both readers. My mother always had a book in her hand, so I was exposed to books and to reading at a very young age. I learned to read when I was about five years old. And I've been reading ever since.

As a teenager, I would cut school and stay all day in the library.

I would go to the bookstore, even if I didn't have the money to buy a book, and I would just read. There's something about walking into a place that is filled with knowledge that just makes my brain vibrate. It is a very comforting place and it feels like home.

AJW: I grew up where reading was not the easiest thing for me. So it took me a while to develop a different relationship with reading — one that felt fun and healthy — but over time I did. Reading the Autobiography of Malcolm X early in high school helped put more fire in me to really read. I found that I enjoy science fiction the most and that really opened my reading world. My first sci fi book was The Golden Compass, and after that I got into Orson Scott Card.

BTW: Do you have any book recommendations you’d like to share?

KJW & AJW: The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

Right now, ABA members are eligible for 10% off virtual workshops and private trainings and 25% off in-person sessions. Interested members can visit the RISEWITHUS partner page on BookWeb for more details.

You can learn more about RISEWITHUS on their website, and keep an eye out for them at future Institutes!