Running with Purpose

Lending a voice on social justice issues helps drive track standout Brooke-Lynn Williams

Brooke-Lynn Williams running

Jon Williams, a running back on Penn State’s 1982 national championship football team, never told his kids that he wanted them to attend his alma mater, but they knew. So when his daughter Brooke-Lynn accepted a track scholarship from Penn State, Williams ’83 Edu quietly went to his car and texted some former teammates with the good news.

“This is where he went to school, this is where he thrived,” Brooke-Lynn Williams says. “And I know he kind of wanted to keep how he felt a secret from me because he didn’t want to influence my decision. But he’s happier about it than I am. He loves it.”

Last fall, Penn State President Eric Barron appointed Brooke-Lynn to the university’s Task Force on Policing and Communities of Color, a 2015 initiative that was reconvened and expanded following the nationwide attention to social justice in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota. The task force, which seeks to improve the relationship between law enforcement and underrepresented communities, includes representatives from local government, police organizations, and the university. Williams, a senior sprinter, is among three students on the task force, and the only student-athlete. She calls that voice an important one to hear.

“Athletics does bring a lot of students of color, specifically Black athletes, to Penn State,” Williams says. “Having an effect on their lives is really important to me. This is the town where you’re going to spend the next four or five years of your life. Are you going to feel safe there? To have that point of view I think is really beneficial.”

On the track, Williams has competed in five Big Ten indoor and outdoor championships; in 2019 she ran on the sprint-medley relay team that broke the school record. Erin Tucker, associate head track coach, says Williams’ voice carries weight throughout the program. “She’s one of those athletes that I feel 100 percent confident of her relaying any message to her teammates, and I know she will get the message across probably better than I was able to deliver it,” Tucker says.

Williams, who plans to pursue a career in child advocacy services, is looking forward to a postponed senior season on the track. She fell in love with the sport at Norton (Mass.) High because it challenged her; now, she says, “I’m willing to put myself through anything that they’re willing to give us.”

Adds Tucker: “There’s always been that extra drive with her, because she’s been a Penn Stater her whole life.”