When I was a child, people always asked me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

My answer changed every couple of years. In kindergarten, I said I wanted to be a ballerina. By sixth grade, I wanted to be a lawyer or a therapist. These careers sparked interest, but none of them felt like a passion to me. It wasn’t until I saw Wendy Williams on my television in 2008 that I knew I had to tell other people’s business for a living.

I have been a reporter for three years, and I’ve always told my friends that Wendy Williams would one day present me with a Pulitzer Prize. Unfortunately, that day may never come. Williams has been diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia and frontotemporal dementia. Aphasia affects patients’ ability to understand language and communicate. Frontotemporal dementia attacks the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, which control personality, behavior and language.

As a Wendy Williams fan and someone whose grandfather had Alzheimer’s disease, I found her diagnosis heartbreaking. I’ve always wanted to meet her and appear on her show. It is even more saddening to hear and read people say this is Williams’ karma for discussing celebrity gossip on her radio and television shows for so many years. I find such comments downright hateful.

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A “Where is Wendy Williams?” documentary aired in February on Lifetime, chronicling her battle with the diseases.

I’d like to focus on the positive, however, and give Williams her flowers, because without the inspiration from that gossip and larger-than-life personality, I could’ve been a ballerina instead of a reporter, and who would’ve benefited from that?

“The Wendy Williams Show” debuted in July 2008, and it was the most captivating talk show I ever laid my 12-year-old eyes on. Williams came out with her big hair, feathery false lashes, big smile, tight dress and vibrantly pink set. Williams would sit in her chair, recount her morning commute, loudly sip her tea and get started on the latest news. I loved every minute of it. From the gossipy mess of the Hot Topics segment to her entertainingly candid interview style, she had me hooked. I had to watch this show every day, and I had to become a journalist one day in my own right.

Williams was the first Black woman in media I found relatable. Of course, there was Oprah Winfrey, who paved the way for many Black women in media, and I appreciate her contribution. But there was something about Williams’ conversational tone — recounting Hot Topics such as salon gossip and frequently referencing her hair extensions, acrylic nails and false lashes. It seemed like one of my aunties was on TV.

She created a space where she could be her authentic, messy and brassy self. That let me know there was a place for me — a Black girl who likes extensions or her big natural hair, false lashes and long acrylic nails — to succeed in a space dominated by white people who struck me as bland by comparison.

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Williams was unapologetic and relentless, traits that Black women are often criticized for displaying. She talked too much, was a bit obnoxious and could be rude at times, but I didn’t care. I loved seeing a Black woman be her authentic self and succeed while doing it.

After seeing her show, I knew I wanted to work in media. Initially, I thought I’d work in radio, much like Williams early in her career. I participated in a vocational program in high school that allowed me to learn some radio and TV things. I soon found the technology to be too difficult and decided that fun and conversational writing should be my path.

She became so infamous for her interview style and love of gossip that she got a shoutout in Mariah Carey’s song “Touch My Body.”

“’Cause they be all up in my business like a Wendy interview.”

As host of “The Wendy Williams Experience” radio show in 2003, she landed in the middle of a career and popular culture milestone. She conducted a contentious interview with the late Whitney Houston in which neither party held back.

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“Whitney, Whitney, Whitney,” the interview started.

Williams asked Houston whether drug use was going on in her life, and Houston famously replied, “Who are you talking to?”

Of course, Williams retorted, “You.”

The same year, Williams had a heated interview with Judge Greg Mathis, in which she brought up his alleged marital issues. Mathis then brought up her alleged drug use.

Although I personally would never embody her bold interview style, I admire her ability to be unapologetic and relentless in her search for information. Love it or hate it, her directness got her to the top and quickly made her a household name.

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Williams started her career as a radio DJ in 1986. By 1988, she was a DJ for Hot 103.9 in New York. Once she became a DJ for 98.7 KISS in 1990, she gained notoriety for her unconventional interview style and having the scoops. Williams knew everyone’s tea. Her TV show ran from 2008 to 2022.

During an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Williams said it feels as though she’s talking about somebody else, not herself, when she thinks of her success.

“I don’t want to be treated any different. I just want my respect from this industry. It seems as though that’s the biggest fight that I have, so I’ve given up. Thank you for having me here, Hollywood Reporter. I guess I am big time,” Williams said.

Williams has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, her own Madame Tussauds wax figure. Her wig, dress and a sparkly microphone are in the Smithsonian.

Wendy Williams is an undeniable force and an icon. She was inspirational and flawed. I am among those who appreciate the work she’s done. If she ever sees this, I hope she knows that.

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Royale Bonds is a regional reporter for The Baltimore Banner.

The Baltimore Banner welcomes opinion pieces and letters to the editor. Please send submissions to communityvoices@thebaltimorebanner.com or letters@thebaltimorebanner.com.

Royale Bonds attended Southern Illinois University. Go Salukis! She previously worked as an affordable housing reporter in Greenville, South Carolina. Royale enjoys long naps, snacking and endless scrolling on social media. She looks forward to reporting on Anne Arundel County and covering the stories that matter.

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