Dispatches from the Moth · Posted On: Sep 06, 2022

The MOTHerview: Questions for backgammon champion Antoinette-Marie Williams

by The Moth

What have you been up to since telling your story?

I still travel and play. There was a US Backgammon Federation (USBGF) for women where I placed in the top five of the US versus the UK. I placed first in the performance rating. I have also qualified for the US Women’s National Team Championship.

I also give free lessons every two weeks on West 109th Street and Amsterdam Avenue from 2 to 4 o’clock to anyone who wants to learn—whether they know some of the game, or nothing at all. 

This story doesn't take place too long in the past, but have you noticed any change in terms of the representation of women, especially Black women, in these backgammon tournaments and spaces?

There are several women’s organizations, specifically Women of Backgammon. We get together twice a month, encouraging more women to learn and to better their game. We invite masters to suggest ways to improve our game. There have been some women of color that have been coming to these encouraging conversations and lessons on Zoom.

Do you have advice for budding backgammon players?

They should play often, they should study the game—there are tutorials online. There are clubs online where you can play. Play often, study the game, and enjoy.

Your father's advice to you was to play every game like it's your first and to also take risks as you're playing. Do you use that advice outside of backgammon? 

Sure. Life is about taking risks and enjoying the outcomes. There will be ups and downs, but be able to learn from your mistakes and move forward.

You’ve said that there is a luck factor in backgammon. Do you consider yourself a lucky person?

I think that it's more positive thinking than luck. I look at the bright side of every day, happy that I'm still on the planet. I have multiple sclerosis and I'm happy that I'm able to get up and around using my ”Ferrari” motorized scooter to enjoy life. Even just when the sun is shining, I'm out rolling around, trying to take in as much vitamin D as I can. 

I also advocate for people. I live in a building with elders and the disabled. I'm like the mayor of the building. Some people don't speak English, so they come and ask me for help getting services or whatever's necessary. And this is who I am. I must wear a blinking sign on my forehead, "Ask Antoinette." I'm always available to people to ask for my advice and to help them with anything that they need. I enjoy it. I enjoy advocating for myself and others. Knowledge is power!

Given your advocacy work, it sounds like storytelling and speaking publicly may have been a part of your life before The Moth came along.

It wasn’t. I've talked to groups of Handicapable people about accessibility. I started an online restaurant guide for wheelchair and scooter accessible restaurants in New York City. I talked with groups at these organizations about doing that, about going to only restaurants where we could fit in, where there were no steps, where the bathrooms were accessible with grab bars that we could roll in and roll out with no problems. Those were groups that I spoke to, on a more personal level. I did stand in front of groups of people, but I didn't consider that public speaking. I guess it was public speaking, but it felt more like a personal thing. Because we have the same things in common. 

One of the values that the Moth holds dear is that change is sometimes best enacted by telling personal stories. Telling your own story can really bring it home for people.

Yes, it has. For me, in fact, I've been talking because of the Moth. I am now taking public speaking and improv lessons. I hope to be doing more public speaking, because not only do I have stories to tell, but I'd like to encourage other people—elders and people with disabilities specifically—to go out and enjoy life regardless of your ailment, because if you don't, you're home, like a couch potato, and there's so much we can do. 

Because of the Americans with Disabilities Act, we can then get out and enjoy more of life using a scooter, or a wheelchair, or motorized wheelchair, or a rollator. Streets have more ramps that we can roll up onto the sidewalk, more restaurants have accessibility, where we can go out and dine and enjoy. Movie theaters. There's still a lot of changes to be made, but there have been a lot of improvements in everyday life, so that we can get up and enjoy.

Why do you feel storytelling is important?

It gives you another look at life. It gives you someone else's experiences, which may be like yours, happy or sad.

For her advocacy work, Antoinette was awarded: 

Comptroller of the City of New York “Older Americans Service Award” Presented to Antoinette-Marie Williams in Recognition of Outstanding Contributions to Their Community 2019

New York State Assembly Citation to Antoinette-Marie Williams “for extraordinary (volunteer) service to our State.” Assemblyman Daniel J. O’Donnell