Montel Williams On MS

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Born on July 3, 1956 in Baltimore, Maryland, Montel Brian Anthony Williams began his professional career when he enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1974, upon graduation from high school. After six months, he was meritoriously promoted twice, and became the first Black Marine selected to the Naval Academy Prep School--he ultimately went on to graduate from the Naval Academy. At Annapolis, Montel received a presidential appointment to study Mandarin Chinese, securing a degree in General Engineering with a minor in International Security Affairs. He was then selected as special duty intelligence officer, specializing in cryptology.

Honorably decorated, Williams received numerous awards and distinctions throughout his naval career, including the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, two Navy Expeditionary Medals, two Humanitarian Service Medals, a Navy Achievement Medal, two Navy Commendation Medals and two Meritorious Service Awards. He is also an accomplished author whose autobiography, Climbing Higher, details his struggle with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). This intensely personal story, which follows his diagnosis through his days of despair, tells of his ultimate acceptance of his disease. In the book, he addresses issues such as the legalization of medical marijuana and the cost of state-of-the-art drugs.

When he was diagnosed with MS in 1999, Williams made a pledge to use his celebrity to find a cure. Because of his unique position, he has had access to the latest research being conducted around the world. True to his word, he established The Montel Williams MS Foundation to further the scientific study of MS, provide financial assistance to select organizations and institutions conducting research, raise national awareness, and educate the public. He has four children, ages nine through twenty, and resides in New York City. And of course he also serves as host of the long-running TV talk show which bears his name.

BSN: What inspired you to write Climbing Higher and to go public with your struggle with MS [Multiple Sclerosis]?
MW: "I had been running around acting like Superman, portraying this disease as something that's so easy. But it isn't. And I wanted the truth out."

BSN: I appreciated the book's brutal honesty.
MW: "Think about it. I've been on the air for 14 years. I have filleted myself for the American public continuously. I don't pull punches. This is who I am. I'm not going to write a book and lie. The only thing I did in this book is I protected my ex-wife, because I will never, ever, ever say a disparaging thing about the mother of my children. I may have painted that picture a little differently from what it was, but the rest of that book is about as honest as I can be, 100%, because why bother, otherwise? So, I don't go along with the B.S. of hiding and lying."

BSN: What advice do you have as a role model?
MW: "This is the advice I would give: You alone own the definition of who you are. You alone. Nobody can define who you are, nobody can tell you what you will be. You alone will own that definition. I have MS. People tell me I can't snowboard. I'm out in Utah snowboarding my rear end off. I have 80 days of heliboarding under my belt. And I have doctors who would look at my brain and tell you it's impossible for me to do this. When you listen to other people's definitions of who you are, you will start to live down to their expectations. The only expectations I ever want to live with are mine, and I'm always living UP to them, period. That's the only advice I have to give."

BSN: What is heliboarding?
MW: "I'll show you some tape if you want to see some. It's when a helicopter takes you to the very top of a mountain and you land on about four or five feet and ride your but down. When I do it in Chile, that gives you an incredible 7,000 feet of vertical. Whereas, in America, the best you can get is maybe 3,000, which means you get a good half-hour run. But the point I'm making is not to brag about the fact that I snowboard, but the fact that I'm the one who is going to define who I am. There were people who told me that a bald-headed Black man would not be accepted in America, yet 14 years later, I'm still on the air."

BSN: What do you think of the flak Bill Cosby has been taking for his controversial comments about Hip-Hop?
MW: “Bill Cosby has a right to his opinion. He is clearly stating that, from his perspective, some of the ways in which African Americans present themselves may not be appropriate. He comes from a different generation and as far as I’m concerned, some of what Cosby says bears merit and he also has a right to define who he is as a Black man. It was so unfortunate to me, that since I’ve been on the air, there was a long time when I got defined by most of the Black press as being something that I wasn’t.�

BSN: How so?
MW: “People had an attitude because I’m conservative in my thought process, I believe in people working hard, and I express my opinion. So, I caught the same kind of flak.�

BSN: Do you let your kids listen to gangsta’ rap?
MW: “I have an 11 year-old son. I’m trying to make him understand. Right now he’s really into Hip-Hop. I listen to Hip-Hop all the time and I’m the reason why he’s into it. He listens to stuff that’s very vile, very misogynistic. A couple of days ago, he called his sister a name and I hit the roof. Then I backed up and went in my room and had to admit to myself that he was just repeating what I’d encouraged him to listen to. He was only repeating what we’d heard in the car.�

BSN: Your father and my father were both firemen who integrated and rose through the ranks in their city‘s departments. I gave mine a copy of your dad's memoir, Firefighter, which he enjoyed immensely shortly before he died earlier this year.
MW: "I'm sorry to hear that. But I bet he shared similar experiences."

BSN: Yeah, he told me all sorts of stories of what he had to overcome in the Forties and Fifties.
MW: "Sure. And it's still one of the last bastions of separatism and nepotism in America today. Where are you from?"

BSN: I was raised in New York City, but now I live in Princeton.
MW: “I spoke in Princeton at the high school years ago.�

To learn more about MS and Williams' foundation please visit

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