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Author and actor Montel Williams rose to fame in 1991 with the launch of his talk show, The Montel Williams Show, which ran for 17 seasons and earned its host an Emmy.
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Talk-show host Montel Brian Anthony Williams was born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1956. The son of a fire chief, Williams went on to have a successful military career before leaving the armed services for full-time work as a motivational speaker. In 1991, The Montel Williams Show debuted. The program ran for 17 seasons and made Williams a household name.
"There is no single definition of whiteness or single definition of blackness."
Montel Brian Anthony Williams was born on July 3, 1956, in Baltimore, Maryland. The youngest of four children, Williams grew up in the southwest Baltimore neighborhood of Cherry Hill, before moving to the suburban community of Glen Burnie at the age of 6 with his family.
A good student, Williams was bused to Andover High School, a largely white school in Linthicum, Maryland. Over the course of his long career Williams has broken through a number of racial barriers, one of which included becoming his school's class president during his senior year, in 1974. Undoubtedly, Williams' drive was shaped by his father, Herman Williams, Baltimore's first black fire chief.
Following high school, Williams joined the Marines, paving the way for him to become the first black Marine to attend the Naval Academy Prep School in Newport, Rhode Island, where he was one of only four to graduate. Williams graduated from the school in 1976.
From there, Williams enrolled at the U.S. Naval Academy, which he graduated from in 1980 with a Bachelor of Science in engineering. In addition, Williams, who has a good ear for language, also learned to speak Russian and Chinese.
But the energetic and ambitious Williams saw a life for himself outside the military. In 1989 he resigned his active-duty commission and started work as a full-time motivational speaker, work he'd started while still in the Navy. He also developed a nonprofit group called Reach for the American Dream, which delivered college scholarships to students unable to afford higher education.
His rise to television stardom was rooted in his speaking work. Williams' heartfelt and upbeat style caught the attention of PepsiCo, which funded a number of his speeches. In addition, the company selected him to do a short introduction for the film Glory and paid to have videos of the film distributed to schools around the country.
Williams' talent, energy and good looks soon caught the attention of television executives, as well as Glory producer Freddie Fields. By 1991 plans had been put in place to tap into Williams' potential star power through a television talk show. That year, The Montel Williams Show debuted. The program gave Williams the distinction of becoming the first black man to have his own show in daytime.
Despite his relative inexperience in his new profession, Williams did not lack confidence. "If I look back at my life, everything I've done has brought me here," he said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. "I'm a talk show host, I'm going to be a talk show host…I'm telling you, this is the talk show of the '90s."
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