Created in 2015 for the school’s 175th Anniversary, the Alumni Trailblazer Award is presented to a graduate of the school under the age of 40 who has demonstrated significant professional achievement, contributions to their profession and/or community and continued promise of success in the future.
In 2018, Pierce Freelon was here on campus as the speaker at Williston’s 177th commencement, where he encouraged the graduating seniors to “shape change,” something he has been doing for most of his life.
After graduating from Williston, Pierce earned a B.A. in African and African American Studies at UNC Chapel Hill and an M.A. in Pan African Studies at Syracuse University. He was the youngest person to be appointed by the Governor to serve on the North Carolina Arts Council board and served on the boards of the Durham Library Foundation, Nasher Museum of Art, and KidZNotes. He continues to give back to the community in Durham, North Carolina – where he lives with his wife and two children. He has served as a member of the Durham City Council and is founder of Blackspace, an Afrofuturism digital maker space for Durham youth.
He has taught in the departments of Political Science, Music and African, African American and Diaspora Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina Central University.
Pierce is a also a GRAMMY nominated musician, author, and educator who has traveled the world teaching Hip Hop and music production as co-creator of Beat Making Lab, an Emmy Award-winning PBS web-series. He is the writer, composer and co-director of the animated series History of White People in America, an official selection of the Tribeca Film Festival. Pierce’s critically acclaimed children’s music has been featured on the Today Show, NPR, Billboard, Rolling Stone, Now This, Parents Magazine, MSNBC with Reverend Al Sharpton and more. His album Black to the Future was nominated for Best Children’s Music Album at the 2022 GRAMMY Awards, the same year his mother Nnenna Freelon’s album, Time Traveler, was nominated for Best Jazz Album — making Recording Academy history as the first mother and son to be nominated for golden gramophones in different fields at the same GRAMMY Awards. His debut children’s picture book, Daddy-Daughter Day was released with Little, Brown books in 2022.