Mrs. Virginia E. Hayes Williams
1926 – 2014
Our spotlight for the month of May 2012 is someone who is near and dear to many of us who reside in the District of Columbia. She is none other than Mrs. Virginia E. Hayes Williams, affectionately known as “Ma” Williams, the loving and devoted mother of our former Mayor Anthony A. Williams. Mayor Williams served here in the District of Columbia for two terms – from 1999 to 2007, and Mrs. Williams was known during that time – and she is still known to many of us today – as the city’s “First Mother.” She is especially dear to Destiny – Pride, and we are really grateful that she is allowing us to share her life’s story with all of you. Aside from being Mayor Williams’ mother, Mrs. Williams wore – and wears – a number of different hats, including that of community activist, author, educator, mentor, licensed evangelist and renowned singer. She also has great concern for young mothers and a genuine love for children, about which we will also give her an opportunity to speak.
Destiny – Pride: Good afternoon Mrs. Williams.
Mrs. Williams: Good afternoon.
Destiny – Pride: Destiny – Pride is delighted to have you as our May 2012 Spotlight of the Month. You know that Rufus and I hold a very special place in our hearts for you and we are very happy that you have agreed to share your life’s journey with our visitors.
Mrs. Williams: I am honored to do this.
Destiny – Pride: Thank you. Let’s begin with your beginnings, so please tell us where and to whom you were born, about your siblings, and any experiences from your earlier life that you would like to share with us.
Mrs. Williams: I was born in Paducah, Kentucky. My mother’s name was Charlotte Louise Johnson, and she was a college professor at West Kentucky College when she met and married my father, Joe Willie Hayes, whose father was a contractor in Paducah, Kentucky. They had three children: a brother, my sister, and me.
My father was gassed in Germany in the First World War, so he died when I was two-and-a-half; his lungs were affected from the gassing, and he died as a result. My mother had three children, and so the family decided that she would go back to Mississippi where they had this large farm and where her brother, Harold, lived. So we went to Mississippi, where we lived until I was twelve. My mother taught school there and became involved in the community, doing things there and helping her brother with the farm.
Destiny – Pride: Do you want to give us the names of your siblings?
Mrs. Williams: My siblings are Joe Willie Hayes, Jr. and Myrtle Lucille Hayes. When I was eight and a half, my mother remarried a man named Zemmar Lenoir, and she had two more children with him – Simuel Ferdinand Lenoir and Paul Wesley Lenoir. I came from a very religious family, but a multi-racial family. I knew all of my relatives: my Jewish relatives; my Christian relatives; and my white relatives. I knew all of them, and they all were very nice. I always think of our family as Lionel Richie said, and Condoleezza Rice said: “We were isolated and we were insulated.” We didn’t have any racial problems. Although living in the south, we didn’t know that we were allegedly “inferior” to anyone. My grandmother had taught her children on my mother’s side that we were all “living under God’s umbrella.” The stem of God’s Umbrella was love, and as long as we loved God, He protected us from the storms of life. We learned the Ten Commandments. I knew how to say the Ten Commandments before I was five years old. We were taught that if we obeyed all of the laws of God, we would be able to make it in the world, and that in the end, God would take us home to be with Him.
Destiny – Pride: And you’re still here . . .
Mrs. Williams: I’m still here at 85 – I’ll be 86 in June. In Psalms it says that every year after 70 is a blessing from God. So I have been indeed blessed!
Destiny – Pride: What about higher education?
Mrs. Williams: I received my masters in music, and I was working on my PhD when I got pregnant with my baby daughter, and I decided, “That’s it.” Every time I’d go back to school after I graduated, I got another baby, so I decided that was it.
Destiny – Pride: What college did you attend?
Mrs. Williams: I went to Gray’s Conservatory of Music, which is now incorporated in USC [University of Southern California]. USC bought it because at the time, we couldn’t go to USC. At my age – and you wouldn’t think it now because my granddaughter just graduated from USC – there were limited people of our race going to USC. So at the time I wanted to study music, they weren’t accepting negroes, colored, blacks, African Americans, in the music department there, except very special people – and I wasn’t “special.” I went to California to be a nurse, and while I was waiting to enter nursing, I went into Gray’s Conservatory of Music, and the rest is history.
Destiny – Pride: Yes, and we’re going to talk more about that. You were married, correct?
Mrs. Williams: Yes. He liked music, too!
Destiny – Pride: Tell us a little about your married life.
Mrs. Williams: I had a wonderful husband! A very loving, understanding man. We shared music, and we shared a love for many of the same things. Actually, our spiritual training was a lot alike, and our lives with our parents – even though he was raised by his mother – were very similar. There was good discipline, and education was always stressed. That was something that we were expected to get: a good education. I married a man who loved opera, just as I did. Before he went into the service he had been very active in the theater, in dance and music. So we shared a lot.
Destiny – Pride: And his name was?
Mrs. Williams: Lewis I. Wiliams, III.
Destiny – Pride: Is there anything of note that you would like to share about your children, and especially your son – who was our former mayor – during their childhood?
Mrs. Williams: I think I had pretty normal children. They accepted the fact that I adopted Anthony. It was never any “difference” in the way they felt about each other, but Anthony was my special blessing from God because I never used any protection and yet there’s four years difference between Anthony and Virginia [II], but there’s only two years’ difference between Lewis [IV] and Anthony, Anthony and Virginia, Virginia and Carla, Carla and Leif [LeifEric], and Leif and Kimberly.
Destiny – Pride: And so he fit right in . . .
Mrs. Williams: God left that spot for Anthony! So, to me, that’s the most special thing that has happened in my life that shows me what God can do, because I was not supposed to be able to have children, and yet I had six. Each of my children specialized in different fields and areas of expertise, and Anthony learned from each one of them. So this child, who was ready to be put in a home for retarded children, has a genius IQ and a photographic memory. That is why I fight so hard for children because they were ready to put Anthony in a home for retarded children, and I had just signed a contract with the New York Opera Company. My husband said, “Well that’s the end of your opera career.” I said, “I don’t care!” And I took him and, thanks to Anthony, God opened the door for me to work in the movies, and I was able to give all of the children a very good education with the money I earned in movies doing background singing. They are all educated because of doors that God opened for me.
Destiny – Pride: Speaking of God, I know that you are a woman of faith. You have already told us that, but what role has your faith played in your life choices?
Mrs. Williams: Well, in the first place, I’m a licensed evangelist in the Church of God and Christ, in addition to being very into the Jewish traditions and the Catholic traditions; so I am very complex in that. But faith has played a key role in the decisions I’ve made, including those of leaving my home and my family and moving back to DC, because I feel that God wants His nation’s capitol to be a place where it can be the “city on a Hill,” that has been envisioned by men as late as 1630, when the evangelist [John Winthrop] wrote about our city on the hill. As a matter of fact, President Reagan called this our “city on a hill.” My grandmother said, when she was raising her children, that there should be at least one place in America – and the best place would be the nation’s capital – where there was equality for all people of every race, color and creed.
May faith is that some day this will happen. So I have to live with the faith within me that God is going to open the way, eventually, for people to stop hating each other and make America what it is supposed to be: a land of opportunity for all races, colors and creeds.
Destiny – Pride: What individuals would you name as having made the greatest impact on you and the directions you took in your life?
Mrs. Williams: That’s a tough one! I think Eleanor Roosevelt – I sang for her when I was fourteen in the White House. She had a great impression on me because she said, “Never ask anyone to do anything that you’re not willing to do yourself.” Then there was Mary McLeod Bethune, who really fought for the lives of black women, to give us the recognition we were due as mothers, as women of progress, women who worked hard to make sure things happened – not only for black women, but for all women. I met her with Eleanor Roosevelt.
And then the man who really changed my life. I was ready to go into nursing and he said, “With that voice, you need to go into music.” And he paid for my scholarship for me, and his name was Roland Hayes. He paid for my music studies for me to go to school. I had a scholarship for nursing and I told him I couldn’t afford to give that up, to which he said, “Yes you can!” And he paid for my music. I have been blessed by that!
Destiny – Pride: When did you come to the District of Columbia, and what was it that brought you here?
Mrs. Williams: I came to the District of Columbia because my son [former Mayor Anthony A. Williams] was in the mayoral election and he suddenly started going down in the poll because people were saying that he came from a wealthy family and he was educated from Yale and Harvard and he wouldn’t know how to deal with the people here. He was going down in the polls and it looked like he was going to lose. I came to the District to help him win the election.
Destiny – Pride: What year was that?
Mrs. Williams: 1998, the year my husband died. Before he died, he told me our son was going to run for mayor, and I was going to come back to Washington, DC; that that was my destiny.
Destiny – Pride: So he predicted that.
Mrs. Williams: He predicted that.
Destiny – Pride: What types of things did you do for your son to support him?
Mrs. Williams: I went to all of the senior centers. I sang in almost every church that would have me. Every place I went, I talked about my son, and the fact that he was dedicated to turning this city around. The city was almost in bankruptcy and he had spent two years here turning the economy around. He said he could straighten out the city and I had to have confidence and faith in him because, having known my son, he never said he could do anything that he couldn’t do. So when they hired him as the Chief Financial Officer two years before, I told them, “If he says he can do anything, he usually can do it.”
I wasn’t that anxious for him to be mayor, but his brother [Lewis, Jr.] reminded me that I had always said whatever they wanted to do in life, as long as it was legal and within the law, I would help them do it. So he told me, “You’ve got to go out there and help him.” My son, Anthony, also pointed out that I was the only one who knew anything about politics because I had grown up in politics since I was twelve. My family had said, if you ever want to make a difference in life, you have to be in a position to make legislation to change the laws.
Destiny – Pride: And the rest is history . . .
Mrs. Williams: Yes, he did what he said!
Destiny – Pride: As we mentioned in the introduction, you are, among other things, an author. Please tell us about your writings and what inspired you to write.
Mrs. Williams: My book is “Living Under God’s Umbrella,” and eventually I’m going to rewrite and put more in it because it was actually about 350 pages, and we brought it down to less than 100 pages. The person who was going to publish it lost his fluid cash, and I paid to publish it myself. Also, I had not been feeling as well as I should and I said, “At my age, I’d better write this down.” I wanted people to know how my family had raised me to believe in God, to trust in God and to share myself with others.
I always believed in what Dr. King said, that we all can help because we can all serve. I was in the civil rights with him; I sang for him. He was a great man, too! That was a good memory – a very good memory – because he was so selfless. I always felt that if Jesus could die for me; if Abraham Lincoln could die to help free the slaves; and if Dr. King could die to help poor people, then I could spend some time doing what I could to help others.
Destiny – Pride: Also, give us the history of the phrase, “Living Under God’s Umbrella.”
Mrs. Williams: My grandmother gave that to her children. She said, “Obeying God is very important in that you must learn to love thy neighbor as they self; respect others the way you would want to be respected; do what is in the bible to be done; live by examples of Jesus Christ.” The umbrella is the symbol of God’s covering over us as people. In other words, I’d like to say it like this: He gives us the strength to go that extra mile. He carries us when we cannot carry ourselves. He protects us when we cannot protect ourselves. And He forgives us because under His umbrella are all of the mores that we go through in life. We must be moral; we must obey Him. It’s difficult to isolate one thing.
I like the bible’s verse that says, “Love they neighbor as thyself,” and if you love your neighbor as yourself, you cannot abuse a person. Jesus said I only leave you two commandments. He didn’t change the ten, but he gave us two more: “thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” and “love thy neighbour as thyself.” So how in the world can you abuse anyone if you love them? The key to life for me is God, love, education, caring and sharing, because if I’m over here with a million dollars, and you’re next door starving, how can I say I love you if I look over and see that you’re doing without and don’t help you?
Destiny – Pride: It’s hard to fathom that, but . . .
Mrs. Williams: That happens, and it happens a lot!
Destiny – Pride: You are also a singer, and Rufus and I were especially blessed and pleased to have you sing at our wedding some years ago. Tell us about your singing career: what inspired you to become a singer, and what are some of the venues at which you have performed?
Mrs. Williams: Well, I sang at the White House.
Destiny – Pride: And what brought that about?
Mrs. Williams: I had a scholarship to Julliard’s Conservatory of Music right out of high school, but because I was Negro – I was a “Negro” then.
Destiny – Pride: Yes, we’ve gone through a lot of name changes over the years, haven’t we?
Mrs. Williams: Yes, I was a Negro then, and opportunities were such, having known Marian Anderson and some of the other women who had tried to sing, and having known what Roland Hayes went through in an effort to sing, my family was totally opposed to my singing. I had gotten a scholarship through the Nurses Cadet Corps to go into nursing. I went to Chicago to go into nursing, but they found out that I was black. I had passed the test and I had sent a picture, but I was very fair-skinned as a child and they thought I was white. When I got to Chicago, they realized I was a Negro, but there were no provisions made for black nurses, and you had to live in the hospital for the first year.
Because I was black, they sent me to California to go into nursing there, where USC had facilities for black nurses. I went there before it was time to go to school, and Roland Hayes started me in the Conservatory of Music. By the time they were ready to take me into nursing, I was in love with music, and I was doing very well. I was singing with symphonies; I was singing in movies; I was singing with the Lira Opera Company. I was having a grand time!
I just love music! It has always been a part of my life. When I was two-and-a-half, I sang “God is Love” in church. My brother, Joe, played the piano; he was three years older than I was. He played the piano, and I sang “God is Love.” My mother was a music teacher. Music has just been a part of my life, all of my life – and I just love it!! I can walk around the apartment and sing an aria to myself and be happy.
I was looking at a movie not too long ago, and I saw someone singing – and I knew it was me! She was singing “Abide with Me,” and I said, “Nobody has any idea what Virginia has been doing all of her life.” I love music! I think God gave me music because when the storms of live are raging, music is there, and it fills my spirit.
Destiny – Pride: Yes, I can just see it in your spirit and your expression as you talk about it.
Mrs. Williams: Even my children. Sometimes I’d be singing in the house, and they would get real quiet and they’d be around listening. Several of my children have heard me sing spirituals and they’d say, “Nana, you need to make a lot of records so that people can hear those spirituals, because you don’t sing spirituals like other people; you put a lot of ‘soul’ into them.”
Destiny – Pride: Because you’re a soulful woman!
Mrs. Williams: I’m a soulful woman!
Destiny – Pride: You were talking earlier about not being accepted at the Nursing Cadet Corps because of being a “Negro.” How did that make you feel?
Mrs. Williams: You would have to understand me and the way I was raised. You have to understand that my family always said it was the other people’s fault that they didn’t believe in inequality. Yes, it hurt a lot that I had been denied a chance to go to the place that I wanted to go, but I felt sorry for them because I would have made a good nurse! So, the way I was raised is that we were never taught to hate anybody. We were never taught that there was any obstacle that we could not overcome. And the one thing my family preached is that “they can beat you, but they cannot defeat you. Only you can defeat yourself.” So I looked at it as a blessing because if they had accepted me in nursing, I wouldn’t have gone to California and gone into music. So different things in my life that I thought were terrible turned out to be blessings because God led me into another path and He knows best. He led me into another path where my life was better than it would have been if I had stayed in that place.
So I never spent a lot of time regretting what they did to me. It hurt at that time, but as my family said, they have to answer to God for that! They have to answer to God for what they do – whatever race, color or creed you are – when you abuse one of God’s children. Because we are God’s children. He might have said “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not; for such is the kingdom of heaven,” but to God, I was taught, even when I’m old and gray, I’m still God’s child. Mothers never forget their children, and they say mother’s love is next to God’s. Mothers never stop thinking about their children, and God never stops thinking of us as His children. I was taught that I was God’s child, regardless of what anybody else thought or did. What they did was they were sinning – doing wrong – because they were not obeying God; to love thy neighbor as thyself. If they had loved me, they would not have felt that I was inferior, and I could have gone into the dorm with them.
Destiny – Pride: Aside from your political ventures with your son and other individuals, you have worked tirelessly in the community with, and on the behalf of, children. Having raised your own, why the continued concern for children?
Mrs. Williams: Well, when my son said, “Come back here and help me,” I asked him what did he want me to do. He said, “Do the same thing you’re doing in California.” Even before I had children, I worked with children. I have worked with children all of my life. As a matter of fact, my mother had given me a silk dress when I was 16 years old. I came home and I had milk all down the front of the dress. The baby had gotten sick and I was holding the baby. My mother said, “You aren’t supposed to hold a baby when you have on a silk dress.” I said, “Then don’t give me a silk dress!” Children have always been special to me because of their innocence; because they love you unconditionally and because they need you to take care of them.
Mothers play a special role with children and my example that I give to people is that, when the time came for him to come into the world because the world was locked in sin, Jesus was sent into the world by God and he was sent to the woman. Thereby, the woman is important and precious. She brought Jesus into the world. But He also sent the man, to forgive and make sure that the woman was well taken care of. So he gave us examples with Adam and Eve, but then when Jesus came into the world, God gave us Joseph and Mary. Joseph took care of Mary, and Mary took care of Jesus. From the cradle to the cross, she was there for him. I just think that the way she took care of her child is the way we are supposed to take care of our children. God gives children fathers and mothers and, if possible, the father should be there to help the mother. But, most responsibility is on the mother, because the father goes out to earn a living – or he disappears. But the mother is the first teacher; she’s the first trainer; she’s the first everything. As the mother of nine children – three I adopted – I always think about the fact that I’m the first teacher. If they are to know about God, I’m to teach them, just as my mother did me. And that’s what I show in the book. Even though I lived with all six of my uncles and aunts, there was continuity in my training. Nobody said anything different from what my mother was training me. Each one taught me something that made me a better and stronger person, but all of them were rooted in being very moral and in the Ten Commandments. We never deviated from the Ten Commandments because, as my father used to say – and I was adopted when I was twelve by my uncle, Sim Johnson, because my father died when I was two-and-a-half – “what you do reflects God, because you are the only person that represents God in your life. When you go anywhere, you represent God.”
Destiny – Pride: I think we should keep that in mind whenever we do whatever it is that we do.
Mrs. Williams: Yes, because the bible says nobody has ever seen God, but if we love, God’s love is perfected in us, and He lives in us. We are the only examples of His goodness that people will ever see.
Destiny – Pride: And He sent that example though Jesus Christ for us to emulate.
Mrs. Williams: Yes, Jesus’ examples are there for us. It is impossible, if we live the life of Jesus, to come out from under God’s umbrella.
Destiny – Pride: Very well put. What would you attribute to the problems that we now seem to be having in our neighborhoods, especially with our youth, and what would you recommend be done to address those problems?
Mrs. Williams: I think the primary reasons we’re having so many problems is because we have so many young mothers who have never had proper rearing and training. I also think that the television has adversely affected too many lives because when you go into these homes, you see babies sitting in front of the television. That’s their entertainment – they eat in front of the television. They don’t have family life.
We had family life when we were growing up. We would come in, and we would all come around the table, and we’d say a verse of the bible. There was family life. Now you go into a home and everybody’s sitting in front of the television; the television’s always going. It’s very seldom that you go into a home where people are really training their children. I’ve been in so many homes where they don’t have any books. They have the latest tapes [CDs/DVDs], though. You see stacks of tapes; but you don’t see books. And you don’t see the bible. And you don’t see people taking their children to church.
Spiritual training to me is very important, because when the parents are not there, spiritual training gives them somebody to lean on. The fact that I knew God lived in me has carried me over many rough roads because I knew that I was not alone.
On the other hand, my adopted mother never went to church, but she taught me the “golden rule.” People don’t realize that good literature is equated, in many ways, to the bible. “Love thy neighbor as thyself” – “Do unto others as you have them do unto you.” One is from literature, the other is from the bible, and this is what I show people in the book. There are things that are so much in literature and education. Actually, the key to independence is education, and so many of our young people are denied that.
You cannot expect a child who has never had anybody to say “no” to them to go and try to work where they must be disciplined, when they’ve never known any discipline. Nobody has ever disciplined them, and then you want them to go out on a job. The first time someone says something to them that they don’t like, they’re going to walk away. Discipline is very important; it’s an integral part of rearing a child. If a mother has never been disciplined, she’s not going to discipline her children; she’s not going to know how to discipline her children.
The civil rights movement moved a lot of women out of the home. Many of those women who left home forgot their obligations to their children. I worked my whole life. I retired from the Post Office and I sang on the side. At the end of the day, I didn’t go to bars; I didn’t stop to visit. At the end of the day I came home to my children, and I took care of them because they were my moral obligation – I brought them into the world and I was responsible for dealing with their discipline problems; their education problems – all of those things, including loving them. Letting them know the importance of being loved, and how important they were to me.
This is what I want other women to do for their children because my children turned out pretty good because I put a lot of myself in them, just as my parents had put a lot of themselves in me. So many of these young mothers now have not been loved and they don’t know how to love. Our problems today are that there are too many undisciplined children, and children who don’t even know God exists. They can sing a song about God, and they can say things about God, but they don’t know who God is.
I have a program that I’ve been trying to promote ever since I’ve been in this city. It’s called “Values Code.” It teaches children “honesty,” “respect,” “responsibility,” “self-control,” “hard work,” “self-respect,” “concern for others,” “tolerance,” “cooperation,” “fairness,” “forgiveness” – which is very important – “courage,” and “self-knowledge.” These values can make a difference in any child’s life. I’ve always said that these values are “Under God’s Umbrella,” too! This program was given to all of the public schools in the District by this millionaire – I live in one of his apartments. So far, nobody has decided to use this for educating our children and making our children feel worthy of being loved. So many of our children don’t even have the basic knowledge of who they are; how important they are. They don’t know that nobody can make them any better or worse; they have to do it for themselves, but someone has to train them. Under God’s Umbrella there was also a lot of love. Love is the most important ingredient that we can give a child. An unconditional love makes a difference in a child and in a child’s world. So many of these young mothers have babies when they’re too young. All of a sudden they have the responsibility of raising a child and they haven’t even had a chance to live yet. So, how can you train a child when you’ve never had any training yourself?
As I said before, when we go back to integration, when we finally integrated the schools, with the civil rights movement actually – when women came out of the home and we got all of this “freedom” that has undermined the family structure – we lost our children, too many of them. Because our children depended on their parents to train and discipline them. Not the schools, but we have turned all of this over to the schools, but they don’t go to school until they should have had basic training.
I have always said that Anthony is a perfect example of what can happen to a child. Anthony was three-and-a-half. He made no sounds; he did nothing. He was going to be placed in a home for retarded children because his foster parents had spent no time with him. They just got the money for taking care of him. They hadn’t given him anything but food to make sure he looked all right when the social worker came. But they didn’t feed him any literal nourishment; just food and shelter. That is not enough for a child. Anthony came to us and we started reading books to him. We started singing to him. We started involving him in life, and he blossomed. That’s why I’ve fought for Pre-K – and so did Tony – and now a lot of Pre-K is going on. But we have to get them out of homes where nobody is training them; nobody’s teaching them.
There’s Morial of the Urban League. He and I have had in depth discussions about this. We go out and find jobs for these young people, and they don’t know how to work! When you don’t know how to work – when you don’t know how to fill out an application – you have set me up for failure. You give me a job, and I don’t know how to do it. Then they say, “Well, we gave them jobs,” but they couldn’t work because when they should have been educated, they were not. When they should have been prepared for life, they were not. When they should have been disciplined, they were not. So here we are with someone 15, 16, 17, who now has a cell phone and an iPod – but has no concept of paying for them. So if they see someone with a cell phone, and they want it, they steal it, because nobody has taught them, “Thou shall not steal.” Nobody has taught them, “Thou shall not commit adultery.” So they go out and do whatever they want to. Nobody has said, “Thou shall have no other god before me.” No one has taught them the basic things of life, and if you don’t know the basic things of life, how can you operate in today’s society?
Destiny – Pride: There’s a lot of work that needs to be done.
Mrs. Williams: We really need to train our young mothers. We see so much hate in the world, and our children see that hate. For example, I was looking at the campaign in New Hampshire. The people in New Hampshire and Vermont, all they said, “We don’t care who runs, just as long as they get that man out of the White House.” I mean, they couldn’t even say “the President.” Then down in Oklahoma, there’s this toothless woman. All she wanted to do was “get that man out of the White House.” What has happened to America? What has happened to democracy? What happened to the Constitution? It doesn’t mean anything. And yet, our children see this on television and they see the worst of themselves, and they don’t know anything about their history. They don’t know what we went through to get to where we are today.
I’ll give you an example. My grandson is now in a Master’s program. He graduated from MIT with honors, and they wanted him so much because of the research he was doing that they gave him a scholarship to go into the Masters program. He came to DC, went to the museum and saw the civil rights movement exhibits with the dogs attacking the people going across the bridge. He saw all of that, and he sat there, cried, and said “I never knew all of this; I never knew all of this!” Now his mother is a microbiologist and his father is a doctor and pain specialist at Children’s Hospital in Seattle, Washington. Their daughter graduated from Harvard, pre-med; she’s just finished her Masters program in public health. They have not taught their children anything about the civil rights movement or that fact that their children came out of slavery. I said, “Oh my God!” I was in the civil rights movement! My children baked cakes; they went up and down the neighborhood raising money. We did things for the civil rights movement, and yet, none of them have taught their children anything about the civil rights movement. Well, if my children, who are all well-educated, have not taught their children anything, how do you think this young mother who has never known anything – except the television – is going to teach her children that they have any reason to be proud?
Destiny – Pride: What would you say have been major accomplishments in your life?
Mrs. Williams: Surviving!
Destiny – Pride: You’ve got to give us more than that. You’ve done more than just “survived.” I look at you now and you look like you’ve done more than just “survived.”
Mrs. Williams: I think surviving. Living.
Destiny – Pride: Come on. All the work that you’re doing with the children . . .
Mrs. Williams: I’ve tutored. I’ve raised money. I had a program – The Roland Hayes Educational Fund – which I had in California, where I went into the schools and gave programs for children; taught them art and music, because they had taken art and music out of the schools. I’ve just lived! If I see a need, I just go there and try to solve the problem, if it’s a problem that I can solve. I’ve spent a lot of time doing programs for seniors. I’ve used my talents to raise money for causes. I’ve given concerts to raise money for causes. Actually, I’ve worked all my life at doing something which gives you no glory. You could come into my home and see the walls of plaques that they gave me for all of the free services I gave. But actually, what I am the proudest of is I have tried to live just the way I think Jesus would have wanted me to live. And he gives you the strength to do what you have to do.
Destiny – Pride: What about disappointments?
Mrs. Williams: My greatest disappointment is that America has not lived up to its promise. The Constitution says I’m equal, but from the Congress, I don’t see that. The fact that we’ve finally gotten a black President and the only thing that they want to do is take him out of office. The fact that, when I was young, I was offered jobs, but only if I would “pass.” I would tell them “no,” because I had black relatives that could not “pass.” Am I to be over here with the white people and deny my family? Is that what I’m supposed to do in America? You’re going to make me greater than they are, but there they are, and I love them the same. So what are you doing when you try to make me walk away from my family so that I can be a star? No, no, no. So I told MGM, no, no. I’m not interested in passing. And I told other organizations that I wasn’t interested in passing. I was “very” fair, but my mother always told me, “When you deny who you are, you’re saying that God made a mistake; and God doesn’t make mistakes!
Destiny – Pride: Have you any additional thoughts or last words that you would like to share with our visitors?
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Mrs. Williams: I can only think of one most important thing my parents taught me: “To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man” – or woman, as the case may be. I grew up with faith in God, a love of family and a knowledge that, to whom much is given, much is required. I was a blessed child, and I was blessed to have a loving family, and my family taught me the importance of sharing whatever God had given us with those who were less fortunate. And I have been able to help many young mothers and many seniors who were in despair many times and in need of a lot of help. I have been blessed over and over to be able to reach out, with my faith in God firmly set in my mind, that I was His instrument for good. I have spent my time trying to reflect God’s love and share God’s love with those who did not know how wonderful it was to know a loving family and to have faith in God.
Destiny – Pride: We thank you, Mrs. Williams, for being our Spotlight for May 2012. We applaud you for your life’s journey and appreciate your sharing it with our visitors. We thank you for your love and concern for our children, and also for the many other contributions you have made and are continuing to make here in our great city and in our nation. Thanks, so much!
Mrs. Williams: And thank you. I am very pleased to know of Destiny – Pride, and the work you’re doing to make life better for so many.
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