Editor’s note: Mary K. Williams recently completed classes in the Cleveland Neighborhood Leadership Development Program, which trains and encourages emerging neighborhood leaders who are already engaged in work to improve Cleveland. The program is now accepting applications for 2020. Applications are due by August 5, 2019; information and application forms are available on their website.
Inner Visions of Cleveland recently awarded Mary K. Williams, who has rightfully adopted the nickname ‘Mz. Motivator,’ a grant to continue and expand her work with Gentlemen on the Rise, a group of 15 Cleveland youths, some of whom have fathers who are incarcerated. The goal is to help them rise above their current situations and find peace within themselves so they can lead and generate peace in their communities.
The funds are most welcome. Until now, Williams has been funding the programming herself for over two years from her income from a variety of part-time jobs, including driving for Uber and DoorDash. Despite the expense, Williams remains committed to the work because it has its origins in her observations about her own grandchildren. She says, “I started noticing issues with some of the boys that my grandsons were hanging out with and knew that I needed to do something to help keep the peace.”
So she started meeting with the young men every Friday night for a meal and conversation about real-life issues. This provides a safe space where they can discuss issues ranging from lyrics to social media to how they relate to each other. Williams sees “progress in their behavior. [They] no longer insult each other and think it’s cute or funny.”
It is also important for her to take the students around the city. Williams explains that when “we’re out in public, most of my time is spent helping them understand that we can have wonderful conversations and plenty of clean fun and happy times together.” They have taken trips to places like Edgewater Park Beach, Euclid Creek Reservation, WildWood Park, Progressive Field, and the IX Center.
In the future, she hopes to broaden their travel experience to include excursions to places like Pymatuning State Park, the Charles H. Wright Museum in Detroit, the Cincinnati National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and, one day, Washington D.C.
Williams does all this because she believes the youths are “very talented young men and creative. I believe that as we continue to expose them to bigger and better things, their vision and creative imagination will be broader, and [they will be] more inspired to see themselves following their dream.”
Williams has many plans for the funding she received. In addition to acquiring a new laptop to help her organize the program, she intends to have repairs made on the van she uses for their trips. She also expects to develop a website for the program and print t-shirts for the young men. The main goals are for the young men to be ‘Motivational Youth’–the name they chose for themselves–and, despite being surrounded by “crime and violence in their neighborhoods,” to become what Williams, the lead motivator, calls, “Intentional Channels for Peace.”
If you know someone who would benefit from Williams’ program, encourage them to call her at 216-804-0506 or email her at Mzmotivator@gmail.com. She will arrange to meet with both the child and his parent to give them a quick overview of the program. If you want to make a donation to further Williams’ work with the youths, you can do so through the St. Clair Superior Development Center. In the near future, a new fundraising page, as well as a new website for the program, should be available to accept donations.
Williams’ commitment to her work is both profound and personal. During the day, she uses the Creating Lasting Family Connections Curriculum, an evidenced-based curriculum by Copes and the Resilient Future Networks, at the Juvenile Detention Center and Northeast Ohio Reintegration Center for Women. The youth component of this curriculum is of help in her work with Gentlemen on the Rise.
Williams is also driven by her family history. In October, 2017, her son was murdered because of “senseless violence.” As a result, Williams says, “My life will never be the same, and anything that I can do to help motivate and encourage the youth is automatically my responsibility.” She has faith in her ability to “teach the youth how to live a healthy, happy and productive life.” Her unofficial motto is “I believe there is hope for us all.”
Spend even a few minutes in Mary K. Williams’ company, and you will believe the same.