My name is Michael Williams, I am an educator and youth developer. Staten Island is my home, I am a native to Brooklyn, but I've lived here since my formative years. I have a really interesting connection to this island, and have been reassessing my time here, context and growing up. It's a challenge. I believe, as an educator, working with young people and doing outreach, that's what I’ve been focusing on for the last 10 years.
My father wasn't a stable figure in my life. So I found fatherhood from these different spaces. I happen to be blessed. I come from families that have long, lines of great uncles, who served as elders and mentors, and father figures for a lot of my family, particularly for me, my Uncle Ralph, and my Uncle Dennis. Their ideas of manhood centered around handling their responsibilities. Being disciplined enough, to care about yourself to go do it. I learned early from them the importance of accountability for self, the importance of being self-sufficient, despite what mom might be able to do for you, despite what family may be able to do. They taught me to be self sufficient, in essence, to have this understanding of what that means, and to always strive for it. An early sense of independence.
My blackness, I love it. I would not trade this skin, or my experience. I think it's been my best educational tool. It's the compass that guides me when I might not know where I'm going. It's what gives me a sense of pride. I think we wear a skin that comes with a context. That's what I think about when we overcome a stereotype. When we beat back an understanding of us that isn't true. When we define an expectation, expand the definition of who you are. I get the most pride out of that. Because it is that constant process of growing, having a clear sense of direction and being disciplined enough. So I'm able to relate it to my personal experience. But it is difficult. It is not easy.
And sometimes you have to calm a rage inside of you. That is always on, you know, you don't want to be the stereotype. You don’t want that rage to come out in some way in the workplace. Even though you might be facing elements of discrimination and stereotyping in that workplace, my influencers have taught me that you play the long game.
Love is what keeps me calm enough to keep the rage away from me, to keep me from being shot in the street. I want to rage out every time. For me as a Black man, Love, it is literally the foundation that I return to. There's so much less of it. So many of us are rageful, prone to violence. In my lifetime, I’ve seen us able to love one another.
Seeing the complexities of motherhood, my mother, as a single parent, seeing that she chose to pull herself out of drugs, pick up the positive, and build a life for us. It has defined everything about my ability to continue on when I get tired. When I get tired, I'm reminded that my mom dealt with that, raised us, and then fought off her own demons. If she can do that, I'm sure I can figure out how to. Motherhood teaches me that I can give love, and I can be responsible for the giving of love.
Many of my uncles were public servants. In my family, my grandmother moved up here from Wilmington North Carolina in the 1930s met my grandfather, and great uncle's up here. Not only did they come up in the middle of the Great Depression, but they traveled in New York City at a time where the depression is one thing. And then federal policy is another. They moved out of coastal North Carolina, which had its own set of issues to move up North. my great uncle was in World War Two, Korea, and my family, whatever parts of the military they were in, came home, and worked in all the different departments. They were cops, worked for Western Electric, the precursor of Con-ed.
There are very few owners in my family. It's not like we've been able to pass off this generational wealth. And to know that that was intended federal policy, backed by our own government, it gives me a whole different understanding. The city is the country. But it gives me such a lens on Staten Island, to understand why the picture looks the way it does. Why black folks generally cannot leave Staten Island because of this. We have to complete the work.
Leave it better for those young people. I feel like we cannot step off into other parts of our life, we can't just step off and buy that house down the way. We can't do that yet until we have something to work with. Right now we will be handing to our young people, a set of entrenched generational problems, that we couldn't figure out how to effectively address. I think they deserve and we should be able to leave them a play book at least on how to maintain a scenario where they are a power base of people.