Dr. Lance Williams: An Asset to the Black Community
Dr. Lance Williams, professor and Assistant Director of the Jacob C. Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies (CCICS) has utilized both street knowledge and book sense to pave the way for African American men and women all over Chicago – but especially in the Kenwood and Englewood communities.
Dr. Williams, known for his keen intellect and fierce determination to uplift at-risk youth, has done a great amount of work to introduce young Black youth to their inner strengths. Williams states that he "flunked out" of medical school before taking a position in the University of Chicago Office Of Special Services. That office was charged with community outreach to the Kenwood/Hyde Park area public schools. It was here that he found his niche in working with youth.
"I thought it was important to do, not only academic enrichment – but to do cultural work as well. This was the mid-1980's, and the African American perspective was missing from their [University of Chicago] program," said Williams. It was after leaving his post with U of C that Dr. Williams decided to pursue what he found in working with youth, he then started, Know Thyself Program in 1989. "I figured out that these kids struggled academically, but that struggle is related to how important education is in their lives," says Williams. He worked with boys on their identity, self-concept, and taught them that there's a way that young Black youth should carry themselves culturally.
His proven track record of youth development solidified his space in primary academia, and Dr. Williams earned a contract with Chicago Public Schools to work with at-risk elementary and high school students. Dr. Williams conducted various projects with the students that were scholarly, but the difference between his group and that of other organizations is that he combined the scholarly aspect of learning with activities that were meant to enhance the children's self-concept.
Dr. Williams took a group of twenty students to Egypt, where he met members of the Kemetic Institute. Upon meeting Jacob C. Carruthers, Evon Jones, and Anderson Thompson – Williams was convinced to visit CCICS. "I wanna do this – I really like this," said Williams. It was at that point that he decided to enroll in the graduate program of Inner City Studies. He began working for the Carruthers Center in 2000 as a recruitment specialist, and in 2005, he was promoted to the position of Assistant
Director. Williams has dedicated an extensive amount of time and energy into empowering the Black community. His mentorship and outreach is a product of his years watching his father who worked for years as a youth outreach worker with members of gangs and impoverished youth, and others. Williams says, "...to find success working with underserved populations and with gangs requires working inside and outside of the schools – you have to go out into the community... I just mimicked my dad."
Williams' dad also taught him about the history of gangs in Chicago. This is prolific because for quite some time, these "street gangs" operated much like the Black Power and Civil Rights movements that they were also an integral part of. "Many gangs were founded upon the premise of Black nationalism," said Williams. Because of this outlook,and unique perspective, Williams was invited to the neighborhood meetings of noted gang sects to give guidance to young Black men. He found himself in a position where he was a trusted advisor; it was this that afforded him the opportunity to bring needed academic, cultural and social resources to the gangs. An occurrence that doesn't happen often, "I was invited because I knew how to speak to them in a language that wasn't disrespectful." Williams says.
His second book was a labor of love that stemmed from personal experiences. The Almighty Black P Stone Nation: The Rise, Fall, and Resurgence of an American Gang, written in conjunction with journalist Natalie Moore was his efforts to tell the story that no one had ever told about the notorious street gang. They touched on topics like the revolutionary start of the gang – and how in early years, it was meant to be a benefit to the Black community. Dr. Williams' first writing, Culture Perception of Violence Related Behaviors among Adolescents: A Role Strain and Adaptation Model (2004), was a product of his dissertation research and served as a precursor to his later works.
Williams is known by many for his innovative course offerings, one course in particular is his critical analysis of hip-hop, "...at the core, culture is a value system...class deals with implications of hip-hop expressed by multi- national media conglomerates which manufactures how the world sees hip- hop and youth," said Williams. He has his hand in many pots at the time. Dr. Williams is the board Chairperson for the Lupe Fiasco foundation, which is a non-profit organization in collaboration with hip-hop artist Lupe Fiasco. It is their mission to provide "youth ages 14-24 with comprehensive positive youth development programming that embodies educational advancement, service learning and leadership, global capacity building and music education".
He is currently commissioned by the President's Roundtable, a collective of African-American executives from colleges across the country, who are interested in the disparities in African-American male college recruitment, retention, and graduation rates. Williams says that his research will, "produce a compendium
that consists of best practices for university programs which could increase the retention and graduation rates of Black males." This was the basis for a talk Dr. Williams provided to the university community at the main campus on February 2.
His presentation was well received, and audience participation was rich and poignant. Faculty and students seemed very interested in maintaining a conversation surrounding this very important topic.
Dr. Williams' courses are offered every semester at the CCICS campus. Watch for the summer and fall 2012 course schedules to secure your class with Dr. Lance Williams. Only at NEIU can we come across a professor with such a wide range of research interest which is then brought into our classrooms. Williams' classes are sure to be rich and relevant.
His words to current and prospective students is simple, "The importance of using the opportunity to pursue higher education is not to acquire an education to ‘get a job' or ‘live happily ever after', that is a myth that cheapens higher education. Students should look to acquire a set of skills to empower themselves, their families, and their community. Approach it in terms of acquisition of power, not just self-power, but community power..."
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