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27 “Vance is trying to empower youth to better themselves,” he says. “A lot of these kids have low self esteem, because of their family background. Because of the way they see the world is going they don’t have any hope. Vance is building hope in a lot of them and showing yeah, we care. It’s not like one day he shows up and then you don’t hear from him for a year. Vance is on the set. He’s reaching out to the community. He’s truly dedicated. He’s a person that cares and wants to see change.” Dock Street in Wilmington is a long way from Detroit, where Williams grew up, got in trouble, received redemption, and cap-tured the vision for his life’s work. “I had a rough background,” he says. “The east side is a different type of terri-tory. Some people call it the black grotto. Some people call it ghetto. You can call it whatever you want, but it’s a place that … there’s not a lot of positivity that comes from that place. It’s surrounded by gangs, it’s surrounded by drugs.” His father left home when Williams was 7. His mother — a good woman with a good job, he says — could not handle four children, including two hardheaded boys. He was in foster care beginning at age 12. The foster care system couldn’t hold him. He recounts poignant stories of living in an abandoned house at 14 and meals that consisted of all he could stuff in his mouth as he walked the aisles of grocery stores. “I got into gangs,” he says. “That was the culture, that was the way. It was a life-style. It was just part of what you grew up to, just regular neighborhood life.” He was hanging with some friends one day when they decided to collect an out-standing debt from someone in the neighborhood. “They started beating him up, and I joined in,” Williams says. “The police came … and at age 17, I wound up in prison. I did a total of six years.” When he got out he found redemption through youth work, as a drill instructor at a boot camp for at-risk youngsters and by starting his own outreach called Shock the Block. “I taught history. I taught about their culture,” he says. “I talked to them about making the right decisions. Some did quite well, but there were some who would not turn around. I had some of them fall away. I had some youth die.” One in particular affected him deeply. A 13-year-old named Michael, small for his age, was killed in gang violence. “I went to his funeral and said, ‘I can’t do this anymore,’” Williams says. “His cas-ket was so small. I said, “Is this what I really want to do?’” After a period of re-evaluation, the answer was clear: This was his calling, what he was supposed to do. When the family relocated to Wilmington, he began reaching out to youth and their families. Williams knows that some will continue to fall away. But it’s worth it for the ones who turn around. “I hope and pray that they’ll do something historic,” Williams says. “I hope and pray that they take the information that I give them, and the mentorship that I am giving them, and the guidance that the community has given them, and take that and say, ‘let me do something extraordinary.’” www.wrightsvillebeachmagazine.com WBM “I hope and pray that they’ll do something historic,” Williams says. “I hope and pray that they take the infor-mation that I give them, and the mentorship that I am giv-ing them, and the guidance that the community has given them, and take that and say, ‘let me do something extraordinary.’” 25 W Henderson Street Wrightsville Beach, $849,000 109 Live Oak Drive Harbor Island, $769,000 Robbie Robinson, Broker M: 910-262-1551 O: 910-256-4503 rrobinson@intracoastalrealty.com PHOTO BY ALLISON POTTER


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