The song ďLift Every
Voice,Ē also known as the black national anthem, resonates
with many Ė Blacks and Whites alike. Originally written in
1899 by brothers James Weldon and John Rosamond Johnson, the
hymnís theme of struggle and resilience has made the song
both endearing and enduring.
Nothing prepares a leader
for success as the ability to overcome adversity and life
stressors to control his or her life.
I had the opportunity to
converse with Toledo Councilmember Vanice Williams, who
represents District Four. Throughout her life, Williams has
traversed lifeís rugged terrain. Yet, with a steady beat she
has overcome economic, psychological and social adversity
again and again. Undoubtedly, Williamsí resilience
throughout her cragged journey predicts her success as a
Here is our conversation.
Perryman: Please share a
little bit of your background.
Williams: I was born and
raised in Toledoís inner city by a single mother with an
older sister and brother. I also have an older sister from
my father, and we were all raised pretty close. I was
evicted at age 17 by my mother to go out in these streets
and make it on my own. My mom suffered from drug
addictions, so we struggled with her.
Perryman: Can you
Williams: We fought through
sometimes not having the basic needs, food, lights, gas,
water, which ultimately turned to my brother trying to
provide for us the best way he knew. So, we were opened up
to gang violence, as my brother was a part of a gang, and my
dad was in and out.
After graduating from
Scott High School, I attempted to go to the University of
Toledo, but with little support, I didnít deal with that
well. I dropped out of UT my first semester, then tried to
go to Owens for a little bit and dropped out of there also.
When you donít have a whole lot of support, you just donít
finish stuff. I had an apartment in the Moody Manor at the
age of 18. I lived there until I was 21 and tried to better
my life and go to the Army. But nine days in, I had to go
home because I was nine days pregnant.
I started working at
Chrysler and was pregnant, so I couldnít work as much as I
wanted to, so I took the layoff back in 2000 or 2001. I had
my daughter and stayed home for eight months raising her and
then decided to get back to work, and I started in the
emergency department at St. Vincentís Hospital. I was there
for a year, left, and went into the business office at Mercy
Hospital and decided it was time for me to go back to
Perryman: Please talk about
your decision to return to school.
Williams: Iíve always
wanted to be a teacher, an educator. I worked a little bit
at Head Start when I was a teenager at 19, so I definitely
wanted to make sure I progressed and finished that up, but
didnít feel like I had enough support as a single mother
raising my daughter in the Moody Manor. While at Mercy, I
decided to go to Lourdes, also working part-time to make
some extra money to get out of the Moody Manor. So, I worked
at the business office full time and a bar on the weekends
and I went to school. Then, I was eventually able to go back
to Chrysler and also finish my last two years at Lourdes,
earning my bachelorís in marketing in May of 2009.
Perryman: Did you get into
the field of education after graduation?
Williams: I decided to go
to the Life Skills Center of Toledo in December of í09. I
went in as the enrollment specialist. Four years later, I
worked my way up to be the administrator. Itís a dropout
recovery school for 16 to 21 year-olds to get their high
school diploma. I ran into many kids who were just like me,
struggling to figure out where they fit in in this life.
And, actually, before I
started working at Life Skills, I needed to take it a little
bit further and decided to get my masterís. In 2011, while
in my masterís program, I was in the hospital for 20 days
with meningitis, but the kids at the school said that they
would not graduate unless I returned. That was my motivation
to come back. So, I pushed through, getting my masters in
2012 and then ultimately became the principal at the Life
Perryman: After helping to
transform the lives of many young disadvantaged students,
you felt that it was time to spread your wings and do
Williams: I decided to
leave Life Skills on June 14, 2019, which was the kidsí
graduation date. I graduated more kids that day than any
year in the 10 years that I had been there and also met our
report card. I decided it was time for me to get into early
childcare, a goal Iíve had from the time I was much younger
and attending Owens. I opened First Light Child Care Center,
was blessed with a building, and opened for business in
Perryman: Please talk about
the decision to become a city councilman.
Williams: I always knew
that I wanted to do something bigger and help more people in
an impactful way. Somebody talked to me and said Ďyou need
to run for a council seat!í I said, ĎNo, Iím not a
politician at all. Maybe Iíll run for school board one day.í
Then the unfortunate incident happened where they had to
seek replacements. I submitted my resume and then thought,
Ďoh no, Judge Puffenberger ainít gonna pick me.í
Puffenberger had been my mamaís judge. But I had an
interview and our conversation was interesting because he
was so excited about me being an educator. And the next
thing you know, that Wednesday I got the call from Judge
Puffenberger and then Thursday evening I got a call from
Council President Matt Cherry. He said, ĎYou got city
But before I even put in
for city council, I talked to my mom and my brother because
my story is my familyís story.
People are going to ask
who I am and where I come from. I come from the hood. I come
from struggle. I come from drug addiction. I come from gang
violence. I come from drug dealing. I donít have a record
myself, but a lot of close people do. So, I had to talk to
my family first because our lives have significantly
changed. My mother, on December 31st, will have been clean
for nine years.
My family said, ĎYou were
sent here to make change so do what you gotta do.í When I
got city council my biggest concern was for my family and
they were all right with it, so that was it.
Perryman: What do you hope
to accomplish during your tenure on city council?
Williams: I just want to
make sure that every move is intentional and impactful for
my community because I donít come just from one area in
Toledo, I come from a lot of different areas. District 4 has
so many different types of backgrounds and I want us all to
come together and understand that we all can live and thrive
Perryman: What are your
programming is the biggest one, followed by affordable homes
and a grocery store in District 4. I shop at Seaway on
Cherry and Bancroft, but grocery stores are few and far
between in our district. Whereas other districts have
several grocery stores.
Affordable housing is
another big issue. I had the privilege of passing that
Source of Income ordinance the other day and it hit home for
me. Iíve received so much backlash from it but my mother was
a Section 8 voucher holder and we could live in one area
only because nobody was taking Section 8 vouchers. So, the
people that donít want to take Section 8 vouchers, that
means youíre turning me away also.
Perryman: How do you feel
about downtown investment?
Williams: I like what is
going on now because it meets the needs of so many diverse
groups, but we need to have more down there so that it
Perryman: Do you think that
more emphasis has been placed on downtown than investment in
Williams: The Arts
Commission does an awesome job connecting art to the
neighborhoods, but I think it can be further extended. I
think that we have an arts entertainment district that needs
to come on down into the neighborhoods as well. We need to
get our kids more involved in arts.
Perryman: If you received
an unrestricted $2 million grant, how would you use it and
Williams: I would fix
Savage Pool. Thatís the focal point of that neighborhood
and people donít understand how important that pool is and
has been to so many people. However, when you ride past the
pool all you see is death and all you feel is depression. I
feel like we need to definitely start investing more in
those type of things. Guess what? Two million dollars is
not enough, give me 10 million. I want ten because after
Iím done with that pool guess what we will have? We will
have baseball and soccer in the parks. Tennis is also big in
the black community but its not pushed enough. And, why
donít we have volleyball in the parks? Sports teach
discipline. Sports teach teamwork. Sports teach
accountability. It doesnít even have to be strictly
athletics, it can be mind sports. You have chess over at
Gunckel Park. You can have a connect four tournament and it
teaches structure, discipline, teamwork and accountability.
Perryman: Okay, last
question: Do you involve residents in your decision-making?
definitely. One thing that I always say and you can quote
me on this, ĎDonít do anything for me without involving
me.í I am very open and accessible so if anyone has a
problem and they desire or need to speak to me, Iíll come
and sit on the porch and weíll talk.
Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, D.Min, at