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Yet, With a Steady Beat

By Rev. Donald L. Perryman, Ph.D.
The Truth Contributor

  Stony the road we trod, Bitter the chastening rod, Felt in the days when hope unborn had died; Yet with a steady beat, Have not our weary feet, Come to the place where our fathers sighed?
                  -  James Weldon Johnson


Rev. Donald L. Perryman, D.Min.

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 public servant.

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 elaborate?

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 school. 

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 Skills school.

Perryman: After helping to transform the lives of many young disadvantaged students, you felt that it was time to spread your wings and do something bigger?

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 July.

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 council.í  

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 together. 

Perryman: What are your largest priorities?

Williams:  Youth 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 accommodates everyone.

Perryman: Do you think that more emphasis has been placed on downtown than investment in our neighborhoods?

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 why?

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?

Williams:  Yes, 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 drdlperryman@centerofhopebaptist.org



Copyright © 2019 by [The Sojourner's Truth]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 12/24/20 14:52:18 -0500.



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