One year following his delivery of the convocation address for New Century College’s Class of 2013, Mason alumnus James Williams received continued recognition for his community development work when he was awarded the “emPower Player Award” by emPower Magazine on June 16 at a reception held at the US Naval Memorial Museum in Washington DC. This inaugural award was given to Williams and 26 other honorees.
Williams, who works as a community advocate for FACETS, a nonprofit organization that serves those living in poverty in Fairfax County, was among a distinguished group of recipients including grassroots organizers, artists, philanthropists, social entrepreneurs and a US Congressman. All recipients were nominated for the award and selected for their dedication and community service.
NCC Professor Suzanne Scott Constantine nominated Williams, noting his maturity and willingness to grapple with complex social issues discussed in the classroom.
Williams said, “I had a voice in Suzanne’s class. It was very important for me to find that voice… We focused on understanding diversity and improving our cultural sensitivity. All of this just helped me to hit the ground running with FACETS.”
At FACETS, Williams juggles a wide range of responsibilities. Working out of a community center located in a public housing development, Williams coordinates career services training, English language classes, after school activities and answers any number of questions that start with, “How do I…?”
Many residents are recent immigrants to the United States, and need support as they navigate daily life in Northern Virginia. Williams may help a resident understand a piece of mail or explain the bus schedule. Or, Williams may tutor an elementary school student who comes to the after school program, and then later help a high school student edit a college application essay. In fact, much of Williams’ time is dedicated to community youth.
Williams said, “My job at FACETS has helped me to understand that I really enjoy working with young adults. If I can direct anyone’s path, help them avoid some of the mistakes I made…it’s worth it.”
Earlier this summer, Williams worked with a group of high school students to take part in the Youth Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention Project. The FACETS group won the statewide competition and hosted a successful “Block and Pool Party” that brought Fairfax County Police Officers to greet the community and speak about drugs and crime in Northern Virginia. Participants played games and enjoyed food and music as part of this community-building event.
Williams said, “The students used their skills to put together a winning plan that was ultimately funded, and brought back something meaningful to their community… It was very satisfying for them to receive that kind of validation.”
Later this summer, Williams chaperoned a group of 14 high school students as they visited college campuses across the state---a road trip that these students would otherwise have not been able to make. Williams hopes that by coordinating these trips, the students will feel confident to explore and apply to schools they may not have previously considered.
Williams offers the same career advice to both NCC students and the high school students in his community. He said, “Take your classes seriously… Follow your passions and the things you care about. Your passion will help you to align your skills, and when you have that marriage, things come together.”
Williams added, “Don’t be afraid to fail, because in my failures I found success. Failure propels you to new heights and allows your real character to shine. It’s only a true failure, if you don’t learn from your previous mistakes.”
Williams himself continues to learn and grow through his work. He said, “I love being able to learn from people and to hear their stories. Everyone wants the same things: to put food on the table, to have a safe place for their kids and to live their version of the American dream… I definitely feel like I’m part of the community here.”