Being Black in America: Rev. Ervin Williams

In his own words, an African American community resident shares a first-person story about what it looks, feels and sounds like to be black in America.

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Continuing a conversation we’re privileged to host, The News-Gazette asked African American community members to share their stories and solutions in the wake of George Floyd’s killing.

Featured today: the REV. ERVIN WILLIAMS, the founder and executive director of Champaign’s Restoration Urban Ministries.

If you’d like to share your story, email jdalessio@news-gazette.com. To view the entire series, click here.

Their Turn Williams

The Rev. Ervin Williams at Restoration Urban Ministries' facility in Champaign.

‘This is how I felt in the ’60s’

By THE REV. ERVIN WILLIAMS

This has been a trying period for me. I’m not one to claim post-traumatic stress when I stub my toe, but watching the many unjustified killings taking place, and directed toward black people, has stirred up feelings that I thought were long gone.

During the 1960s, I was very much involved in the Freedom Movement. Young, angry and troubled, I took to the streets because I wasn’t going to live any longer being oppressed, suppressed and distressed, no matter the cost.

One night, my family awakened to a cross burning in front of our home. This troubled us, and our neighbors. We armed ourselves for protection. When a stranger would pass by or drive through, everyone would be on edge. In fact, my cousin received an M-80 firecracker thrown at her from a car, and lost part of her hearing. We lived in a state of heightened sensitivity, and always on guard, day after day, and especially during the night hours.

One of the things I do at the end of every day is walk through my neighborhood and pray for the families that live there. Monday night, after attending the protest that afternoon and a prayer gathering in the park, I went on my prayer vigil about 10:30 p.m.

As I was making my way back home, a car pulled to the other side of the street ahead of me and just remained; the lights were on and the motor running. I thought: What is going on here? As I passed them, I tried to get a view of the passengers, but it was too dark. So I kept walking and looking over my shoulder.

A second car pulled up ahead of me on my side of the street and did the same thing. I mapped out in my head what I would do if something crazy were to happen. One person in the back opened their door while the front door remained closed. I kept walking past the car; after I was down the block, the car exited, and went to a house on the street.

After I returned home, I was still thinking about this. During the events, I was wondering what they were going to do. And then it dawned on me that they were probably wondering the same of me, both of us unsure of the other’s intentions.

This is how I felt in the ’60s. It doesn’t matter what side of the fence you may be on, both were suspicious, paranoid and a tad fearful of what was going on.

It had been over 50 years since I felt like that. I didn’t like it, and I cried a few tears because I felt right back there again.

I agree anyone with a heart should be concerned over the brutal deaths that have been occurring. But is the goal to get justice, or to stir up fear?

I’m looking for solutions that change our society, not fear that keeps us away from the answers we seek.

If you’d like to share your story, email Editor Jeff D’Alessio at jdalessio@news-gazette.com.

 

The Rev. Ervin Williams is the founder and executive director of Champaign’s Restoration Urban Ministries.