As a kid, I never really understood what my Mom did for a living.
On Sunday, she delivered sermons at various churches. Monday would be grant writing for a STEAM program (science, technology, engineering, arts and math). On Tuesday, she led CHOICES, where girls would come and celebrate the joys and struggles of being created female. Wednesday was the food pantry. Thursday, she’d be on a panel about building resilient cities. On Friday, she’s leading a labyrinth walk at Alice’s Garden, a two-acre, urban farm. By the time I woke up on Saturday, she was already outside preparing for a group of incoming volunteers. And the following week? Her schedule could look completely different from the last. Venice Williams was way too involved.
I would always tell my mom, “I don’t want to be like you when I grow up.”
… then I came to Peoria, Illinois.
In my four years as a Theatre Performance student at Bradley University, I appeared in 9 mainstage productions, participated in 12 student organizations, all while maintaining a full course-load! After graduation, I quickly became embedded in the Peoria community…
I immediately began working as the Field Representative for Congresswoman Cheri Bustos (IL-17), and then eventually became the Neighborhood Enhancement Coordinator for the City of Peoria… I became the In-Venue Emcee of the Bradley Braves Men’s Basketball team… I co-led The ROOT, a weekly bible study group for college students… I started a Christian Hip-Hop career, and created four, full-length, retail albums… I created promotional music videos for Bradley University, Bud Light (Brewers Distributing), Peoria’s Energy 102.3, the ELITE Youth Outreach program, Peoria’s new Louisville Slugger Sports Complex and others… I became a mentee of Garry Moore, led drum circles in Peoria and Pekin, and created radio promotions for 106.3 – Peoria’s Neighborhood Voice… Under the leadership of Ed & Beverley Caballero, I joined the Contemporary Art Center, DJ’d and played Latin percussion instruments for Salsa Night, every first and third Friday of the month… At St. Paul Baptist Church, with encouragement from Eugene Daniel, Deveraux & Kristie Hubbard, I served in multiple ministries, including the media team, praise & worship, drama/theatre, young adults and more… I worked with Chelsie Tamms (Lettering Works) on a music video to promote equity and community development, featuring Peoria faces… Every month, I was the featured performer for “Soul Food Sunday’s” at Riley’s Cupcake and Coffee Lounge… I often found myself at Northwoods Community Church performing in various capacities… the list goes on and on…
I woke up this morning, my final morning working in the City of Peoria, and something hit me… I discovered one of the many titles that I can attribute to my mother’s work in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
My mom is also a Neighborhood Enhancement Coordinator.
My entire life, I’ve been preparing for this job, and I had no idea. I was able to witness what true city engagement looks like… what true local leadership is… what it means to be apart of a community… what it means to help create a change, and support the established culture, rather than intruding and doing harm…
With all of that experience, I was able to come to this new city, carve my own path, develop myself, strengthen my skill-set, and showcase what it means to be a servant leader.
I never expected to hold this title, Neighborhood Enhancement Coordinator… but it became the perfect way to close this phenomenal chapter of my life.
Thank you for blessing me with opportunities to grow, to learn, to fail, to work, to play… Thank you for your trust… Thank you for your patience… Thank you for your encouragement, for your prayers… Thank you for seeing potential in me when I didn’t believe I was capable… Thank you for lifting me up in the midst of my struggles… Thank you for the few people who supported my ideas, and helped me build upon those that needed additional work…
They weren’t all great moments… There wasn’t always support… There weren’t always friendly faces…
And yet, through it all, I Appreciate Peoria.
These 9 years in this city granted me the life lessons and experiences that would mold and shape me into the man that I am today. I can confidently state that I wouldn’t be this version of Josiah Williams without the City of Peoria, IL.
Thank you for allowing this to be my home.
Josiah Dean Williams