The Legacy of Dr. Michael Williams
Words can’t express my feelings, but since words are the tools at hand they will have to suffice. On June 12th, a great man passed away to join the ancestors. Dr. Michael Williams, whom we affectionately knew as “Doc,” the Director of the Black Studies Program, was an amazing man and the center of the Black community on Cleveland State University's campus. I knew him as pops. When we met, I was in a state of depression and was dealing with multiple family deaths and some racial issues on campus. My days consisted of just coming to class, going to work and going home. My grades were horrible and my GPA was under a 1.0. I just felt so out of place. My mind was made up that I was going to leave Cleveland State. Doc was always visible around the campus. Everywhere he went, students would just flock to him for some wisdom.
One day, he came to my job and told me about the Black Studies Program. I visited the office and I was blown away by the love flowing through the place. It was like no other place on campus. There was so much energy. In one corner people were debating current events while in another, an elder was telling a young student about his African origins. To top it off, a community group was holding an amazing event in the conference room. I knew right then this was where I belonged and I was going to stay. I put my two weeks’ notice in at work and asked Doc if he was hiring. I was hired the next day and my life was never the same.
Dr. Williams (pictured left in red dashiki) with a group of his students and coworkers, including me (2nd from right in green Cleveland State shirt.)
Dr. Williams instantly took me under his wing and convinced me to join the Black Student Union, which he advises. He would keep us very active on the campus and the surrounding community. About a year later, one of his many other students convinced me to join another group that Doc advises called Speak Up Poetry Slam Organization. A month after I joined, I traveled with Doc to the Association of Black Cultural Centers Conference (ABCC) at Purdue University. Dr. Williams served as a board member for this national conference which started in 1989 at Knox College in Illinois. Doc made sure that Cleveland State was represented well among the many great universities that attended these annual conferences. Dr. Williams co-hosted the ABCC at Cleveland State in 2009, which had the largest attendance of any previous conference. Not only did we attend the conferences annually, but Doc made sure we hosted workshops at the conferences. After serving Speak Up for a year I was elected President of the organization. As President I would work closer with Doc creating events.
I still have no idea how Dr. Williams did it, but Black Studies was the most active place on campus and hosted multiple events almost daily. When the Black organizations on campus couldn’t secure money from the university, Doc would pull resources to make it happen. There were students almost daily in distress that would chase down Doc for his calming presence. I have had many confrontations on campus mainly due to racial issues and Doc was always there to calm me down. When no one else would stand up for me, Doc would. Dr. Williams wasn’t only a saint to the Black students, but to all students. He would often joke with students of other ethnic backgrounds that Black Studies doesn’t mean Black only. He embraced students and community members despite their race or economic standing. The Howard A. Mims Cultural Center,where the Black Studies Program is housed, has been the hub of campus diversity since I have attended CSU in large part due to the welcoming presence or Dr. Williams. Doc was connected with almost every department and program on the campus and would actively pursue communication and networking. He just seemed like the most connected person on campus.
After my father died, Dr. Williams stepped right in. He was my primary confidant. He nurtured me and my fellow classmates with the love of a father. Doc held a disposition of not giving up and expected the same from his pupils. Dr. Williams fought hard and guided the first Black Studies Major to graduate from Cleveland State.
At his time of death, Doc was working on many projects including a group trip to Africa and a poster series highlighting heroes throughout the African Diaspora. Many Black Studies students have already made the vow to continue his legacy…will you?