By many accounts, Pembroke’s Dave Williams has done a lot to help out his fellow man since moving to Georgia in 1995.
An Air Force veteran and New York native, Williams, 77, is chairman of the Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church board of deacons. He’s served as a scoutmaster for a local Boy Scout troop and is a member of Pembroke’s planning and zoning board.
He’s also a former president of the Bryan County NAACP and is currently the organization’s vice president.
The list goes on.
Williams, who retired from IBM and now works for Gateway, is a volunteer tax preparer at VITA. He’s served on the Pembroke memorial flag committee and is on the Bryan County Schools North Bryan Task Force.
Hardly a day goes by that he or his wife Deloris aren’t volunteering to do something for someone somewhere, and that hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Williams was honored in 2016 by the United Way as Bryan County’s top volunteer, an honor which mirrors his feelings toward his adopted hometown.
“I love this town, I really do. Truth of the matter is for me, and I really can’t say for other people, but it’s been a real blessing that I came to Pembroke,” Williams said. “I didn’t know very many people, but I quickly got to know a lot of people here in Pembroke, white and black.”
That was largely due to Pembroke Mayor Pro Tem Johnnie Miller and Miller’s family, who talked Williams into substitute teaching.
“One thing sort of led to another,” Williams said.
“And the thing is, I really was accepted here. And maybe because of my stance more than anything else, in most cases, white folks in Pembroke seem to have accepted me, and respected me. That has also made me get involved as much as I could, and my focus was to do to make Pembroke united. To make it a united place for people to live, a welcome place no matter what color you are.”
Miller said he’s tried to get Williams to run for office. Williams said no thanks.
And what happened to George Floyd or Ahmaud Arbery didn’t change his affection for his community, Williams said, though he said he still feels like a “second class citizen in his own country.”
But it’s what happened afterward, and what’s been happening since, that gives him hope. Not the violence, not the destruction.
“First, I’m sorry that there was so much destruction,” he said. “At the same time I’m very excited about the reaction people are taking to George Floyd’s death and I feel as though there is some significant progress being made because of it. I kind of wonder if it’s going to be enough. I believe the fight will still go on, because in this country to be equal is a monumental thing.”
Williams’ said he realized his skin color could be an impediment to opportunity when he was in high school.
“When I was in high school, my desire was to become an electrician. I went to the technical high school and was in the electrical shop,” he said. “My teacher, he was really my mentor, he was really good. He sat me down and explained to me that as much as my desire to become an electrician was, my chances of becoming an electrician in New York were absolutely none. I would never be able to get into the electrician’s union because I was black, simple as that.”
The teacher gave Williams other options, “but not as an electrician, so I chose to go into the Air Force to become an aircraft electrician.”
What’s more, as a young man, Williams ran afoul of the police. He said he was taken to the ground by a police officer who used the same technique used on Floyd in Minneapolis.
“This was also in New York. I had an apartment, I had a girlfriend, we got into a heated argument, I got kicked out of my apartment. She called the police about the same time I got back into my apartment. They came, busted into my apartment and the next thing I knew I was facing up at his knee, which was on my neck and choking me to the point I kept saying the same thing, I can’t breathe, and then he let me up,” Williams said.
“I was a young man then and in good shape. If he’d done that to me today, I’d of been gone,” he said. “But after seeing what happened to Floyd, it really made me think. The same thing that happened today, happened to me many years ago. None of this is new.”
The key to solving any problem is communication, Williams said.
“We’ve been marching for most of my life, just seems like one march after another. A little gets done, but we end up back in the same old same old,” he said.
“I think this particular time, two things I see that make this different. One is consistency. And the other is the interaction from all races, religions and we’re getting more participation from non-black people.”
There are also the young who seem to be driving many of the protests, peaceful and otherwise, and that gives Williams hope, he said. Due to his work at Gateway, Williams said he has to know how to deal with people who are unstable.
“We have to take a course every year on how to deal with someone who is having a psychotic breakdown,” he said. “We have to know how to take somebody down and do those things in an appropriate way in order not to cause harm to that person or yourself, regardless of the situation at that time. Police should have that same training. That choke hold should not be there. They’re there to protect and serve, and even though you’re arresting me, you have to protect me.
Hopefully, that’s one of the things that will change from this, and we’re holding them accountable.”
But while there’s been an outcry against police and a corresponding wave of support for law enforcement, Williams said he believes there are those who will never change.
“A lot of focus is being put on police. Unfortunately, it’s that civilian population we’re not touching. We’ve got Ahmaud Arbery down in Brunswick. Those were civilians. Truth of the matter is, we’ll never be able to change the minds of some of these people who are haters. It’s inbred in them.
It’s something we’ll always have to be aware of.”
There’s also a past in which Williams has seen his country fight against discrimination abroad, only to ignore it at home.
“I also see some significant things being done, but is it enough or not? I don’t know. This country did more to stop apartheid in South Africa than they did to improve race relationships in this country. We go to other countries, we fight for injustice, fight for human rights, and what do we do here? You know? Until something like this happens. And then where are we?”
It’s not a question Williams can answer.
“I don’t know what’s going to change, except I think things are going to be a little fairer,” he said. “More than anything they’ll be a change in treatment. In some of the tactics that they use, I see that being changed all over.
“I hope and pray never see another “I can’t breathe.”
I hope we never see that again.”