Jawanza James Williams came to New York City from Texas in 2013 to escape the hardships of his hometown. But when he got here, the hardships continued.
“The way that I learned this city was through struggle,” said Williams.
His housing situation forced him into a homeless shelter. He said most of the people he lived with looked like him.
“I started to see in New York City how pronounced it was that it was difficult to be able to get out of the shelter, and what I started to realize was that the primary barriers were racism, classism,” Williams explained. “I then drew the connection that this was the same kind of ideology, the same kind of policy failures that were leading to Black and brown people being slaughtered by police all over the country.”
It was at that homeless shelter that an organizer from VOCAL-NY came to introduce their organization. It is a grassroots group that helps communities affected by HIV/AIDS, mass incarceration and drugs.
Now, Williams is its director of organizing, helping to fight for systemic change and against the injustices he experienced at that homeless shelter and in his life.
Williams was one of the loudest voices in the defund the police movement where thousands organized at City Hall Park to demand the NYPD budget be cut after George Floyd died at the hands of police in Minneapolis.
“It was simultaneously the most beautiful thing I've ever been a part of, but also the most traumatizing thing I've ever been a part of,” said Williams.
Williams said the work is far from over. His organization is now working to explain the details of the defund movement to New Yorkers.
“Though I’m not interested in convincing people that I'm a human being or convincing anybody that, as a Black person or as vulnerable people in this city, that we have human rights, to not be policed, surveilled, brutalized. I'm not interested in convincing people of that, but I am interested in making sure that people honor that. And the way that we do that is through building power, building powerful political institutions that are separate from the government that can hold the government accountable.”
A march is planned for Tuesday at Barclays Center to commemorate the one year anniversary of George Floyd’s death.
“People are going to lament in the streets. We are going to continue to call for a city budget that is morally sound, that prioritizes housing, care services, education, and vulnerable people over policing us,” said Williams.