Jason Williams stepped out of his comfort zone in a big way five years ago when he left his inner-city neighborhood for a rural, regional university.
Now he’s back in the inner city to share what he’s learned with the youth of his community.
Mr. Williams is from southeast Kansas City where the community in the Swope Park neighborhood is comprised almost entirely of African-Americans. He attended Southeast Middle School and Southeast High School, two institutions that now sandwich the Southeast Community Center where he’s the special programs and community engagement director.
Mr. Williams told the News-Press nearly two years ago that attending a four-year university wasn’t something he felt was presented as an option during high school. Despite the challenges, some academic and some social, he became extremely involved in campus life and graduated last year with a degree in child and family studies.
Embracing diversity is something he’s learned through experiencing extremes — there were no Caucasians at his high school, and Northwest’s African-American population hovers around 4 percent of the total student body. As he tackled the diversity issue at Northwest, he got involved on campus and founded a group focused on reaching out to youths to impress upon them the importance of college. They also established a scholarship program that continues today.
That focus continued after graduation and into his job at the community center where he quickly established an after-school program for students in grades K-12. He sees 20-plus students on a daily basis and they work together on homework and reading skills. The kids also get a free meal. The inner-city community Mr. Williams grew up in is showing some progress, he said.
“If you change the environment you can change the people in the environment to make things better,” he said.
One of the ways he’s attempting to continue that improvement in his after-school program is to talk to the students about diversity and the importance of learning about other cultures.
“While it may be controversial,” he said, “I’m going to stress multiculturalism and diversity … If you hover around a certain group, then all you know are the traits and tendencies of that group. I’m going to stress to those students that they need to diversify themselves as they go through college.”
Another project the Northwest graduate has been hard at work on is a college fair for the students, the first of what is proposed to be an annual affair will be held Jan. 5 at the community center. So far he’s got 15 confirmations from higher education institutions.
“I love my job,” he said. “I find the politics of my job challenging but this is my dream job and I don’t ever see myself doing anything else.”