After spending 25 years of his life in and out of prison, Terry Williams came to understand the importance of giving back in a positive way. In his youth, Williams experienced the loss of his mother, grandmother, and aunts all before the age of 4. He dropped out of public school by fifth grade. After that, he spent time in juvenile institutions in Maryland and then, eventually, the penitentiary. His life changed permanently after his first-born child was murdered in 2013.
“I think that’s what created a paradigm shift in my mind and my whole life shifted,” Williams said. “I never wanted a mother or father to feel the pain that I felt, which led me into going even harder with Challenge 2 Change.”
As an OSI-Baltimore Community Fellow, Williams will develop Challenge 2 Change, a youth mentoring initiative targeted to youth at risk for committing acts of violence in the east Baltimore community. His organization is devoted to empowering young boys through mentorship; conflict resolution; youth development; science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM); and character development with an emphasis on social emotional learning. The purpose of this program is to educate, motivate, and stimulate the minds of Baltimore’s brilliant youth and young adults by setting academic standards and achieving personal goals. His mentorship empowers, equips, trains, and builds up young men’s self-esteem to become leaders in their communities. The program will integrate the Common Core curriculum that students are currently being taught in school while reinforcing how to make connections between academic and real-world experiences.
“I developed it years ago when I was in prison, but I just never implemented it. But right at [my son’s] death, it was a no-brainer after that. It turned into what I’m doing today,” reflected Williams. “Just being consistent and persevering through the difficulties, through the trials and tribulations. My greatest joy is being able to have my children with me and feeding them the right information that will deter them from the life that I had to go through.”
His students affectionally nicknamed him “Uncle T,” and that nickname has evolved into a brand with Williams’ Instagram account growing to over 42,000 loyal followers. “I don’t believe there’s another young child on earth that was as messed up as I was. That child was so troubled. I mold myself to the individual that may have had a chance of reaching me.”
Regarding his students, Williams said, “I don’t look at the worst of them, instead I think the best of them. And that’s what it’s about for me, being able to not see where they are but seeing what they could be. I’m a visionary.”