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United Way Blog

Dream of a Better World: United Way CEO Reflects on Juneteenth

As we celebrate Juneteenth, United Way Worldwide President and CEO Angela F. Williams reflects on her Southern upbringing and the family values that helped to shape her personal and professional mission to serve the greater good.   

Every story has a beginning.  And mine began in Anderson, South Carolina in 1963.  I am the daughter of Reverend J.C. and Eleather Williams.  My dad was the pastor of Royal Baptist Church, located at 407 E. Hampton Street.  It is in that place that my foundation was rooted and grounded in faith – hope – love – and charity.  It was there that I learned about servant-leadership and witnessed the modeling of giving one’s time, talent and treasure.  

The 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s were turbulent times in this country - the vestiges of which still remain. However, there are some powerful lessons that are still applicable today – a number of them I took from my father’s June 15, 1957 “Letter to all Pastors,” written from his position as the head of the South Carolina NAACP.  He began the letter with this quote: “The cowards die many times, but the brave only taste of death but once.”  He went on to say: “The NAACP is looking for brave men and women, boys, and girls…We can’t afford to go backward, but to move forward…Remember this is not the other men’s fight, but our fight.”

Communities then and now come together to care for one another.  In 1963 and 2023, I've watched neighbors prepare meals for one another.  I’ve seen those who owned cars provide transportation for others.  I’ve seen a little extra go into the collection plate for medical bills and legal fees.  I’ve seen people from all over America and the world stand together and provide encouragement to those making “good trouble”.  I’ve learned that a united community could, and does, change the world. 

My father’s work during the civil rights movement not only taught me about courage but it also taught me grace. He walked in his faith and applied biblical principles to everything he did. For 30 years he put on a US Naval uniform and served his country as a Chaplain.  I watched his dedication to and love for America.  Yes, the same country that did not allow him to vote or educate his children as he wished.  I came to understand his choices were rooted in a place of love and respect for America.  He believed, as I came to believe, that America represents the best and that is what inspired me to serve in the United States Air Force as an attorney (which we call a Judge Advocate General). My sense of justice was well honed by the time I took my oath to serve, and I believed I could be an instrument of truth and fairness. 

In addition to my family story, my own story has deep Southern roots that run through the church and the community overall.  I was taught many life lessons in the pews.  Some were in the Word and some came from the pages of the hymnal. I have patterned my life around these lessons such as this one in Ephesians 4:1-3: “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

In the immortal words of Harriet Tubman: “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars, to change the world.” Let us dream together of a better community and partner to do the work which in its time, will change the world.