When Cecil Williams was born 90 years ago, his mother instinctively knew he would become a preacher. As an adult, Cecil began working at a church in San Francisco's Tenderloin but was disappointed to see it turn people away, rather than welcome them. He set out to create a different kind of community. Williams shares his Brief But Spectacular take on humanity and how everybody is somebody.
Judy Woodruff: Finally tonight, a personal look at faith in action.
The Reverend Cecil Williams gives us his Brief But Spectacular take on what we can learn from helping those in need.
Cecil Williams: I was born, my God, 90 years ago.
When I came in the world, immediately , they started calling me Rev. My mother said to me, you are going to be a preacher. And that stirred me up, because a preacher represented a way of life that was quite different.
It meant that not only would I provide a healing community, but the church, the church was the place where I stood up and said, I’m going to be somebody, no matter what anybody said.
I came to San Francisco in 1963, and I immediately began to work with a church called Glide. Glide is located in the Tenderloin, which is the worst conditions of human blight. It was the most dedicated community of people who were looking for something, but they kept looking for that which worked against them.
I went to Glide. Oh, my God, it was awful. It was a church that closed its doors to all kinds of people. And, of course, when the bishop appointed me there, he said to me, I hope that you will do something that will upset the people, because they need to be upset.
I decided that, if we were the church, we would act like it, and we would engage in what I call doing theology. We’re going to go and become a part of a world which needs to face itself.
So, it became a church that was standing on the line, saying, I love you. I will work with you. And we’re going to stand with people, no matter what their color, no matter what their class, those who are suffering, those who are going through trials and tribulations, through moments of despair.
And that’s what we have done.
I came in contact with a woman called Janice Mirikitani. And when you run into somebody like that, you better get ready, because you have got to work on yourself. She took me and helped me to know that I had to be somebody. I had to be something more than I’d ever been.
And so what we have done through the years is, we have built program after program. We will give you a sense of recovery. We will give you a sense of loving.
I came to San Francisco in the Tenderloin, and I made something happen.
My name is Cecil Williams. This is my Brief But Spectacular take on why everybody is somebody.
Judy Woodruff: Remarkable story. Reverend Cecil Williams.
And you can find all of our Brief But Spectacular segments online at PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.