Finding hope

After facing homelessness, Winthrop junior finds hope through his faith and local supporters 

While Williams and his family did not live in the best “neighborhood around,” he mentioned that he had to work to not become part of the community of wrongdoers.

“My mom was a very passionate Christian woman who strived to give her children all that they could have ever hoped for,” Williams said. “But my mom said by 18 we were to get a job or go to college and if we strayed into the path of gangs, drugs or went on another bad path, we would not be welcomed back home.”

As one of the youngest, Williams saw his older siblings fall into the cycle of what the community was doing and watched as his siblings involuntarily left the household.

“I was 14 and about to start high school and when I was younger, I was a big kid. Everyone knew me as the fat kid and by the time I was about to start high school, I was ready to show that I wasn’t that kid anymore,” Williams said.

He explained that over the summer, by working outside and through dedication, he lost a lot of weight and his desire to attend a new school was greatly influenced by the perception of his peers.

“I could either go to the school where everyone knew me as the fat kid who suddenly lost a lot of weight,” Williams said, “or I could start a new journey and have a clean slate.”

So he did just that; Williams attended a technical high school and said that it pushed him harder than ever before.

Williams and sister, Erin, dad and mom, Doug and M., brother and sister-in-law, Emily and Andy.

Consumed in his school work and wrapped up in his friends, Williams’ freshman year flew by and his sophomore year began to unfold.

“That was the year everything changed,” he said. “But nobody realized just how much our lives were actually about to crumble.”

Harriet, Williams’ mom, went to the doctor following a medical incident and unbeknown to anyone, the doctor misdiagnosed her with an ear infection.

After tests and realizing that she was improperly diagnosed, doctors came to the conclusion that she had previously had a stroke.

“Nobody ever wants to see their mom like that,” Williams said. “She was in the hospital and was not capable of much. She lost feeling in one of her legs, and it was hard to see my mom not up to par.”

Thanksgiving rolled around and Harriet suffered another stroke, however, this time “it took everything … everything but her ability to breathe.”

As a 14-year-old boy, Williams said that

he wanted his mom to be the invincible and magnificent mom he had always seen her as.

Williams said, “I remember thinking to myself, ‘God, you can’t take my mother, we don’t have much.’”

Two short weeks later, Harriet took her last breathe as another stroke attacked her body.

“Dec. 19: my mother passed away and I gave up,” Williams explained. “Nobody can prepare you for that. You doubt everything you have ever known and wish for just one more moment to tell her that you love her, to just … cherish her.”

After many court dates and legalizing processes, Williams was signed over into the custody of Harriet’s only biological daughter.

“I bought a one-way ticket to Charlotte, North Carolina, and when I arrived, nobody was there to get me,” Williams said. “I was alone; I waited hours and hours and still, she didn’t show. I was alone with no food and all of my belongings were either on my back or in the bag I was carrying.”

Little did he know at the train station that the next three years of his life would be spent searching for somewhere to stay, hopping from shelter to shelter in hopes of finding one that would help him become somewhat whole again.

While homeless, Williams stayed in school and searched for a reason to survive and beat the odds.

“I was told time and time again that I wouldn’t make it,” he said. “I was told explicitly that I was going to end up dead or in jail, and I was determined to prove them wrong.”

At 17, Williams found a shelter, that he asked to be left unnamed, and found his semi-permanent home.

“This shelter truly wanted to help me out,” Williams explained. “For three years, my sister was stealing from me. She was using my name and the fact that she was my legal guardian as a way to get my social security check and benefits from the government. The whole time she was stealing from me and I had nothing.”

At the shelter, with some financial and legal aid, Williams was able to recover his name and get back his entitled rights. Finally, he had some money to his name.

However, Williams said that even though he was finally getting a social security check himself, the shelter decided to take advantage of him and they also began to steal from him.

“They requested that I pay a fee for staying at the shelter,” he said. “I didn’t see any problem with paying the fee until someone else came in, who was the same age as me and also had some form of check coming to him, and he wasn’t required to pay.”

Upon this realization, Williams sought help from friends that he had gained through the shelter. According to him, these friends were members of Elevation Church that made frequent trips to the shelter and because of them, he was able to break free from the shelter and start a life where he would not be stolen from.

Those from the church that visited with Williams soon became his confidants and his family. They pushed Williams to finish high school and once he graduated, they continued to encourage him to strive to do his absolute best.

“I knew that I didn’t have any money to go to college, so I decided to enlist into the military,” Williams said. “But I went through every process to join any form of branch in the military and once it got to the physicals, they realized that I had broken my finger previously and would need to go through a waiver process.”

After being turned away countless times, his church parents —  Steve and Martha, Joe and Teresa, Doug and M. and Vicki and Jerry —  all sat him down and said that he would either have to keep persisting to join the military, or he would go to college.

“Again,” Williams began, “I knew I couldn’t pay for college. I was hesitant but knew that my parents wouldn’t lead me in the wrong direction.”

In the fall of 2015, Williams began his freshman year at York Technical College where he excelled in his academics, making all A’s.

“My parents decided it was time for me to go to a university, and I had three options: Clemson, College of Charleston or Winthrop,” he explained. “Ultimately, it came down to my parents all being very adamant about me staying close to home and that’s when Winthrop became where I would spend the rest of my college career at.”

Now in his junior year, Williams has been fortunate to receive scholarships and apply for loans to help aid his financial concerns of paying for college.

“Because of God working through the various families that have become my own, I have been able to make it to my junior year in college with a part-time job and my own car despite the overwhelming odds and the multitude of times that I have messed up along the way,” Williams posted on Facebook. “In order for me to remain in school and continue on this path that I travel, I must come out-of-pocket for school; so I am reaching out for help so that I do not become another statistic so that I can stay afloat in a world that demands so much.”

To help Williams finish his degree and his time as an Eagle, he has created a fundraiser through GoFundMe and says “any donation would be greatly appreciated.”

In addition to donating to Williams’ fundraiser, he asks that you donate your time to visiting the shelters in the surrounding area and being the hope for someone who has a similar story to his.

“If it weren’t for those church members taking their time to come and visit,” Williams expressed, “I don’t know where I would be today. It was all because of hope.”

To donate to Williams’ fund, go to https://www.gofundme.com/michaeltwilliamscollege.

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