BE Modern Man: Vincent Williams
Entrepreneur, connector, economic empowerment champion; 48; Vice-President of Economic Empowerment, YWCA Metropolitan Chicago; Director, Illinois Small Business Development Center
I am the director of business and entrepreneurship for the YWCA Metropolitan Chicago where I am in charge of programming and provide one-on-one business consulting to entrepreneurs, startups and growing business owners. My primary office is on the South Side of Chicago, where many of our clients are from under-served communities. Our goal is to eliminate racism and empower women, and what better way than through the power of entrepreneurship. The impact it has on the communities that we serve is outstanding as it enables men, women, and youth to see the power of drive, education, and economic empowerment through business. Providing resources is a key element of empowerment.
WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF IN LIFE?
I am proud of the modern man that I have become despite challenges and circumstances out of my control. I put my head into the books and completed a master’s degree in finance despite being looked at as just another statistic; being from the inner-city. As a product of the Chicago Public Schools, raised by a single parent and overcoming my own insecurities, I am honored to share my knowledge, experiences, and drive with disadvantaged youth as a mentor and speaker. I am also most proud of those that continue to be engaged in my life as mentors, family, and friends. It speaks volumes.
HOW HAVE YOU TURNED STRUGGLE INTO SUCCESS?
Despite not having the financial means to attend college, I bit the bullet and secured loans, worked odd jobs, completed my degree in marketing and went on to complete a master’s degree in management and finance. I wanted to eliminate the possibility of being passed up for a position because I did not meet their requirements of having a qualifying degree and experience. I sought out mentors that did not look like me—mostly because I was not able to identify many who did—and asked for their guidance and knowledge. Not all was good advice, but all was appreciated advice. I took the good and the bad and tweaked them to apply them toward my goals and ambitions. My current success as a mentor, entrepreneur, economic empowerment advocate, and executive is due to hard work, a solid work ethic, and the drive to not become a statistic. I feed off the negative energy of those that are not welcoming of diversity and make a difference when and where I can.
WHO WAS YOUR GREATEST MALE ROLE MODEL AND WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM HIM?
My greatest male role model was a fictional father figure that I created. He was a combination of the men that were involved in my life and it included my brother, uncle, neighbors, a close friend’s father and those I looked up to at church. He had the same name as my [absent] biological father, but he was consistently present in my life, taught me to tie my shoes, square my shoulders, and provide a strong handshake, and to respect women and my elders. This is the man I wanted to become and I continue to strive to be: chivalrous and well received.
WHAT’S THE BEST ADVICE YOU’VE EVER RECEIVED?
The best advice that I ever received was from a white male mentor that took me under his wing and told me that I would go very far if I learned to play golf, kept my head down, and flew under the radar at work. This baffled me as I was typically the only black male in the office and hated golf. But, I learned to play and tweaked his advice and flew over the radar every chance that I got. My drive is always to be the best that I can be.
HOW ARE YOU PAYING IT FORWARD TO SUPPORT OTHER BLACK MALES?
I serve as the co-chair for an organization here in Chicago called Year Up that provides an intensive, yearlong training and internship opportunity for disadvantaged youth between the ages of 18-25. I serve as a mentor to them and participate in a monthly Men’s Circle that provides a safe space to vent and provide fellowship for whatever challenges they may be experiencing in life and work. I also participate yearly in the opportunity to host a group of African American high school males of a local charter school here in Chicago called Urban Prep at my offices, to tell my story, engage them in a team-building activity, and allow them to see a black male in corporate America and ask questions. I wish I had this opportunity growing up.
HOW DO YOU DEFINE MANHOOD?
Manhood defined is the right to walk in the world and experience all that it has to offer. This, with your head held high and a smile on your face, can only lead to positive energy being shared and absorbed. As society shifts toward non-binary descriptions and preferred pronouns, I plan to embrace the skin that I am in and the gifts that have been provided to me. The gift to share joy, knowledge, and love no matter what cards life deals you to play with.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT BEING A BLACK MAN?
I love everything about being a black man. I love the differences in our looks, the curvature of my nose, my stature and in my case, my lack of athleticism despite my athletic appearance. I get asked all the time, “Where did you play ball?” I respond with a shoulder shrug and ask if tennis counts. I enjoy that despite the apparent changes in socio-economic statuses today, and solid educational and work experiences that I have, I am pre-judged just because of the color of my skin. There is always that person or group of people that snicker and shy away or clutch their personal belongings tighter as I walk toward them or when I enter a room. It reminds me of why I want to succeed.
BE Modern Man is an online and social media campaign designed to celebrate black men making valuable contributions in every profession, industry, community, and area of endeavor. Each year, we solicit nominations in order to select men of color for inclusion in the 100 Black Enterprise Modern Men of Distinction. Our goal is to recognize men who epitomize the BEMM credo “Extraordinary is our normal” in their day-to-day lives, presenting authentic examples of the typical black man rarely seen in mainstream media. The BE Modern Men of Distinction are celebrated annually at Black Men XCEL (dev.blackenterprise.com/blackmenxcel/). Click this link to submit a nomination for BE Modern Man: https://dev.blackenterprise.com/nominate/. Follow BE Modern Man on Twitter: @bemodernman and Instagram: @be_modernman.