She opens the door to the game room at the Boys and Girls Club where a group of kids are waiting for her, and like an orchestra conductor she effortlessly takes command while simultaneously emanating a sense of support and care to those around her.
This is how Adrian Williams, the Executive Director at the San Francisco based non-profit organization called The Village Project, lives her whole life.
For the past 10 years, Williams has been gradually building up this program for the purpose of “providing a safe haven for academic, cultural and enrichment activities for youth,” according to thevillageprojectsf.org.
Over this time, hundreds of children and their families in the community of the Western Addition have benefitted from The Village Project.
“Whatever I put my mind on, I’m hooked,” said Williams.
From the moment you see Adrian Williams, you can tell that she is an experienced person. Experienced not only in the sense that she has done many things in her life, but also that she is full of knowledge and confidence in what she does, and is eager to share it with the world.
Barely reaching five feet in height, Williams carries herself with a simple modesty. The way she dresses is no different, with her casual ensemble of a t-shirt and sweater with a pair of bright pink jeans.
She exudes a warm and kind demeanor that is reinforced by the gentle look in her eyes and the inviting smile on her face.
Though her mannerisms are mostly colloquial, she has an underlying seriousness about her, and a subtle intelligence that gradually reveals its depth.
When asked her age, she simply responds, “Oh, I’ll never tell.”
Ever since Williams was a young child she knew she was unique, and that she wanted to make a difference.
“I grew up in Monroe, Louisiana in a very poor environment,” said Williams. “It was a very conflicted area. I loved my country but I hated the racism.”
When she started school, one of her counselors and even her principal recognized her intellect and gave Williams special attention for it.
Eventually, she became one of four National Achievement Scholars out of Monroe, which allowed her a wide-range of college options to choose from.
“I ended up winning 17 scholarships, and left Monroe,” said Williams.
She decided to attend Northwestern University, where she earned her degree in psychology.
Having faced sexism and racism at her first two jobs after college, she left the Midwest to take a new job in the Bay Area.
After living in Oakland for a while, Williams began to notice the gang related crime and violence that was happening in San Francisco.
“My daughter went to high school in San Francisco and all of the sudden her friends started killing each other based on where they lived,” said Williams. “I think there were about 98 murders that year.”
In the ensuing years, while raising her family in the Bay Area, she realized that these issues seemed to only get worse, and decided to do something about it.
In 2006, Williams began volunteering around San Francisco with the initial goal of bringing lunch to kids in the Western Addition that needed it. However, she quickly realized something strange about the neighborhood.
“I was taking my granddaughter to school one day and we passed by this park on California Street. I saw babies, I saw dogs, I saw kids and then you get into the Western Addition… no kids,” said Williams.
After coming to this unpleasant realization, she was determined to have kids feel safe and comfortable enough to play in the streets again.
“I literally went and knocked on doors and told the parents ‘let me have them for an hour or two, I’ll feed them lunch and then bring them back to you,’ ” said Williams.
Soon enough, her program grew larger and she began taking kids on fieldtrips, and participating in activities with them to the point where she had to take a leave of absence from her job.
This was the start of The Village Project.
Over the past 10 years, The Village Project has expanded a great deal and is now recognized as an outstanding organization by The Board of Supervisors, the San Francisco Police Department, the Department of Children Youth and Families, and many others.
Though she essentially runs the entire program single-handedly during the school year, she relies heavily on collaboration with other people and organizations around the city to keep The Village Project functioning.
“I have survived because I partner with everyone in the community,” said Williams. “I get people to do different pieces of the project to bring it all together.”
Rather than going through the arduous and endless process of soliciting a stream of funding, Williams has learned to utilize the resources already available in the community to provide fun activities for the kids, such as the Boys and Girls Club’s swim lessons, where she frequently takes them.
Williams has designed a program that creates a healthier environment for kids as they grow up in the neighborhood, and those that have been in The Village Project admire her leadership.
“She is very nice and caring,” said 18-year-old Tamia Edgerly, one of the only current employees at The Village Project who was in the program herself for many years. “She’ll always make sure the kids have something to do.”
Boys and Girls Club employee Maquez Shaw, who has known Williams for years, also has a great deal of respect and admiration for her.
“She taught us how to respect others, and taught us to take responsibility for our own actions,” said Shaw. “It made me the person I am now.”
Although the kids are Williams’ primary focus, another big part of The Village Projects is the events put on each year.
On October 23, The Village Project will host on one of their most notable events of the entire year called “A Senior Moment”. This event has become so well known in the community that Williams is expecting a turn out of over 500 people.
It is the fifth year The Village Project will put on this celebration to honor senior citizens in San Francisco, dubbed as a “senior prom for the 50+”.
For Williams, the most important thing is being responsible for coming together to preserve the history and spirit of the community for the generations to come.
“I’ve been around a while, I’ve watched the community change, and now even my church is gentrifying,” said Williams. “But I still fight for the history of that community.”
Williams’ outlook can be summed up by her belief that “If people work together for the common good, it will be a better world.”