May 2001

Henry S. Williams Jr.

by Vince EVANS

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Tiger Woods - college degrees - hospital labs - drug prevention - the rank of major - golf and inner-city youth. What brings these disparate elements together - What’s the common denominator? There’s only one - Henry S. Williams Jr.

Not long before he became a driving force in improving opportunities for urban youth, Henry Williams picked up a driver, forcing himself to learn the game of golf. But with this game came a vision that would enable Buffalo inner-city minority youth to find a freedom - not as their ancestors did running down the underground railroad - but by walking up the fairway.

Born on a farm in Goldsboro, North Carolina, in 1935 Henry learned early that farm life was not to his liking. He wanted “to get through school” so that his time on the farm would be shortened. At age 18 he enlisted in the Air Force and was sent to medical laboratory school to learn the science and art of medical lab technician before being assigned to the medical corps. Henry felt very comfortable in his new assignment and would draw from this training and experience in the years to come.

After four years of active military duty and armed with the GI Bill, Henry enrolled in college in North Carolina to keep a promise he had made to his father. But he left a year later and relocated to Buffalo, New York with some friends to find work. He took a position in the medical lab at E.J.Meyer Memorial Hospital and almost concurrently took a similar position part-time at Roswell Park Memorial Institute. His desire for more knowledge reawakened and, while working, he reapplied to college and joined ROTC. Henry graduated from Canisius College in 1966 with a B.S in chemistry, joined the faculty at UB in the Department of Medical Technology as a clinical instructor and entered the military reserves. But he never stopped working his medical lab jobs!

Over the next two decades, Henry would study under several different colleges and programs earning a B.S. in medical technology, a Master’s Degree in health science education and administration, an A.A.S. in nursing, an A.A.S. in mental health counseling and an assortment of U.S. Army Reserve certifications including that of senior nuclear, biological and chemical instructor. While in the Army Reserves, he was stationed in facilities including Fort Bragg, and received advanced training plus numerous badges and decorations, achieving the rank of major in 1985. It was at Fort Bragg that Henry became familiar with the father of a young golf prodigy named Tiger Woods.

After thirty years as a lab technician at Roswell Park, thirty years as senior biochemistry technician with ECMC and twenty years in the reserves, Henry retired. Well, not quite. Having prepared himself well for what he calls “lateral mobility opportunities”, Henry took a position with Horizon Human Services as a nurse and drug counselor. Later he moved to the Buffalo Board of Education and was assigned to the adult learning center as an instructor, the City Mission as a drug and vocational counselor and finally to the Erie County Holding Center as a GED instructor and transitional counselor. One might categorize this phase of Henry’s life as “helping others to help themselves.” But the best was yet to come.

Henry learned to play golf from a cousin and on one memorable visit south, Henry couldn’t get on a golf course. “There were about a hundred black kids on the course; I never saw that in Buffalo.” He learned that the golf program was named after a fellow North Carolinian - Michael Jordan - thus its popularity. He recalled this experience after a Buffalo community activist challenged Henry and other retirees to do something for inner city youth.

With a contribution from the Buffalo Community Partnership, Henry contacted several amateur and pro golfers and developed a program for high-risk inner city kids with a powerful message; golf would be used as a vehicle to learn about math and science, drug awareness and prevention, discipline and responsibility. Remembering his days at Fort Bragg, Henry contacted Colonel Earl Woods for permission to use Tiger’s name for the program; while initially agreeing, college protocols prevented this from continuing, so Henry’s program was renamed the “Buffalo Inner City Youth Fan Club for Golfing.” Tiger Woods treated Henry’s first class to a golf clinic, when he was in Western New York competing in the Porter Cup in 1994. The program has become a year-round experience and is now open to all city kids; many have gone on to productive lives with 5 having graduated college with degrees including chemical, mechanical and electrical engineering, early childhood education, and masters in business administration, 16 are currently in college and 5 are enrolled in the armed forces.

Through a game, classroom, and generosity of heart by Henry and others, diverse city kids are learning about geometry, trajectory, physics, etiquette and more importantly, life. The program is nonprofit and consists of volunteers, churches, community organizations, colleges, governmental agencies, amateur and pro golfers. It has received high acclaim, earning a Buffalo All-America City Civic Empowerment Award, Erie County Council on Drug and Alcohol Prevention Award and other citations. Henry has been the recipient of a Black Achievement Award, Community Service Award, Congressional Recognition Award and others. The 66 year old Major and his wife, Mary, enjoy seven children, seventeen grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.

Twice a week, every week, Henry stops by the Elmwood Print Out at Elmwood and Bird in the city to retrieve golf equipment donated to his program by considerate Western New Yorkers. Your donation may not help produce the next golf prodigy - but you can be certain that Major Henry S.Williams Jr. will use it to help city kids walk off the eighteenth green well prepared for a far more challenging match. 

Vince Evans is a freelance writer.


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