MIAMI (CBSMiami) — There was a time in life when 18-year-old Michael Williams did not want to look into his eyes, afraid of what he might see. That is no longer the case for this CBS4 Super Kid. Eyes shining with hope, wearing a broad a smile and braces, today he says he is proud to look into a mirror.
“When you look into your eyes, what do you see?” asked CBS4 Chief Investigator Michele Gillen. Williams didn’t hesitate to answer.
“Greatness.” Williams answered. “Every day I wake up in the morning, I say ‘thank you God.’ And I say, ‘I don’t know why you saved me but I’m glad you did.’ Every morning. I look in my eyes and say ‘I don’t know why you saved me, cause I came to some near death experiences, but thank you’.”
Walking the South Florida campus he adores and considers home, Williams is a freshman at Florida Memorial University. He is a student leader who is full of passion and promise.
“When you see me, I lead by example. I service the need of the people. And I stay full of character I mean, I’m a character. Don’t get me wrong I do have fun,” he added with a wink and contagious laugh.
In fact, Williams now finds joy living the adventure of a lifetime. He is a would be inventor, studying physics and fascinated by mechanical engineering.
But the mission dearest to his heart is harnessing the ultimate potential of humankind, beginning with himself.
“I came from one of the worst cities in Miami, Liberty City, I grew up in the Pork and Beans, I grew up in Opa Locka. I grew up in West Park; I grew up everywhere you can think of in Miami. Every neighborhood that has problems, I grew up in that area,” Williams told Gillen, pointing out those neighborhoods on a map he keeps posted behind his bed in his dorm room. The map is a reminder of the neighborhoods, he someday hopes to help make better.
His fingers trace the dangerous streets on which he nearly got lost amid drugs, chaos and arrests.
“At one point in time, when I got incarcerated there was no drugs. And I had to sit down and really think. And when you’re in a cell and you’re by yourself that’s all you can do is think,” he shared with Gillen who asked him if he thought it ultimately was a blessing that he got arrested.
“Yes. Yes it was. I’ve had my run with the law many of times and on my last occasion, I’ve been arrested four times, and I don’t say that to brag about it because when I look at my record, the crimes I’ve been arrested for it’s like ‘come on Mike you’re better than this. Posession of marijuana? Come on Mike you’re better than that. Robbing and stealing? You’re better than that’,” and he’s learned he is better than that and more.
Now, Williams is eloquent in his speech and elegant in his dress. One would never imagine that he “hit bottom” as he describes it, at 14-years-old.
He said his footsteps into danger came precariously close to death.
“I’ve seen my brother at gunpoint almost get killed in front of me, twice. Not once, twice. We were actually at gunpoint in fear of our lives and I said, ‘I’m going to die today.’ After all of the bad things that I’ve done it’s payback time. And hey, I made the bed hard and I have to sleep in it. But then, I said, ‘No this isn’t it for me, this isn’t it for me’. From that point on, I felt as though you’ve slipped through the grip of death so many times, let’s stop playing with our lives Michael and straighten up because I don’t know how many more chances God is gonna give you,” he humbly shared with Gillen.
It was the embrace and opportunity offered by leaders of the Black Male College Explorers Program, based at Florida Memorial University that became his life raft, out of a sea of misery, onto a new horizon of hope. His conversations are infused with lessons of hope taught him by a man he considers his mentor, Director of the program, Kareem Coney.
“They stuck with me and they made me see that I was better than what I could see I was. And even at that moment I couldn’t see how great I was, they saw the potential in me. And after they sparked that furnace inside of me it inspired me to just be great. And I have a sign up in my room and it says ‘Hello my name is greatness’ and that inspired me to just be great at everything you do,” he explained.
It was at Florida Memorial University, amid the lush greenery and fertile environment of hope, he began a transformation, inside and out. His new wardrobe is from a thrift shop; $12 tie, $8 shirt, $22 pants.
But it is priceless to him. He reflects on how he once dressed and how he did not care about what others thought he looked like.
“I had gold teeth in my mouth, I had my pants sagging. I was just a poster child for, ‘oh, you look like that, you must be from the hood’,” he recalled.
“And going nowhere?” Gillen asked.
“And going nowhere, exactly. And I said ‘Well, maybe I ought to care about what other people think’. And from that point on I said you know what, Bill Gates is a billionaire. But I don’t see him wearing big chains and gold teeth in his mouth and I looked at some other people that I respected in the world and I said you know when they go to handle their business, they look professional cause they look the part. So every time I step out of my house, I step out of my dorm, I put on my uniform because I go to handle my business. Because even though I’m on the road to success I haven’t got there yet. So every day I have to dress for success because just like today, you never know who can come see you,” he explained.
Now, he is a young man with a very big plan. He dreams of helping his old neighborhood and ultimately, the world, with inventions that can better everything from transportation to serving fast food.
A far orbit for a the little boy who struggled early on.
His young years were rocked he said, by divorce. He now boasts a smile through braces, a reminder to him of tough times.
“Actually, as a child, when my mom and my dad divorced there were some nights where I didn’t eat. So the only thing that was in the refrigerator was ice. So when I said I’m hungry but there’s nothing to eat, well I guess I’ve got to crunch on ice tonight. And my teeth took shape and I had an ugly smile, so to speak. And I never liked to smile cause I was ashamed of how my teeth looked because of the fact that I had to chew on ice,” he shared with Gillen.
Gillen asked, “Did your heart hurt?”
“It did. It did,” he responded. “Honestly, I’m still in the healing process. But it started at Florida Memorial, and that’s why I consider this to be my home. Because through the Black Male’s College Explorers Program. I’m tearing up right now,” he shared.
But while healing, he is on the road to realizing the dreams, the inventions he says thought up as a child.
So Gillen wondered?
“In that scheme of creating and inventing, if there was somebody in the world you’d like to meet who would it be?”
“Barrington Irving. Most definitely,” Williams responded.
Barrington Irving is the youngest person to pilot a plane around the world solo. A pioneering inventor and builder and a man with a very big heart. When contacted by Gillen and told about Williams story and his potential, Irving didn’t hesitate to join in on the path to help.
And as CBS 4 cameras captured, sometimes moments are too big for words. A gasp of delight, would describe Williams reaction to seeing Barrington Irving at the inventors beloved home base, a special hanger at the Opa Locka airport that sports his inventions and dreams.
Irving , an ever proud graduate of Florida Memorial University, was ready to help Michael’s dreams take flight.
“How are you doing? I have heard so much about you, Michael,” exclaimed Barrington Irving as he embraced the young man who has admired him from afar for as many years as he can remember.
Williams asked his hero what motivates him
“I have a passion for this, I have a passion for doing amazing things with young people and showing their potential. It’s something that I truly live and breathe.”
And continuing on that mission, Irving shares with Williams a surprise intended to help Williams with his dreams.
“So we are going to give you the opportunity to fly to Wichita, Kansas and work directly with engineers from Beechcraft on this airplane. The airplane I am going to fly around the world. You are going to work with the best of the best engineers, doing hands on activities and we will make this happen for you.”
Williams gratitude was etched in his smile. He whispered, “I’ve never been on an airplane before.” Irving shook his hand and underscored the ride of a lifetime soon to be experienced. “You are going to get to fly on an airplane now!”
Thanks to an American hero, a young man who’s feet are now firmly planted on the ground is walking in the clouds his vision of tomorrow as clear as the hope that fuels his heart.
Summing up this new chapter of his life, Williams, declared, “Now I realize the opportunity that I have. Because it’s not about me anymore. It’s something greater than me.”