Photography by Michelle Kilfeather
Trigger warning: We're extremely grateful to Vincent for sharing his life story. But it's a difficult, painful, and traumatic story that involves several tales of violence and abuse against women and children. Please be warned that these episodes with Vincent contain potentially triggering content.
Vincent Ray Williams's ancestors on both sides moved to the Bay Area for a better life.
In this podcast, we get to know Vincent, the founder and CEO of Urban Compassion Project, a nonprofit "committed to the health, welfare, and empowerment of the unhoused." His dad was Black and from the South; Vincent's mom is Puerto Rican. His dad was a Marine vet who brought trauma home with him and succumbed to the crack epidemic in the 1980s. Vincent never knew him.
Vincent's mother also suffered from drug addiction. The couple met in Oakland and had Vincent's older brother. Eleven months later, in 1987, they had their second son: Vincent. His parents weren't only addicted; they also sold drugs. Big time.
An Oakland poet named Hershey Hill joined us by coincidence the day we recorded with Vincent. During the recording, Hershey asks Vincent if he speaks Spanish. He shares that, in fact, it's his first language, but, as he explains in the podcast, there's some trauma that comes along with that. His father had physically abused his mom so badly that she asked CPS to come and take Vincent and his brother. Now in a foster home, the two boys would be beaten and locked in a closet for speaking their native tongue. The situation was bad enough that Vincent ran away at age 8.
The police handed him over to CPS and CPS put him in a group home. He thought he had escaped the nightmarishness, but it turned out to be a facade. More physical abuse ensued, and so Vincent ran away from the group home. He'd do his best to alert teachers or even the police to what was happening, but to no avail. Because he was so often in trouble at school, Vincent didn't have many friends.
Despite all this, he graduated from high school in Oakland.
At this point in the conversation, Vincent takes us back to when he was 9 years old and started doing and selling drugs. Between the streets of San Francisco and the streets of his hometown of Oakland, he was also selling himself. He also started committing crimes.
Eventually, Vincent reconnected with brother, Willie. Around 2010, Willie inspired him to try Narcotics Anonymous and it worked. After a relapse, Vincent has been sober for more than nine years.
We end Part 1 with Vincent sharing what it was like living and walking around the streets of Oakland and San Francisco before he got clean.
In Part 2, Vincent picks up where he left off in Part 1. He describes a week-long crime spree he went on when he was 15. As he fought sentencing and was holed up in Oakland juvenile hall, he got some visits. First, his sister and her baby came. Then, Vincent's mom visited him.
Initially, Vincent was upset. But then he allowed her to share her side of everything that had happened. She told her son that she was broken, that she had trusted her husband (Vincent's dad) and he had abused her. He didn't believe her, but a guard got the police report from that day, and for the first time, Vincent understood what happened. But he couldn't let go of guilt-tripping his mom.
Many years later, still not able to move on from that emotion, his mom put her foot down. She was ill and he realized that there was no one to take care of her. This kicked off a spiritual journey for Vincent. That was seven years ago, and he and his mom are tight today.
He says his whole life story, which you've been hearing and reading about, played a part in his starting Urban Compassion Project.
If you'd like to donate or get involved with Urban Compassion Project, please visit their website today.
We recorded this podcast at Brookdale Park in Oakland in January 2022.