The first time Miles Williams made breakfast for homeless men at Father Dempsey's Charities, he took his time neatly lining the bacon on the pan, much to the annoyance of his fellow volunteers.
It was a first-timer's mistake, he later acknowledged with a grin, and it earned him the nickname "Rookie." Now a senior at Chaminade College Preparatory, Williams knows the routine — pile on the bacon, and get it done quickly.
Williams, who plays football and runs track, enjoys talking with the residents about sports. "It's a nice connection with them, to talk about something different and give them something else to think about," instead of the hardships they're going through, he said.
That relationship-building is one of Williams' strengths, and part of how he lives out Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s example of being justice-minded and valuing everyone's God-given dignity. Williams is among 32 students representing parishes and schools who will receive the archdiocesan Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Model of Justice Award Jan. 15 at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis.
Born and raised in Spanish Lake, Williams attended schools in the Hazelwood School District until his parents enrolled him at Chaminade in eighth grade. He was struck by the Marianists' value of family life and teaching students about "working hard for everything they get," he said.
In addition to Father Dempsey's, he volunteers regularly with seniors at St. Agnes Home, taking them to Mass and visiting with them or playing cards. He also helps at the VA Medical Center John Cochran Division, where his mom is an occupational therapist.
Williams caught the attention of Chaminade's diversity director, Dietrich Smith, who frequently talks with students about diversity issues such as race, gender and disabilities and current topics stemming from the Ferguson unrest and recent presidential election. Smith was impressed with Williams' ability to promote inclusion and dialogue.
Williams was named to the school's Diversity Team, which promotes initiatives on campus, such as the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Jazz Festival, murals celebrating African-American and Women's History Month, and the Harmony Project, a collaboration of Catholic schools that address topics related to diversity.
Being a young African-American male, Williams has learned that there are "different situations everywhere in life," he said. "You never know what a family is going through."
Classmates and friends sometimes ask what it's like living near Ferguson. Williams sees it as an opportunity to educate others. "They just don't know, and it's trying to educate people," he said.
Williams also has served with the school's Compact Leadership Team, which has a mission to school and the community. In addition to Father Dempsey's, the team also has helped residents in Florissant with home repairs and has raised funding for the St. Joseph and St. Jude Endowment Fund, which provides financial aid to students in need.
Living King's legacy remains an important task for Williams, who said King has taught him how to "keep your calm, keep your peace about it." Even when situations turn negative, Williams said "lashing out will not get you anywhere. You have to show that you're above what they think."
Model of Justice Awardees
Holly Ross — All Saints (St. Peters)
Kaitlyn Reynolds — Assumption (O'Fallon)
August Schroeder — Blessed Teresa of Calcutta (Ferguson)
Jane Boessen — Sacred Heart (Troy)
Natalie Gorla — St. Catherine Laboure (Sappington)
Jacob Washpun — St Elizabeth, Mother of John the Baptist (North St. Louis)
Erik Shannon — St. Matthew the Apostle (North St. Louis)
Cassidy Eckert — St. Patrick (Wentzville)
Ryan Joehl — Barat Academy
Jordan King — Bishop DuBourg High School
Jeffrey Taylor — Cardinal Ritter College Preparatory High School
Miles Williams — Chaminade College Preparatory School
Jordan Kahrhoff — Christian Brothers College High School
Hannah Sullivan — Cor Jesu Academy
Kevin Kerkemeyer — Duchesne High School
Ga'Nea Jones — Incarnate Word Academy
Gabrielle Scheberle — John F. Kennedy Catholic High School
Danielle Voss — Nerinx Hall
Autumn Taylor — Notre Dame High School
Vivian Garcia Cruz — Rosati-Kain High School
Lauryn Torluemke — St. Dominic High School
Rachel Conroy — St. Francis Borgia Regional High School
Paul Morrison — St. John Vianney High School
Caroline Zupan — St. Joseph's Academy
Quentin P. Hogan — St. Louis Priory School
Salvatore Cristoforo Vitellaro — St. Louis University High School
Gerardo Lopez — St. Mary's High School
Deja Strong — Trinity Catholic High School
Samantha Abel — Ursuline Academy
Cole Wood — Valle Catholic High School
Najee Walker — Villa Duchesne and Oak Hill School
Ferguson Beardsley — Visitation Academy RELATED ARTICLE(S):MLK Model of Justice Award honorees explain passion for social justice