Brandon Williams took a chance on Act Six. As a senior at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Minneapolis, Brandon was the first student from his school to be accepted to Howard University, and was also considering accepting an admission offer from his dream school, Loyola University in Chicago. However, when a high school mentor asked him what he thought about staying in Minneapolis and “[growing] the community based on values of faith while challenging discriminatory economic structures,” it was Brandon’s belief and deep investment in his community that drew him to Augsburg University as an Act Six scholar.
Looking back on his life, Brandon identifies a recurring thread of commitment to community and public service for as long as he can remember. Living with his grandmother and great-grandmother on the South Side of Chicago as a young boy, he reflects on their values of being in community and a force of change for their neighbors. When his mother moved him and his siblings to Minneapolis, he felt that same sense of community while his family lived in a shelter: “We’re all struggling, we all have different stories… but there’s still a sense of care and love for each other.”
Brandon views his upbringing as the gift of values that fostered in him a vocational plan to be a voice for the community and a public servant. Throughout his life, he dreamt of being a firefighter, a doctor, a police officer, but after realizing the complexities of the legal system and the way it targets those in his community, he was drawn to politics.
“Be vulnerable, be willing to grow, be willing to take yourself outside your comfort zone, but make sure to find those pockets of support, of healing, of love and of encouragement along the way.”
Through an internship with a law firm in high school, a major in pre-law, a college internship with the Department of Commerce, and role as student body president, Brandon built a professional platform to apply for law school after completing his degree at Augsburg. Despite his wealth of experience, he was not accepted to law school on the basis of his LSAT scores. Discouraged, he moved towards graduation and, after a public speaking event in the final weeks of his senior year, was approached by an audience member who wanted to hire him to work in the City of Minneapolis Attorney’s Office that summer. “You have these opportunities to develop your leadership and as a result people want to invest in you,” Brandon says of Act Six’s role in cultivating the tools that led to his next steps.
That summer, Brandon worked in the Criminal Prosecutor’s division on criminal justice reform, preparing federal and local cases for trial, tracking discrepancies and the targeting of people of color and people with disabilities. After building a relationship with The Minneapolis Foundation during this summer role, he moved into his current role as the Criminal Justice and Safe Communities Fellow, spearheading efforts engaging the foundation and the community together in partnership toward criminal justice reform efforts and ensuring safer communities, where he now helps to decide where to invest over $2.5 million in the community.
As he continues to build a career in community service and justice, Brandon offers this advice to the Act Six scholars coming after him: “Be vulnerable, be willing to grow, be willing to take yourself outside your comfort zone, but make sure to find those pockets of support, of healing, of love and of encouragement along the way.”
Photo courtesy of Michael Rivers.