By Ubuntu Village and Equal Voice Action
Ubuntu Village, Equal Voice Action’s partner in The Village Project, honors Black leaders in the New Orleans community who are advancing the values of Ubuntu – “I am because we are.” Read about a new honoree each week of February as we celebrate Black Futures and the work of communities to envision and determine their own futures.
Historically, we at Ubuntu Village have celebrated our ancestors and Black leaders on multiple levels and issues. While acknowledging the importance of this history, we are honoring Black Futures this month by extending the torch to Black leaders who are working on behalf of our community. As we visualize the world we want to live in, it will take the courage, tenacity, and empathy of these promising leaders to accomplish it. We honor these young people for their diligence, work ethic, and collaboration with Ubuntu in building The Village Project and the foundation for Black people.
“Believing in yourself is the key to success.”— Shon Williams
I’m Shon Williams, an African American man born and raised in New Orleans. Two months after my 17th birthday, my life changed forever. I was sentenced to life without parole; I was told that, no matter what, I would die in prison.
My first few years in Angola were very confusing because I was still a kid. I couldn’t believe my sentence was real, so I refused to follow the rules. But then an older man in prison took me under his wing and told me how to educate myself. I taught myself to read and write, and then my mind expanded. I got my GED and furthered my education with a three-year carpentry degree.
But I didn’t just want to help myself; I wanted to help others as well. So I became a certified sign language interpreter for the deaf in prison. For 15 years, I worked as a library assistant, bringing books to men on death row and in the general population. I became a hospice volunteer and HIV/AIDS and hepatitis counselor. I was also certified as a veterinary assistant and as a service dog trainer.
During all of that time, I had no hope of coming home. But I had decided to live my life to become better, not bitter. I tried to keep balance despite my environment, improving myself spiritually, socially, and morally. Daily, I encouraged myself and others to stay focused on becoming a better person and aiding others in need.
Then in 2016, after 23 years in prison, the United States Supreme Court ruled that even children who have committed a serious crime should have a meaningful opportunity for release. They said that those who have demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation should be afforded a second chance in society.
Two years later, I went before the parole board to show that I was one of those people, that I had changed since I was a child, and that I could contribute to society. I was granted parole and came home on January 9, 2019.
Now, I work for the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights as an outreach coordinator. I use the same morals and principles I learned in prison to help me help my community. My hope is to empower young people to believe in themselves and find their passion in life.
“It’s not the years in your life, it’s the life in your years. You should approach each day with a different perspective using what you’ve learned in your previous days… Apply your knowledge and watch your life’s path become clear.”— Darleny Del-Rosario
Darleny Del-Rosario graduated from Dillard University with a bachelor’s degree in theatre and is one of the first in her family to complete college in the United States. In 2017, Del-Rosario and her best friend, Rachel Ridgeway, co-founded the theatre company Cursive Art LLC.
Through Cursive Art, this dynamic duo is on a journey to challenge the minds of generations to come. Del-Rosario says, “Creating beautiful art is easy, but creating art that will transform your way of thinking is a little more challenging, and this is the goal of Cursive Art.” This Hispanic theatre lover wants to inspire others to never give up and to always follow their dreams.
“I am America. I am the part you won’t recognize. But get used to me. Black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own; get used to me.”— Muhammad Ali
America Lenox is an Ubuntu Village + EVA community leader focused on civic engagement, community outreach, and advocating for resources on behalf of youth and families. Lenox recently began serving as the Program Manager with Youth Rebuilding New Orleans. She also serves as a Parent Navigator with Ubuntu Village and as a Community Engagement Specialist with Heroes of New Orleans. She is a graduate of Southern University of New Orleans, where she majored in Criminal Justice and Addictive Behavior, Counseling, and Prevention.
Most importantly, Lenox is a devoted mother who enjoys advocating for youth and families who are not given opportunities and need support adjusting to the obligations of work, school, and family life. Her first-hand experiences drive her dedication and commitment to bridging gaps and ensuring youth and families have sustainable resources to meet their needs.
“A little less complaint and whining, and a little more dogged work and manly striving, would do us more credit than a thousand civil rights bills.”— W. E. Dubois
D. Caleb Smith is a native of Clinton, Mississippi. Smith obtained his bachelor’s degree in social science secondary education from Delta State University (2014) and a master’s degree in history from Jackson State University (2016). From 2015-2017, he taught U.S. History (1877-Present) in the Clinton Public School System. Currently, Smith is a graduate student at Tulane University, where he is advised by Prof. Jana Lipman and focuses his research on Modern America. Within this field, his research interests are labor, race, and activism since Reconstruction.
Since coming to Tulane in 2017, Smith has been an Andrew Mellon Fellow in Community Engagement through Tulane’s Center for Public Service. He is currently completing his community-engagement project which is tentatively titled “Black Voices in White Spaces: Reflections of African American Non-Profit Organizations in a Privileged Campus Culture.”
Throughout his time at Tulane University, Smith has partnered with non-profit organizations such as the Ashe Cultural Arts Center, Ubuntu Village, Operation Restoration, and the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice to co-facilitate dialogues on race, inclusion, and diversity. Currently, he is a Howard-Tilton Memorial Library Fellow and teaches Modern African American Freedom in the Department of History.
This post is brought to you by The Village Project, a partnership between Equal Voice Action and Ubuntu Village. Equal Voice Action partners with Ubuntu Village through The Village Project to help parents and families support their young family members involved in the court system, access resources and opportunities, and advance family-led systems reform. Read more about the Ubuntu Village + EVA partnership here.