Anthony “Stone” Williams

His voice is gravelly, but oh so compassionate as the words roll out with statements that encourage naturally from his own experience. When he was bullied by other kids from the neighborhood, his dad taught him how to throw punches and fight back. He was a natural at fighting, so they started calling him ‘Stone,’ because of his fists. Now he fights differently. He fights for people.

………

I was born in 1970 in NYC. My father was a drug dealer and pimp and my mom a prostitute. My grandmother took care of us a lot – she was a heavy-duty Christian and may as well have had a hammock in the back of the church. When I was 3, my dad walked away from that life, married my mom, and we moved home to Cleveland. Life was still a little crazy. Even though Dad left the dealer life behind, he was still a user. Trying to keep employment, manage bills, and being a drug user. Our power was shut off a lot. Dad got a job at Alcoa and stayed there until he ended up dying from asbestos poisoning 30 years later.

My dad was upset because I was bullied by other kids from the neighborhood, so he taught me how to throw punches and fight back. I didn’t want to fight nobody. I thought the whole community would attack me. But Dad saw one of those fights, and taught me boxing. I was a natural at fighting. By the age of 9, they started calling me ‘Stone,’ because of my fists. Now I fight differently, I fight for people.

 I wasn’t one to stay in the house, and I got into drug and alcohol use. Choices led me to prison as a juvenile at age 17 and as an adult at 18 in New York. I was afraid of going back or of dying, so when I got out, I dedicated myself to working and going to school.

 I took a loan to pay for school, but my Dad got hold of one of those checks and cashed it. I got kicked out of school on loan-default. According to my Dad, I wouldn’t use it anyway. That knocked the wind out of my sails – dumbfounded me. Up until then I felt Dad was one of my greatest supporters. I thought, ‘If my own parents would do that, it’s rotten out here. Why be dedicated to anything but myself?’ I took the kid gloves off. Anybody gets in my way, I’m steamrolling’ them.

No Man, it ain’t over yet!

But then, my neighbor, Mr. Copley heard what happened and opened his home for me. He said, ‘No man, It ain’t over yet.’ That’s what he said, ‘Ain’t over yet.’ I can’t forget that. I lived with his family, and when he moved the family to a larger house, Mr. Copley let me and his son have the first house. He was barely charging me rent. He just saw what was happening, and stepped up. As a human being, he just stepped up, and that hit me harder than almost anything in my life. I carry it with the clients I serve now.

Then On my 21st birthday, my older brother gave me a Bible. The King James version. At that point, religion was not my thing. But then I had a son. I wanted to stay off the streets, so I thought, ‘Let me start reading this book.’ No one was knocking on my door, proselytizing me – it was my decision. Later I was floored –seemed like this book was about people like Mr. Copley, someone I was trying to be. Instead of wanting to be one of these tough guy-drug dealer types, something clicked. Three years later, I started working for LMM.

The best way to heal yourself

I was on the Care Team, at the time with Charles See. I worked specifically with YARP, Young African American Reclamation Project, which is part of LMM’s Community Reentry. This Care Team was an outreach program in the community. It was made up of people like me who’d come out of prison. We were contracted with CMHA (Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority) to go into the high rises and interact with tenets. We’d make sure they were secure and walk old ladies to the bank, and carry their groceries. The idea was that the best way to heal yourself is to help others who are in a less fortunate spot – puts life in perspective.

At one point, I left LMM, but I returned later to worked in the START program, Support to At-Risk Teens, at LMM. These 16 to 21-year olds were all part of the system- incarcerated, or grew up with the state in group homes or foster care. They were considered ‘bottom of the barrel’ by the world. We taught them life skills to prepare them for their adult lives. If the youth didn’t work with us, the State would probably drop them. All through this time, Mr. Copley and the way he helped me, was my benchmark.

Finding 2100

Eventually I went to drive a cab. But in 2011, my 16-year relationship abruptly stopped and I ended up at 2100. I didn’t even know LMM had a shelter for men. I thought, ‘What is this place?’ It’s insane and beautiful all at the same time, like a big ball of potential. A lot of the guys here don’t fit anywhere else. It’s like a house of misfits: those with a life of poverty, in and out of prison, Veterans, transgender, handicapped, mentally unstable – all in one box together growing to their potential. You got it all here- Egypt, England, Africa. There’re people from Africa here who complain to me how hot it is, and I say, ‘Wait a minute- but you’re from Africa!’ One thing you’ll get here is patience, learning how to communicate with your fellow human being, no matter how challenging they might be.

2100, being an emergency, low demand shelter, opens its doors to anybody. Other shelters have limitations. Here, in the Emergency dorm, a bed’s ready for you, a hot meal and a shower, because everyone needs shelter. When you are ready, services are there but only when you’re ready. Here it’s not just about second chances. Like a mistake isn’t permanent here. But you will get reprimanded and learn about cause and effect, like ‘don’t poke the sleeping bear.’ You learn discipline here.

Didn’t make some blanket rejection

Like this guy on our Monitor staff who is a stable, go-to guy. But just a few years ago he was so unstable and violent that he, himself was difficult to deal with. Now, he’s trained in Handle with Care, a technique of de-escalation, but he doesn’t have to use it because he de-escalates it so well with words. When he shows up on the scene things calm down. At first, the operations director, Dave Blunt, rejected my suggestion to hire him. But Dave came back and said, ‘You know what, I’ve seen a change in him. I’ll give him a shot as a floater.’ Dave didn’t make some blanket rejection. When Operations needs him, he’s there. I’m proud of him. This place has a lot of success stories. That’s what 2100 does.

COVID has been a struggle

However, there have been some encouraging developments because COVID created a need to de-congregate the shelters. In response to that need in 2020, funding came to Cleveland through the federal Cares Act for the shelters. I stepped up to work in the LMM TIP (Transition in Place) program. This program serves those with the most barriers to housing placement, including individuals who are homeless with sexually oriented offenses. It allows people to exit congregate shelter at 2100 Lakeside and be in apartments owned by folks in the community. The first year of this program, the people are served in “scattered site shelter,” getting case management. The goal is for them to be able to take over their own lease in the apartment after the year is over. Talk about ‘second chances’ for those who are typically shunned!

From my own experience in prison, being given second chances makes it more difficult to fall back on behaviors that are destructive. I think I am successful as a staff member at 2100 because the clients see a piece of themselves in me. ‘If Stone can do it, so can I.’ But I’m not the only one on staff like that – others around here model hope. It’s here, a place of potentials – what do you want to do with it?

One guy left and got his CDL, a trucker, and now looking to buy a property, He had to kick his substance abuse. I don’t see no signs of that guy looking back – when you get a taste of really living life, it’s kind of difficult to go back. So, I tell him, whatever you need from me, man, just let me know.