Sade Williams is the Community Engagement Specialist for PIQE, the Parent Institute for Quality Education. PIQE’s Fresno office drives communities to create schools that promote democratic values, inclusion, and access to opportunity.
“The vast majority of what we see in the Central Valley is the beauty of the human race. By sharing our stories, our voices and history, it has empowered the people around us and encouraged them to share of themselves.”
I was born in the Bay area, but I was raised here in Central Valley in the small town of Mendota, California, with a population of 8,000. I am Bi-racial — half Jamaican and half Mexican. I’m the oldest of 10. l represent my home town with pride and honor. I have always had a passion for community involvement.
Growing up, it seemed that everyone was involved in their community. We had ownership of our community. At the age of 14, I started giving back in various ways, whether it was in our reserve and being a volunteer with one of my biology teachers or whether it was volunteering for different organizations to tutor and support other youth. I’ve always loved working with youth in the community and it kind of progressed from there. I feel like I’ve always had a passion to want to serve.
I’ve definitely always wanted to work for a cause. In every aspect of the work that I’ve done throughout my entire life, it’s always been for a particular purpose. I could never be in a position where it’s all about the money or all about myself. I’ve always wanted to give back, support, encourage, and see people strive for their passions and ambitions. Everyone who knows me knows that my manner is very loving and supportive. It feeds me to feed the people that I serve.
I’m now the community engagement specialist for PIQE, Parent Institute for Quality Education. The overall goal for the work in the Central Valley is to get our parents involved and give them the tools, resources, and support that they need to be encouraged to utilize their own voice and their passion to see whatever they would like to see manifest within Central Valley and the state of California. I’m working alongside other organizations and CBOs [Community Based Organizations] that have like-minded goals for their families and the diversity of Central Valley.
Integrity, Faith and Courage
Over the years I’ve had opportunities to do so many wonderful things. I worked for the [United Methodist] church for about seven years as a youth pastor, and as director for Christian education. Years after I left, changed careers and became a mother, what gives me a sense of fulfillment is my kids [that I taught] still reaching out to me and letting me know the value of that time and support. I always called them “my kids.” My daddy used to tell me, “your word is your life. If you’re saying one thing and doing something different, you don’t have any sense of self-worth and there’s no reason for you to be trusted.” I wanted to teach them the value of what we are doing in our lives, and that you need to have that integrity.
Some of the kids have graduated college and moved on to greater things. They haven’t had a sense of wanting to minimize themselves. They let their light shine – expressing themselves creatively and in the different avenues that they’ve become accomplished in. This is something that I hold very dear to my heart and keeps me with a sense of integrity.
As I’ve gotten older, I’m in tune with myself and with my faith. As a woman of faith, I believe that a gut feeling is the Holy Spirit pushing me to speak up and say something. As soon as I feel that feeling, I don’t hesitate; I just go for it. Whether it’s speaking up for a particular cause, speaking up for myself, or for people around me, I don’t let fear hinder what can manifest from my involvement.
My faith grounds me and gives me the strength to follow my passions. I’ve always wanted to be successful, whether being a successful mother for my son, or being successful in the world for my community. By putting God first, I have been able to feel confident and comfortable going forward and supporting the causes that I’m involved in, which ultimately gets rid of the fear to take on challenges too. There’s always going to be highs and lows in life and it’s our response to those hard times that allow us to appreciate the good times.
Small Town Ambassadors
Growing up in a small town, there were about 50 of us that gravitated together. We were a very diverse group of individuals in how we interacted, and in our passions and goals. We were challenging expectations as youth in a small town and always wanted to make our mark. My high school was almost shut down because we didn’t have the resources or scores to keep us open, but it didn’t matter. What matters is who we were as individuals, and that we wanted to do more and to do greater.
Looking at us now as 30-something year-olds, we are doing amazing work. We still keep in touch with each other. Some of us are artisans and singers; one of my good friends started emphasizing full-figured beauty and has been doing wonderful things in the beauty world. A few others have used theater to bring awareness to Latin culture, the agriculture of Central Valley and how our families are seen and heard.
I strive to let people know where I came from and to show that even though we are from a small town, we can do great things. There’s value in every individual, no matter where they come from and no matter their upbringing.
Diversity & Beauty in the Central Valley
The Central Valley, geographically, is very large. We’re long and we’re wide – going from the edges of the mountain range right off of the [interstate] 5, all of [interstate] 99, from Modesto to Bakersfield, and everything in between.
I lived in Sacramento for about 10 years. I saw the severity of the homelessness and mental health challenges there and helped support those suffering to overcome barriers and stigmas.
I just moved back to the Central Valley. My family has always been here, so I was constantly coming back. I wanted my son to experience what I experienced – the closeness of our family network and growing up with close friends. There might not be certain things like we see in major metropolitan cities, but we value what we have. At the core, Central Valley has a lot to offer and I just want to continue to have people embrace that.
There are many families who have migrated due to hardships in their homelands- hard-working men and women out in the fields, single moms, grandparents with youth, and foster youth.
I’m all about advocating for our rural small towns, and there are so many that get overlooked quite often. I definitely want to change that.
The vast majority of what we see in the Central Valley is the beauty of the human race. There is so much history for people of color, taking pride in their cultural background and giving of themselves to help others, especially having been involved in the evolution [and cultivation] of our land. By sharing our stories, our voices and history, it has empowered people and encouraged them to share of themselves.
I never like to put individuals, people, or locations in silos because, for me, it was never like that. Being an extremely diverse person myself, I believe we’re so beautiful in our uniqueness.
The diversity is endless. Why not uplift that? Why not shine a light on that beauty?
This story was produced by Leah C. Taylor as part of the James B. McClatchy Foundation’s Lifting Local Leaders initiative. The James B. McClatchy Foundation holds the copyright to this content, which is shared here under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license.