Cedric Williams, A True Legacy Builder
“I never want to leave a door closed behind me after I have walked through it,” Cedric Williams states emphatically.
This personal motto has played out several times in this man’s lifetime. It came into play as he endured a challenging upbringing being raised in neighborhoods that weren’t the safest, and then spent his life mentoring dozens of children to overcome their own circumstances to succeed. The motto was demonstrated when he persevered while facing difficulties becoming the only black Captain of the North Las Vegas Fire Department at that time, and later trained and encouraged others to become firefighters like himself. After experiencing a failed first marriage, Cedric went on to enjoy a marriage of 17 years. His experience with his first failing marriage and then finding success in a second marriage yet again gave him the notion of giving back and paying it forward when Cedric became a minister who provides spiritual guidance to others in how to remain whole and healthy in their own households.
Cedric Williams was born and raised in North Las Vegas to a single mother. His father was largely absent from his childhood. Around the age of seven, his mother moved Cedric and his two younger brothers to the projects of Nickerson Gardens – a 1,066-unit public housing apartment complex in Watts, California. Fighting became the second-grader’s norm, traveling to and from school every day, as he became the designated protector of his siblings.
After returning to Las Vegas, Williams experienced the hardship of sleeping in cars and living “from pillar to post” from the time he was ten to twelve years of age. When he was thirteen, his grandparents found them and delivered an option to the boys that would ultimately change the course of Cedric’s life. They could live with the grandparents, but there would be rules to follow.
The two youngest brothers decided that they preferred to remain with their mother. Cedric decided to live with his grandparents, whose adult children had all left home by then. For the first time in a long time, Cedric experienced the correction and discipline that came hand-in-hand with the security of finally having a stable home. Running track and field was a luxury he hadn’t had previously, and he embraced it with a passion.
During Williams’ senior year at Clark High School, he won a scholarship for an architecture project. He assumed that he would go to college and become an architect, until his first real girlfriend discovered that she was pregnant upon graduating. Facing this unexpected turn of events, Cedric could only think of what his grandfather had always instilled within him.
“No matter what you do in life, make sure you take care of your responsibilities. I need you to be better! I don’t care what you want to be; I just need you to be somebody,” his grandfather had stressed.
Cedric gave up his scholarship and decided to join the military (U.S. Army) as an opportunity to provide medical coverage and add stability to a young family. Cedric and his girlfriend decided to make it official and married. They both agreed to allow his father-n-law to accompany them to the courthouse and witness the union – all without his grandparents knowing.
“This was the very first time I ever made my grandma cry for something I had done, because they wanted to be there. That hurt me worse than anything. That was a rough weekend,” he recalls.
The Army would take them to New York, being stationed at Fort Drum for three years. Cedric was the Unit Armorer, attaining the highest clearance possible at a very young age, and worked in Unit Supply. After having another child, Cedric decided not to re-enlist. Knowing that they had more support from family members in Las Vegas, Cedric and his first wife decided to return home.
Their return to Las Vegas was a difficult time for the young couple trying to make ends meet. While working for the U.S. Postal Service, a gentleman happened to notice Cedric at a laundromat. Out of the blue, the man asked him if he had ever considered becoming a firefighter. He was an investigator for Clark County Fire and thought that Cedric would be a great Fire Academy candidate. That man would turn out to be Sam Smith, the legendary owner of the Native Son Bookstore – the only African-American bookstore in the state of Nevada – and inspiration to many.
“He was the smartest man I have ever known,” Cedric acknowledges. “Sam was my mentor.”
Cedric completed his FIRES exam at Cashman Field and still remembers that he scored a 95% on the written, 98% on the oral board and was ranked number one on the physical portion. There were 3800 people testing, and North Las Vegas only picked up eighteen. He was one of them. It was 1994.
Not long after being accepted, Cedric and his wife would separate and finally divorce in 1997. Today, the divorce remains one of Cedric’s greatest disappointments – not because of any regrets – as he does believe everything happens for a reason, but just having to experience breaking up a household and what it does to the children involved, and his role in it. He notes that he wishes he had been more mature.
Throwing himself into his new job was a welcome distraction. The learning curve at the Fire Department was steep. Most of the people coming out of the Academy had family members either still working in the department or who had retired from it. Cedric didn’t know anyone, and the fire department was not very diverse. His first few years were tough.
While he was climbing the ranks in the department, he met his now-wife, Shana, in 2000. Unbeknownst to him at the time, they both attended the same church, Mountaintop Faith Ministries, where he is now a minister. Through a mutual friend, they met and agreed to go on a blind date. He never thought he would remarry, and he was increasingly overwhelmed by her patience with him.
“Knowing who I am and all of my responsibilities, she allows me to be the man that I have to be. Three or four years after we were married, I went and dropped a bouquet of flowers off at her mom and dad’s house. I just wanted to thank them for the lady that they had raised,” Williams confides. “She trusts me, and she deals with all of the travel involved in what I do. It has been an easy seventeen years of marriage.” They would go on to have two more children, making him the father of two daughters and two sons of whom he is very proud.
Back at the Fire Department, racial tensions were high. As the number one prospect to become engineer and captain, the sitting Fire Chief actually stated to Williams explicitly, “As long as I’m Chief, you’ll never be captain.”
Six months later, that Fire Chief was forced to resign for unrelated union issues. The new chief, Chief Al Gillespie, came in; after reviewing his records, promoted Williams to Admin. Captain immediately. They also created an entirely new position to move him into – the Public Information Officer and Community Liaison Officer. Essentially, as the face of the organization, Cedric was now in charge of all public relations and media relations for the Fire Department.
Chief Gillespie would teach Cedric how to have a voice and to know that his rank held power. Williams was not accustomed to having to deal with inter-department politics. While others snidely called him the Chief’s “Golden Child”, Cedric used his new position to change the culture, create an open-door policy for the community, and participate in school events. He returned to school and was named Student of the Year at UNLV, where he acquired a degree in Public Administration with an emphasis in Fire Management. Then there was Pearl, the Pink Fire Engine.
Pearl Turner was Cedric’s mother-in-law who was diagnosed with breast cancer and has since passed on. Cedric wanted to do something special to honor her. When one of the fire engines was set to be sold, he decided as the Community Liaison Officer to name it after her. The fire truck would travel around the valley to community events, hospitals, City Hall, and schools to create awareness. People sign the truck as a survivor or in honor of someone else, and it is still running today. It remains one of the proudest things that Cedric accomplished as the Community Liaison Officer. After an incredible twenty-six-year career, Cedric Williams retired from the Fire Department in 2018.
Due to all of the work that Cedric has done in the community, he was recently given an award and named a Legacy Builder by the NAACP. One of the most contributing factors that led to this distinction was the work that Cedric has taken on coaching track and field for Las Vegas valley youth athletes. He has been coaching now for over twenty-seven years, first with the Vegas Stealth and then the PS (Public Safety) Vegas Flyers. For the last fifteen years, he has proudly coached the Las Vegas Heat.
The Las Vegas Heat started out with fifteen to twenty athletes; at its peak, it topped 135 active student athletes participating. They hold national records and have won national championships. Recently, a member of the Las Vegas Heat, Kareem Knox II, took home the title in the Boys 8 and under 100m and broke the national record. This took place at the USATF Hershey National Junior Olympic Track and Field Championships held at Hornet Stadium in Sacramento this past summer. He crossed the finish line in 13.53, beauting the previous record of 13.65. He is only 8 years old.
“I never wanted to be a politician. I want to be an influencer. For the past five years, every single high school senior who has ran for the Las Vegas Heat has gone on to full-ride scholarships to college. We are so proud of that!” Cedric says, tears brimming in his eyes.
Most of the children that come through the program are from the inner city and may not be able to afford to join the typical organized sports teams with all of their affiliated costs. The Las Vegas Heat allows them to shine.
There is an Invitational being held at Legacy High School, April 4-5, 2020. There will be teams representing from all over the country. It is the largest meet hosted each year, and the Las Vegas Heat would love to see the community there in support of the kids. This is also an Olympic year, and the Junior Olympics are being held in Florida. Cedric urges that he needs the community to support this non-profit now – when it counts the most – to help get them there. To learn more about the Las Vegas Heat and how you can participate, go to http://lasvegasheat.org.
ABOUT THIS ARTICLE: This article was underwritten by Quincy Branch, RHU, EHBA, President/CEO of Branch Benefits Consultants to highlight those making our community a better place to live. If you are in the market for insurance, please contact the team at Branch Benefits Consultants at (702) 646-2082 or online at http://branchbenefitsconsultants.com/.