JOSHUA WILLIAMS IS DETERMINED TO LEAD
Joshua Williams can’t and won’t be still. He’s never been good at just letting the world pass by without his input accounted for.
Growing up in Inglewood, California, he’s the youngest of four sons to a single mother. Williams’ work ethic was evident early; he found various ways to make some money via lawn mowing, weed pulling and selling food items for a humble profit.
“Society often tries to tell you or instill in you at a young age that you have to be one thing. What do you want to be when you grow up? In reality, it’s a compilation of things: be a jack of all trades and get different experiences,” says Williams.
Everything — especially since his 2011 arrival at USD as a scholar-athlete, a football defensive end and his work toward earning a dual BS/BA degree in mechanical engineering in 2016 — centers on Williams’ desire to make things happen. He founded and was president of USD’s chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). He was a four-year board member of the Black Student Union. And he’s been a respected voice when national social justice issues came to the forefront and USD hosted campuswide discussions.
“Josh came to me about his concept of starting the NSBE chapter,” says Kathe Myrick, director of resource management in Student Affairs. “Over the years, Josh has mentored the club members and fundraised to help them all attend the national conference. Without Josh and his drive and dedication, this would never have happened.
I am so proud of him.”
These days, Williams works for San Diego Gas & Electric as a district engineer, splitting his time during the COVID-19 pandemic working in San Diego and remotely from Inglewood, in order to assist his mother. He’s an active co-chair for USD’s Engineering and Computer Science Alumni Council and an urban leadership fellow for RISE San Diego. He’s also been a leadership director, mentor and counselor for Los Angeles-based Westside Family YMCA, and participates in Big Brothers Big Sisters.
Inspired by his upbringing and driven by the social, civil and economic inequalities plaguing his community, Williams founded the nonprofit organization, Young Echelon. Its mission is to focus on developing a space to empower underserved youth through personal development and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) programming.
“I want to expand the minds of the next generation, develop future Black and brown leaders,” says Williams, who is the nonprofit’s CEO.
“He really is passionate about mentoring young people from disadvantaged Black and brown communities, which is awesome to see,” says Elisa Lurkis, director of development and alumni relations for the School of Engineering. “When he led one of the first Black Lives Matter protests in San Diego last spring, I was so proud of him! We are so lucky
to have him as an alumnus.”
Williams’ leadership during San Diego’s Black Lives Matter downtown protests drew multiple interviews with KPBS, the local public radio station, to offer his assessment. “I think this country, all too often, is taught to internalize their trauma and not speak up on their experience. We can no longer be afraid to have these crucial conversations,” he says. Williams urges those who feel uncomfortable to seize this opportunity to grow. “Progress comes at the edge of your comfort zone. If you’re not uncomfortable about something, we’re not innovative — and that’s exactly what this nation was built on.”
Carmen Vazquez, vice president of student affairs, (pictured above, at left, alongside Williams and Assistant Vice President of Student Life Cynthia Avery) is among those who Williams credits as “very influential in my growth and development” while at USD.
Likewise, Vazquez appreciates Williams’ contributions, then and now. “USD is blessed to have benefited from the gifts and talents Josh shared with our campus community during his undergraduate years. His many talents and contributions enriched our campus. As an alumnus, he continues to be a strong, innovative and compassionate leader. It has been an honor for me to work alongside Josh.”
Williams’ can-do, go-getter mentality defines him, but he needs and wants allies. His community organizing skills can build that network.
“I’m thankful for the exposure and experiences I’ve had because they’ve been transformative in my life,” he says. “I want to bring more people who don’t have those opportunities to where they do. I want to challenge people around me,” he says.
“This is who I am, this is what I’m going to do. I want to inspire one person to see what they can do for somebody else. I think a lot of people want to do that, at least in their heart. I’m excited to see what that world looks like.” — Ryan T. Blystone