Cecil Williams was born in San Angelo, TX in 1929, the same year that Methodist philanthropist Lizzie Glide broke ground for the construction of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco, CA. Born the fifth of six children, Cecil was raised in the segregated South. Buses, drinking fountains, theaters, trains, rest rooms and every other shared public facility were labeled "men," "women," and "colored." Williams grew up feeling like an outsider - rejected, and unacceptable.
However, this damaging message was mitigated by the nurturing love of Williams' immediate community. His mother, a strong black woman who commanded respect, told her son again and again, "You are going to be somebody." As a boy, Williams was nicknamed "Rev" - short for "reverend" - the highest praise and heaviest pressure that a family could place on a son. In his community, he was somebody; simultaneously, the white community said that he and everyone he cared for was nobody. This dichotomy was too much for young Williams to take. At the age of ten, he was diagnosed with a nervous breakdown. For several months, he felt depressed and engulfed in blackness. Williams finally lifted the fog of pain and rejection after a dream he had: a young white boy and an old white man were at the foot of his bed. They wanted him to accept his station in life and go along with the system. Young Williams resisted, and reversed their control over him.
He woke up the next morning feeling like a new person, vowing never to accept anyone else's definition of his being. Back in church, he felt a certain relief, but Williams imagined himself a minister before hundreds of people of all colors, ages, and descriptions. Williams held on to this vision through college, then seminary.
Today, his church is San Francisco's largest social service provider. Glide feeds 3500 people a day. It sponsors computer training for adults, runs programs for HIV and Domestic Violence, and treats substance abusers. More than 17,000 people volunteer in its programs.