Constituent Spotlight: Camiella Williams
Jul 15, 2013
Gun Reform Advocate Fights to Stem Gun Violence
Community activist and gun reform advocate Camiella Williams is fighting every day to halt the tide of gun violence that is devastating Chicago’s inner city neighborhoods. She is armed with only two weapons—love and determination.
Camiella is currently working with local, state and national leaders—including Congresswoman Robin Kelly—to find “a serious solution” to gun violence.
“I’m fighting day and night to bring awareness to violence and the need for sensible gun legislation,” she said. “We need a national movement. We’re going to fight to the end.”
Growing up on the South Side of Chicago, Camiella experienced violence on a daily basis in her neighborhood. She accepted it as normal.
“Violence was everywhere I went,” she said. “It was a way of life. It was what you needed to do to survive. My heart became numb. When I heard that a little girl was shot, I said, ‘Well, she shouldn’t have been playing outside.’ ”
Then in 2004 violence struck close to home. A dear friend of hers, just 17, was shot in an alley.
“It hurt my heart, “she said. “That’s when I knew violence can get anybody.”
But it was the birth of her son that completely changed her attitude toward violence and opened her heart.
“When I was pregnant in 2006, two little girls in Englewood were killed a week apart. I knew the families. It affected me so much that those totally innocent babies were killed. I wondered if I’d be able to protect my son in a community filled with violence. I began to change my thought process. I knew I had to do something to protect my son.”
Camiella, a graduate of St. Sabina Academy, went to Father Michael Pfleger to offer her assistance in his anti-violence campaign.
“I told him: ‘Whatever you do, I want to be a part of it.’ ”
Her first experience in an anti-violence campaign was a protest in front of Chuck’s Gun Shop in Dolton.
“In the beginning, I didn’t understand the concept of gun legislation,” she said. “I felt everyone should have a gun so they could shoot back.”
Camiella openly admits that she was only in sixth grade when she bought a gun on the street for $25.
“I would pull it out like a toy to show people,” she said. “That’s how easy they were to get.”
According to Camiella, the underground market is so omnipresent in some communities, it’s difficult for some to comprehend.
“If you say: ‘Man, I need some heat,’ then someone will answer: ‘Right this way.’ Whatever you want, you can get. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. You can buy guns at gas stations, flea markets and grocery stores. You don’t even have to leave your block to get one.”
Camiella believes the solution to gun violence is multi-faceted. She said special attention needs to be paid to the specific needs of young African Americans. Inner city youth have been traumatized by violence and, at the same time, suffer from neglect and a lack of love within their families.
“Nobody shows them love,” she said. “Girls get pregnant at 15 and they don’t know how to be a parent or raise a child with morals. The fathers are absent in their lives and that affects a child so deeply. You end up with young adults who can’t fit into society because they can’t read and they can’t get a job. For them, it’s easier to do bad than to do good.”
Camiella is now a strong advocate of commonsense gun control legislation.
“If you have a prior gun conviction, you shouldn’t get probation for unlawful use of a weapon,” she said. “You should get serious time—not three months. You can’t learn a lesson in three months.”
She also believes that the code of silence in inner city neighborhoods needs to be broken to restore public safety and rid the community of criminals.
“We can’t let people get away with emptying a 30-round clip into children at parks.”
In addition, the education system needs fixing, she said, and inner city youth need better access to job training programs.
“Everyone should be able to get an equal education,” she said. “And there should be programs in Chicago schools for children who suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder. So many children in our communities can’t learn because of ADD. They need more special needs programs. We also have a lot of children suffering from depression that need to be treated. Some young people want help, but there’s no help.”
Camiella regularly speaks to young girls about staying in school and avoiding pregnancy.
“I tell them about my experiences, and how tough it is to raise a child without a father and receive no child support. I talk to them about making better choices.”
Camiella continually offers her love and support to families affected by gun violence.
“I talk to moms in person, by text, or on the phone at two in the morning when they’re hurting so badly they can’t sleep. I organize prayer vigils. I help with fundraisers. I’ve spoken about gun violence everywhere—in Chicago, Indiana, California, New York, Nebraska.”
Annette Holt, who lost her son Blair to gun violence in 2007, said Camiella is working tirelessly to end gun violence and, at the same time, provide compassionate support to grieving mothers.
“She has stood alongside bereaved mothers and has been a support and friend,” Holt said. “If only there were more people who cared about others as much, this would be a better world.
Kudos to Camiella. She is a leader for change.”
Father Pfleger describes Camiella as “a constant passionate voice of consciousness on the issue of violence. She has used her talents and time to work for peace and stand with families who have experienced this epidemic of violence.”
Camiella was recently recognized by Kids Off the Block, a Chicago youth organization, for her efforts to reduce youth violence and her fight for commonsense gun legislation. She has also received an award from the Greater Roseland Community Center for serving as a mentor to girls and young women.