White Sox executive vice president Ken Williams needed time.
“I’ve been struggling with how to start this whole conversation,” he said.
The conversation has been about race, equality, violence and social unrest across a struggling nation.
The Sox have been relatively quiet since George Floyd’s death at the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, but Williams finally spoke out for 35 compelling minutes on SoxTV. He has been watching and listening.
On Monday, it was his turn to speak.
Fighting tears on occasion, Williams went into a deep dive, talking about how his father taught him to conduct himself as a Black man in America and the discussions he needed to have with his own sons when hate was splashed on his house after chairman Jerry Reinsdorf hired him to be the Sox’ general manager in 2000.
Williams said when a white friend asked him what it’s like to be Black, his answer was: “exhausting.” He also says he sees reasons for hope like he hasn’t seen before.
“I’ve got to say thank you to all the people with all different backgrounds I’ve seen out in the streets saying, ‘Black lives matter,’ ’’ Williams said. “Black people alone cannot erase racism. No more than Black people could have solved slavery. We need white people to do that.”
Williams said his father wisely told him as a youngster “to fight for what’s right.”
“So when I was named general manager [he was the first African American GM in Chicago sports history and the third in major-league history], and I go home and on the side of my house is ‘No n----- should run the Chicago WHITE Sox, capital W-H-I-T-E,’ it hurt. . . . It hurt.
“I called my father, and he told me to get my sons, who were 9, 11 and 13, and show them what was written and what it meant, what it meant for them tomorrow. And I had to take some of their innocence away. You have to protect your kids. You have to take a little of that innocence away to make sure they’re saying the right things out there, so they’re not the next of what has become a long line of victims.”
Williams learned at an early age about taking a stand and the need to protest. He was 5 when his godfather, John Carlos, famously raised his fist on the medal stand at the 1968 Olympics, a bold declaration of black power. When Williams was 9, his father Jerry sued San Jose, California, to become a fireman.
“We got death threats,” Williams said.
On a camping trip, Jerry Williams showed Ken Williams how to shoot a .22-caliber rifle.
“I had a responsibility to protect the household,” Williams said. “That was the first time the color of my skin made me different.”
Now 56, Williams shared what it was like to see a woman step off an elevator at the sight of him, apparently in fear. It pained him. And just when he was giving up hope that he would “see substantial gains” for social change, the reaction from all races to Floyd’s death in recent weeks has given him newfound hope.
“It appears that people have seen enough,” he said. “I just hope it also leads to some of these marches heading down to the registration booth and people showing up to vote.
“Is it OK to feel optimism about what we see or should we exercise a little caution and not get overly excited, and is this going to go away in a couple of weeks? I don’t know how this is going to come off, but you white people can march your ass off,” he said with a smile.
“I am impressed with the unity that has come about. Maybe that lady will get on the elevator with me next time.”