Wisdom of Aeneas Williams Shining Through in Troubled Times

Howard Balzer

On Aug. 2, 2014, Aeneas Williams was sitting on top of the world. The longtime cornerback for the Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams was enshrined that day in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, putting a cap on a career that was exemplary in every way, on and off the field.

He never could have imagined that only seven days later, he would enter the front lines by trying to soothe an embattled town after 18-year-old African-American Michael Brown was killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis.

Williams is a pastor at the Spirit Church, which then held services in a high school that served the city of Ferguson. He then went to the streets talking to disenfranchised and angry youth, hoping to help calm a volatile situation.

Now, nearly six years later, the passionate Williams still communicates with Ferguson police chief Jason Armstrong, who was bracing for potential protests and more last Friday (May 29) when Williams spoke with me on St. Louis radio station 590 The Fan. Indeed, there were protests that took place during the weekend.

When I told Aeneas his “heart must hurt,” I then asked how we can make this stop.

He said frankly, “The first thing is a unified effort in, I don't know how we can get this done yet, but a unified effort where we begin to assert dignity to every citizen of the United States. That's the first thing. When there were monarchs in kingdoms, a king derived his greatest glory by how the least were treated in his kingdom. It was obvious the best of people were treated well in most kingdoms, but how the king allowed the least to be treated was important.

“So we see situations like this and you see video, see something egregious or something like that and it just says, we have to continue to shout out to all of our law enforcement, all the guys that are doing a terrific job. But even within all of their rooms, we need to continue because of the arduous job that they have. When we're running from things, they're running to it. So they deal with things that I can’t imagine. What we have to continue to do is help afford them the dignity of the citizen even when citizens maybe are having not so good a day.”

Community policing is often talked about as being part of the solution, and Williams agrees, noting that it is part of the players coalition in the NFL that he is involved with.

“What I would love to come from this is continue a dialogue in that more and more police districts bring in community people,” Williams said. “I'm talking about young people, people that look different, people that think differently and let them on a regular basis come before our law enforcement. We're looking for organizations that have best practices that literally bring a human element between law enforcement and the community because it's not just making sure the laws are enforced. When it’s community policing, it's not just law enforcement finding the bad people, but it's now the community joining together to help get the bad person out. But not just getting the bad person out; the bad person may be in places where the society and the community could be safe. But they can also get the help that they may need in order to be reintroduced in society.

“That's my No. 1 goal then in terms of the law, injustice. I pray that that's what happens in this situation. Going forward, having these discussions and in these communities, not just for law enforcement, even though that's at the forefront right now, also with the gangs and the lives that are being taken within the community between each other. That's another aspect that I want to hear.”

Words of wisdom are frequent when Williams speaks. Hopefully there will be those that listen.