It's a common, and understandable, reaction: young Troy Williams faced his parents' divorce--after 12 years of marriage--with bitter resentment toward his father.
"It was a hate. It was one of the biggest crises in my life," said his father, Letroy Williams. "His fear was that once I left, I wasn't coming back."
But Williams set out to prove Troy wrong. The South-Central resident maintained good relations with his ex-wife to ensure regular visitation with his son. He kept in constant touch, introduced his son to swimming and diligently took him to swimming practice.
The unfailing support, coupled with two years of counseling sessions with his son, paid off: At the age of 8, Troy decided to live with his father.
After eight challenging years as a single parent, Williams was recently rewarded again when he and his son were chosen for one of two Salute to the Black Family Awards presented to outstanding middle-class families.
Sponsored by Coca-Cola Bottling Co., the Salute to the Black Family program was initiated eight years ago by Coca-Cola employee Lucille Boswell to counter what she said was "much publicity (about the) reputed demise of the black family." Boswell sought to recognize the many families who raise their children in a cohesive, supportive environment.
"We have to show the positive, good side of black families who contribute to America," said Boswell, who enlisted the help and support of dozens of community leaders.
Each year, one dual-parent family and one single-parent family are chosen for their community and church participation, their family values, their children's accomplishments and their ability to overcome odds. This year, a committee of educators and other community members reviewed about 400 applications from the county and interviewed a few finalists before selecting the Williams family as the single-parent winner and the nine-member Clay family of Simi Valley for the dual-parent award. Coca-Cola presented a $5,000 check to each family, while Food 4 Less Supermarkets Inc. provided $500 gift certificates to each.
About 200 community members filled a ballroom at the Sheraton Grande in Downtown to honor the two families last month.
After conquering the initial challenge of regaining his son's love and trust, Williams faced the ongoing task of raising a son in the inner city. "Trying to find a way to keep him out of street activity . . . gangs . . . is a hit-and-miss kind of thing," said Williams, a 55-year-old retired Social Security Administration worker and former national swimmer. "My way was to get him into swimming."
Williams steered his son toward other activities, too, driving him regularly to an ice-skating rink in Culver City and to the YMCA several miles from their 76th Street home. Troy, now 16, has become an avid ice skater and plays football for Fremont High.
Williams said he also makes time for regular heart-to-heart talks with his son: "He's allowed to say anything that he wants. Parents don't know it all; listen to the child . . . have an open mind. You'll find out they're not as wild and crazy as you think they are."
Troy said he appreciates his father's trust and his even-handed disciplinary tactics: "He's fair. He gives me punishment, but he never hits me or anything like that. He just grounds me . . . and he lets me talk when I need to talk."
Williams remains fearfully cognizant of the many outside influences that threaten to destroy his best efforts:
"We have patrol cars going through here all day, and every time I hear gunfire, I quiver if he's not home. There are challenges every day. All you can do is pray."