On Thursday Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch and San Francisco 49ers quarterback Josh Johnson gave a $500 scholarship to Oakland gunshot victim Gerald Williams, a former Castlemont High School student who will be studying business management at San Diego State University this fall.
Nearly 200 people attended the ceremony held to recognize Williams’ achievement of what organizers said was a milestone in his academic career, which had been disrupted by the shooting incident. The award ceremony was held during an annual Family Talent Show sponsored by Family 1st Foundation. The audience cheered and then fell silent as Williams, dressed in white, took to the stage and recounted the story of how he was shot and how he recovered from the traumatic incident. Lynch and Johnson presented Williams with a framed award after his speech.
“I look at this as the next step on a ladder I am climbing to success,” Williams said. “When I was shot I asked myself, ‘Why me?’ But now I realize that this happened for a reason.”
Speaking after Williams accepted the scholarship, Johnson, who co-founded the Family 1st Foundation with Lynch, said the foundation seeks to help troubled young people in Oakland navigate their way through some of the challenges they face. “We decided to create something that helps the young people in our community. We want kids to interact on a positive note,” Johnson said. ”This is the second scholarship that we have given and we are working on establishing a youth center in downtown Oakland—that’s our next big goal.”
Lynch and Johnson, who are cousins, are both from Oakland, and they attended Oakland Tech High School. Lynch went on to study at UC Berkeley, where he played for the Golden Bears and was named the school’s second all-time rusher, while Johnson attended the University of San Diego.
Both Lynch and Johnson often return to their alma mater, Oakland Tech, to support it, and through Family 1st Foundation they have been working to help young people who have had encounters with gun violence. “We both realized that we could have an impact on our community if we decided to do something about the issues affecting young people,” Johnson said.
Williams, now age 18, survived a gunshot wound from a stray bullet while attending a party for teens in downtown Oakland on December 27, 2011. “The first time, I thought I heard gunshots and ran, but it turned out to be firecrackers,” Williams said. “The second time, I didn’t run and felt something hit me as I fell to the ground. I pulled my arm out of my hoodie and a bullet fell out. That’s when I realized I had been shot.”
Williams only spent an hour at the Kaiser Permanente emergency room while being treated for the wound, but this incident would change his life in many ways, he said. Staffers at Youth Alive, an Oakland-based organization that works with young people who have been involved in incidences of violent crime, soon learned about Williams’ encounter and asked him to join their Caught in the Crossfire program, a hospital-based initiative to help victims of gun crimes deal with their experience.
“Gerald represents the best of Oakland—young, talented and resilient. Youth Alive is proud to have helped Gerald overcome a difficult situation and stay on track to go to college this fall,” said Anne Marks, Youth Alive’s executive director, who attended the ceremony on Thursday.
Youth Alive’s intervention specialist, Roderick Herbert, worked with Williams to help him through the last year of high school, where he graduated with a 3.54 GPA. “When I started working with Williams, he was scared and didn’t know who to trust,” Herbert said, adding that he helped Williams rebuild his confidence and to focus on getting into college. ”He is disciplined. He really wants to make it and to give back to his community.”
Youth Alive works with at least 115 gunshot wound victims like the Williams each year through its Caught in the Crossfire program, while another arm of the organization’s operations, the Khadafi Washington project, works with the families of between 80 and 100 homicide victims, according to Marks.
Williams was accepted into three four-year colleges, and will be studying business management at San Diego State University beginning this fall.