Five Questions on Leadership, Health, and Equity with Halifax County’s Chester Williams

We spoke to community leaders in and around our Healthy Places NC counties to gather their thoughts on leadership development, capacity building, and the role of equity in their work during this critical time in our state and country.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your work. 

I am the founder and chief empowerment officer of A Better Chance A Better Community (ABC2). I was born and raised in Enfield, North Carolina, which is a very rural area that sometimes had a lot of challenges in terms of access. As I child growing up on a farm, limited access wasn’t in my vocabulary. When I went to middle school, I began to understand that not everyone had the same experience or access I had. That’s what prompted me to have the vision for what ABC2 is now. I wanted to give a voice to young people to share their experiences and be empowered, so I founded ABC2 to create this opportunity.

Why is it important to invest in community leaders?

Homegrown leaders are important as they’re able to return that investment back into the community in so many ways. Through this, we’re able to reinforce capacity building and create an understanding of why this work is important. I believe that we cannot be a victim to what we are afforded, and community leaders help us create a vision for change and advocate for the positive change needed to get us there. However, as we talk about these leaders, we must also cultivate a shared understanding that leaders are also members of the community who are often facing the same disparities as those they’re serving.

How have past and current health improvement efforts in your community affected your ability to respond to current crises?

While the pandemic has certainly exacerbated many of the problems we face in our communities, it has also created opportunities for innovation and creativity. We grew out of it because we leaned in and took that opportunity. It has pushed ABC2 to the next level in how we respond, not just giving voice to young people, but to their families as well. Many of our existing programs took new forms including our community farm that has elevated to a farmers’ shared produce box program. We’ve also been able to continue our community feeding program through which we’ve served almost five thousand plates of healthy food to those in need.

How does your work give power to voices that have not traditionally had power?

We’ve always been inclusive because we believe nothing about us, without us, is for us. We believe that if we come from a place of creation rather than adapting what already exists, we can make the table look like however we want. Rather than viewing it as being invited to this table, we say we’re taking our seat at this table because our voices should be heard. To this end, our work provides resources to activate youth power and advocate for realistic solutions and healthy lifestyles. We provide them with the autonomy needed to elevate voices that traditionally go unheard.

How has equity played a role in your work and contributed to the success in your community?

We’re intentional when it comes to equity, and that’s the key. Everyday people work in this space without those labels of access or equity. We believe that equity is a practice. We’ve done the work of talking about it and how it relates to us, but the important part is that we practice it. When it’s uncomfortable, we talk about that and move forward. I love those uncomfortable moments more than anything because that’s where the growth and change takes place. It’s in those moments that you get to learn from each other and meet at a place where personal experiences converge.