When Amy Williams talks about success, she isn’t talking about what has become the usual stories on our Facebook timelines. The inspirational stories like a former offender graduating with a law degree from Yale ten years after release are the ones we like hearing and the ones we like telling. They feel safe, like the work is over and done, like anyone could do it if they just tried. Amy doesn’t deny how good these stories are, how important they are, and how they are very much successes. What she challenges on behalf of the youth she loves, however, is the assumption that these kinds of stories are the only success stories. For Amy, nothing is more successful than when a young gang member picks up the phone and says, “Amy, I want out."
Called by God and fueled by her own experiences with a brother who had been in a gang, Amy moved into a Latino gang neighborhood in Chicago’s Humboldt Park community to be a “Hope Dealer” doing street outreach and walking life with young people on her block. (Learn more) Amy’s first priority is rootedness. An active member of the community, Amy advocates for deference to the people she ministers with and not to. Don’t move here and bring your own program and ideas with you, she cautions, but come sit at the feet of the churches and organizers already in these streets for a year, learn from them, then follow their work.
With 21-years of youth ministry experience and degrees from UNC Chapel Hill and NLU, Amy brings unique insight, passion, and pragmatism to her work. Above all, Amy wants to minister with the youth she walks and lives alongside. "Young people have a voice, young people normally aren’t heard. We are in a position to give young people a space for their a voices to be heard. We have to engage them. Don’t just have them picking up the trash after service, have them leading the service.” (Read more)
We owe it to these youth to reimagine what success means. For Amy, success is when someone passes a drug test after being sober for three months. Success is earning a paycheck, even if it’s for little money—it means someone got up, showed up, and didn’t give up. Success is completing a GED while incarcerated. Success is the staggering, inch by inch steps of struggle each and every one of these young people make to dare to hope for better for themselves and for their community.
Success is a lot more like how God sees us: cheering us on every small step, every inch, because there is no end to God's relentless love and pursuit for us. (Read more) If a youth needs help, Amy is there. If after every bad choice there’s still hope for a good one, Amy’s there. It’s meant that she’s also been to too many funerals in her life; she has seen too many broken lives, but she keeps showing up. Someone has to keep showing up. The work is too important, the lives too dear.
If we dared to reimagine success, we might find how great a sea of light endures where before we only saw darkness.
What you give directly helps Amy’s outreach with young gang members on the streets where she lives. You help Amy show up and provide the practical resources to facilitate teenagers breaking out of cycles of violence and crime. You make it possible for her to expand her ministry, to equip others to come alongside her in this vital work, and to create opportunities where none had seemed to exist because of financial limitations. Let’s reimagine success. Let’s celebrate with Amy how God celebrates with Amy: every single step, every single inch, every single reason to hope.
A 22-year youth ministry veteran, Amy Williams follows her passion to minister to teens involved in gangs, youth on probation/parole and those lost in the criminal justice system – at the core of which life-on-life mentoring is her key strategy. As a certified Gang Intervention Specialist, she heard God’s call to move into a Latino gang neighborhood in Chicago’s Humboldt Park community to be a “Hope Dealer” doing street outreach and walking life with young people on her block.
Amy has pursued her calling as a Youth Pastor, Reentry Coordinator for paroled youth, Youth Mentor and Advocate. She has been involved in youth ministry at the local church level, with Urban Young Life and as the former co-founder of Community IMPACT and the Chrisan Basketball Academy.
Amy is a regular guest blogger for DL Hugley and many others and has been published in various magazines and projects including Crossway Publishing’s Urban Devotional Bible. She is currently working on her first book.
Amy is also very passionate and deeply engaged in “Ending Mass Incarceration” and “Dismantling the School to Prison Pipeline” national movements. She is a steering committee member for the National Institute of Juvenile Justice Ministries, the CCDA Mass Incarceration Task Force and the 6,000 to Life national campaign to support returning citizens. She teaches and trains churches and ministries (and youth) across the country about these issues and challenge churches to engage in their responsibility to the prisoner and returning citizen.
Amy is blessed to speak and train for many national ministries including: Youth Specialties National Team Trainer, a national CCDA (Chrisan Community Development Association) Trainer, Urban Youth Workers Institute trainer, DeVos Urban Leadership alumni and trainer, and North Park University Center for Youth Ministries Studies (CYMS) Advisory Board Member.
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