City planner with a passion for people is giving south side a fresh start
Sheila Thompson Williams is the first black woman to serve with both the City and the County, separately, as an urban and regional planner. She has been selected as a 2018 Trailblazer by the Oasis Center for Women & Girls, after being nominated by her 19-year-old son.
体育在线365“I believe it is time for my mom to be recognized for the countless hours she has devoted to making this world a better place,” Jordan Williams wrote when nominating his mother for the Trailblazer award.
As a single mom with a small child after a divorce, Williams worked three jobs to put herself through Florida A&M University, earning a degree in civil and environmental engineering. The self-described “life-long learner” began at Lively Technical Center and now, at 50, is working on an advanced degree in engineering and public administration.
She gives credit to instructors and friends, who noted her strength in mathematics and suggested she pursue engineering. Because the course work came easy to her, it took her some time to realize that she was part of an elite group of women making strides in a male-dominated field.
体育在线365“It was never impressed upon me that, as a black female, I could not do it. I never heard that from anyone,” said Williams. “Gender should not dictate what you do. Society should not be able to put limits on who you are.”
Enjoying the practical applications of courses in physics, dynamics, and soil mechanics, Williams has developed a career that blends the structural and human components of a city.
体育在线365Along the way she discovered that her heart is in the neighborhood.
体育在线365Roxanne Manning, executive director of the Tallahassee-Leon County Community Redevelopment Agency notes that applications for grant programs offered by the agency have increased since Williams came on board. Williams believes it to be a result of her process innovations, making the programs, and thus the funding, more accessible for the people who need them most.
“People can feel that I have a heart for helping,” said Williams, “that I’m competent and knowledgeable.”
With a bright smile and sharp mind, she brings the information directly to the people in the Frenchtown-Southside CRA district, informing them of the redevelopment programs, walking them through the application process.
体育在线365“I love this city. I want to see it developed into a better place to live,” said Williams. “It’s important that we make sure concerns are heard, voices are heard, and we work together to make sure that everybody rises.”
Particularly for Southside residents, who can feel like they are living in a different city than people who live in more affluent areas of Tallahassee. As a first-time homebuyer 15 years ago, Williams chose the Southside, where she could own a newly-constructed home that fit in her one-income budget.
She was, in turn, chosen by the developers of the Villages of Wilson Green as a member of the first board of directors for the homeowners’ association (HOA) because of her urban planning background. Wilson has served as the board’s vice president successively since then.
Being a part of the HOA helped to spark her passion for community activism and engagement. Williams was member of the volunteer team that brought National Night Out to Tallahassee’s Southside in 2015, a nationwide community-building event that promotes open communication among police and residents.
The event was a success, and the team decided that the neighborhood groups should unite in a more formal way to foster change on the Southside. The Capital Area Neighborhood Network was formed and now boasts membership by more than 25 neighborhoods representing Southside residents.
“Together we are focusing on the betterment of the Southside,” said Williams. “We are able to speak with a more comprehensive voice on issues, pooling our resources to get things done.”
体育在线365Williams works in both her personal and professional life to accomplish this task. Her effort was integral in the establishment of Southside’s newest attraction, where a long-abandoned gas station once stood on South Adams Street. Williams is excited by Happy Motoring’s innovative concept, believing the business to be a catalyst for much-needed development in the area.
Happy Motoring’s owners believe her to be a catalyst as well.
体育在线365“In the world of public service, Sheila is a force for good,” said Lucas Lindsey, executive director of Domi Station, and a partner in the Happy Motoring project. “With her help, we turned an empty building into a neighborhood gathering spot that everyone in the community can be proud of.”
体育在线365Williams’ love of Tallahassee is strong, though she was not born here. At 13, she was living in Philadelphia with her sister and mother when the teachers’ union went on strike. Her mother had dropped out of school in 8th grade, worked several jobs to support the family, and was frightened by the disruption in her daughters’ education.
体育在线365A New York Times article from September 9, 1981, describes the impasse between the school district, facing a $223 million deficit, and the 18,000 teachers refusing to work under dishonored contracts.
The article quotes Mark Hoffman, a union building representative for South Philadelphia High School, among the picketers, saying, “If this isn’t settled this week, it could very well last till Christmas.”
The strike lasted 50 days, but Williams’ mother had already sent her daughters to live with their father in Tallahassee.
Eventually attending Rickards High School, where she is still active, Williams’ educational journey and passion for the people of Tallahassee had begun. She is thankful for the sacrifices that brought her here and is happy with the city she is helping to build.
“It is my goal to fulfill my life purpose,” said Williams. “And I’m having a really good time.”