Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Reflecting on this past Independence Day, I contemplate why our Jamaican family emigrated to the United States in the early ’60s, led by my grandparents Harold Ivanhoe Williams and Cynthia Elise Williams. They arrived at JFK airport in New York City with one suitcase each and barely any money in their pockets. But they came with a cherished vision for our family. They wanted a better life; to fulfill a dream in which they could own a home; to offer a path for me so that I could be the first person to graduate from a four-year college; to allow my parents and siblings to not only survive, but to thrive. The path my grandparents set out for us was not easy, but with self-determination, unwavering family support and faith, we overcame many obstacles to accomplish those key goals they had for our family. I am grateful for the opportunity to pursue my grandparents’ vision as a citizen of the United States.

My family worked multiple jobs and saved every penny so our grandparents could buy their own home, whose doors were always open to all my siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles and parents. Those same family members rallied behind me to see that I graduated from Wells College with 18 people in attendance; and I, in turn, served as a mentor and role model to my siblings and cousins, offering the same support my family gave me so that they too were empowered to work toward financial independence. I embraced this leadership role, not only because it was my duty to those I love, but also because I was destined to lead. You see, this path was already predetermined for me.

My journey brought me to Cambridge, with help from my family. I paid it forward and helped all my siblings, a cousin, a niece and my mom, who followed me in search of an even better life. Although I loved Brooklyn, New York, life was still challenging for us there.

Living in Cambridge allowed me to pursue my passions, such as starting my own business with a focus on servicing nonprofits active in social and progressive causes, contributing to the community as an organizer, and mentoring and supporting other businesses. With some luck, creative thinking and that self-determination instilled in me as a young child, I was able to transition to homeowner from tenant in the rent-controlled building I had been living in for 10 years. And I not only achieved homeownership for myself, but encouraged my community of neighbors to join me.

So what is the point of my story this Independence Day weekend? Many of our current policies are not serving the needs of our community, especially those of Black and brown neighbors, and low- and middle-income families in Cambridge. Our policies are keeping poor people poor; our working poor have very few options for support; and the middle class in Cambridge barely exists. We have become a city of rich and poor, with very few possibilities for economic transition. Many of my siblings no longer live in Cambridge – they have been displaced because they cannot afford the rising rents. Some have been saving for more than 20 years and still don’t have enough in the bank to buy a home, because the prices are rising faster than they can save.

If we are serious about creating an equitable community, we have to fix the flaws in a broken system that no longer serves the needs of its residents. First, we have to recognize that the system is not working for those in our community who are being left behind, or who are leaving because they no longer feel supported. Secondly, we need to come up with a new plan that is people-centered, meets people where they are and encourages economic pursuits. Finally, we need leadership that has the will to embrace change, pursue goals that are equitable, racially inclusive and are just.

We need a fresh, pragmatic and solutions-driven perspective in our city government and leaders who are not afraid to stand up for the will of the people. We also need bold changes that build upon what’s great about this city and willing to tackle what’s standing in our way as we strive for economic liberty and justice for all Cantabrigians.

Nicola Williams, Brewer Street

Nicola Williams is a candidate for City Council.