Showing Up as Role Model for Kids
Jeremiah Williams, a junior at Cape Central High School, has a passion for teaching children and helping others. He goes on missions trips and is a worship leader at his church, Cape First in Cape Girardeau. There, he teaches a life group class for junior high and high school students and a Kid’s Life class for four- and five-year-olds. He also teaches a class to children at House of Hope in Cape Girardeau, volunteers at a food pantry, and distributes groceries and feeds hot meals to families in need through Hope’s Kitchen. And at the onset of quarantine, he volunteered at his church to babysit health care workers’ children and learned how to use a sewing machine so he could make more than 600 face masks to give to those on the frontlines of caring for people affected by the pandemic.
With all of the ways he is involved at his church, working with kids is one of his favorites.
“I like working with kids because they’re fun and you can learn a lot about kids and from kids,” Jeremiah says. “It makes me really happy. I had one boy, he came up to me, he said, ‘When I grow up, I want to be like you, Mr. Jeremiah.’ That just hit me that I’m really making a difference in a young one’s life.”
Jeremiah’s own life has not been without struggle, however; his desire to do good in the world comes from a hard-fought battle of courage, perseverance and faith. When Jeremiah was in the sixth grade in Portageville, Mo., his house burned down. The year before, he had been diagnosed with Type 1 juvenile diabetes, and all of his insulin that was inside the house burned, as did his football equipment and other possessions. The next year, Jeremiah and his family moved to Cape Girardeau for his mother’s job. Two years later when he was a freshman, his father called him while he was at school to tell him it would be the last time they would speak; shortly after, his father died by suicide.
Jeremiah recalls with gratitude how people from his communities have stepped up to help him and his family: after the fire in Portageville, the pharmacy replaced his insulin for free, which would have cost his mother thousands of dollars. His school replaced Jeremiah’s and his brother’s football equipment at no charge, and his football coach bought them new cleats. His teacher took a day off of school to take him and his siblings to get new shoes. And in Cape, he has leaned on his youth pastors and pastors at Cape First who have helped him develop as a person and a leader within the church, people he can trust, whom he knows if he calls any time day or night, they will answer.
Being outdoors is one way Jeremiah stays focused on choosing the good in life. He especially enjoys walking, running, playing sports, hunting and camping.
“I just go for a run and just look at nature,” he says. “Sometimes, I run without headphones because I just like listening to the earth and all the cars. I’ll be on the trail and other people wave at me, good morning, good afternoon.”
He also enjoys spending time with his youth pastor, whom he calls when he is struggling with forgiveness or choosing good. In the future, Jeremiah wants to become a church youth pastor and an athletic trainer. He also hopes to start a nonprofit food pantry to provide food, clothes and toiletries to people who need it. Inspired by his own youth pastors who are his role models, he wants his future students to know they can trust him and tell him anything without fear of judgement.
With his involvement at his church, he is already well on his way to making these dreams reality. In addition to all of the ways he makes a difference there on a weekly basis, at a youth gathering, he received a “Superior Imitation” rating on two of his short sermons, one for which he got to travel to Houston to give again at a national youth gathering. In it, he spoke about faith and forgiveness, telling the story of learning to forgive his father. Afterwards, one of his youth pastors said his words had one of the judges in tears, and someone from another youth group came up to him and thanked him for sharing his story because it was something she needed to hear.
“So now I say thank you to God for doing that,” he says.
This transformation isn’t the only one he’s seen in his life; he also realizes how far he’s come as a person since he was in middle school.
“Teenagers are dumb. But we can also be some really good teenagers,” he says. “Some of us can be really terrible and turn around and become good. ‘Cause you go looking like seventh grade, sixth grade, you would have never thought I would be chosen for this award. I was kind of bad. Not kind of — I was. Something just clicked in my head and was like, well, you’re the only one that’s acting up in the classroom like a dummy. Everyone’s laughing, but it’s not cute. And it was just like, not going to get nowhere doing that.”
Amidst the good he lives out on a daily basis, Jeremiah says being a teenager is difficult; sometimes he wonders what it would be like to make the unhealthy choices some of his peers do. When those questions arise in his mind, however, he thinks about his community at Cape First and chooses to continue on the path of seeking goodness so he can be a positive role model for his students.
“I want to have a positive impact on the world and especially to my House of Hope students because with all this crazy going around in the world, they be like, we can’t do nothing because our skin color,” Jeremiah says. “And I want to be that one brown kid that goes up and show up. Show this world that us African American boys and girls can do it. And show all my House of Hope students that they have what it take if they just go for it.”