Friday, April 04, 2014

TOP STORY >> Survival after violence and pain


Leader staff writers

Vicky Williams and her son, former Arkansas Razorback football star D.J. Williams, spoke at the Open Arms Shelter’s second annual Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention banquet about how their family escaped from an abusive home in Texas and found safe harbor at a shelter.

D.J. Williams, 25, is a tight end for the New England Patriots. He played for the Green Bay Packers and the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Vicky Williams told Thursday’s dinner guests in the Cabot Junior High North cafeteria that she was married to her high school sweetheart.

She said everything was fine for the first 10 years of her marriage. Then two tragedies took a toll on her now ex-husband, who was diagnosed as bipolar and chemically imbalanced. He turned to alcohol and then drugs.

Her husband changed and Vicky Williams tried to fix him.

“It got so bad that the beatings got where I tried leaving one time with the children and he broke a cast-iron skillet over my head. If it wasn’t for my hand going over my head, I would have died,” she said.

“I kept going back and fell into that cycle because I didn’t know there was a place to go, a shelter to take my children. I kept thinking that, if it was just happening to me, it would be OK,” Vicky Williams said.

She thought she was protecting her children by keeping them in their home, hoping everything would be fine.

The kids saw her beaten, and they were endangered by their father’s rages and the drugs at home. Vicky Williams said they couldn’t say a word because they were scared to death.

The cycle continued until a few days after D.J.’s 11th birthday. His dad took him “fishing.”

The two came back late that night. Vicky Williams’ husband became furious when he saw another car in the driveway.

The teenage neighbors across the street had parked there because they were having a party. He wanted to know who was in the house. Vicky Williams said her husband hit her, bursting her ear drum.

He left, leaving Vicky Williams alone with her three children. She noticed something was different with D.J. Then he told her, “Mom, he didn’t take me fishing. He took me on a crack run. He put a 9mm on my lap and said, if anyone messes with you, take care of it.”

She said D.J. looked at her and said, “The only one I thought about (shooting) was myself.”

Vicky Williams said that was her “light bulb” moment.

She looked at her daughter and told them, “If we leave, we leave with the clothes on our backs. Mom has to leave her job, the house, everything and go to a shelter.”

Her daughter went to her room and took a packed bag from under the bed. She said, “Let’s go.”

Williams said she didn’t find out until many years later that her daughter had thought about suicide, too. The children were helpless, waiting for their mom to make a decision.

The family left their Carrollton, Texas, home for a shelter in Dallas. Three days later, they found out her husband had shot someone. He became enraged after they left.

Her husband fled, and the shelter told the family it was too dangerous for them to stay there.

“They took out a map, and I started to cry. My family’s here, I have no place to go,” Vicky Williams said. D.J. told her not to worry. He put his finger on Little Rock and said “that’s where we’re supposed to be.”

Vicky Williams said, “We got into a car, drove to Little Rock, and God took it over from there. When I got there we got lost, and it took us into Immanuel Baptist Church, and that is where I met my first angel.”

They stayed at the Women and Children First Shelter for several months before finding a house they could afford to rent. Williams continues to volunteer at the shelter, sharing her story.

“What the children at Open Arms Shelter will get is another opportunity. I’ve visited with these children. They are very bright, smart and very grounded. What they need to know, (is) this is not the end,” Vicky Williams said.

She said, no matter their past, their future can be extremely bright. As long as they have people who support them and believe in them, they can do anything, Vicky Williams said.

Her eldest daughter is working for a doctor in Dallas, her middle daughter has a degree in physical therapy and NFL player D.J. Williams has a communications degree from the University of Arkansas.

Vicky Williams said, through his sports career, her son met President Barack Obama, celebrities and athletes. He has traveled to other countries and was able to buy his mom a home.

D.J. paused to reflect at the dinner. “I don’t remember having aspirations. I had that fear of going home. I believe everyone has a purpose in life. When you are young, you (have) dreams of where you want to be. Fear can sometimes get in the way of those dreams. That’s what we don’t want to happen to these children,” he said.

D.J. remembered a woman at the shelter who gave her time and let the family know she was there for them and cared. He said children at the shelter may not know they have a purpose in life, but, with support, they have a chance to find out.

“I’m living proof that, when you help someone, they can see that dream and go get it,” D.J. Williams said.

The Open Arms Shelter in Lonoke County has been open since 1986, offering a safe place day or night for children newborn to 18 years old to escape abuse. The shelter’s 24 beds are filled most nights, according to Rhonda House, financial support coordinator.

Open Arms Shelter receives funding to cover 15 beds and partial funding for the other nine. The shelter has been absorbing the cost of the nine beds and needs to bridge the funding gap until their contract is rewritten next year.

The shelter has launched an online fundraising campaign through their website at