W.E.B. Du Bois relative is taking on his mission But granddaughter's style will be different, she says

February 24, 1997|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,SUN STAFF

At nearly 65, Dr. Du Bois Williams believes she has just started her life's true quest -- following in the spiritual footsteps of her grandfather, civil rights leader and scholar W.E.B. Du Bois.

But this Du Bois expects to tackle modern issues that face some in the African-American community: teen-age pregnancy, low self-esteem, grief and lax parental involvement with children.

At a Black History Month symposium yesterday that marked her grandfather's 129th birthday at the Cross Keys Inn, Williams outlined a dream of reaching out by using the tool held dearest by her family -- education.

"The message I received from my grandfather was that education is paramount," Williams, 64,said. "It encourages discipline, reliability and responsibility."

A mother of five and psychology professor at Xavier University in New Orleans, Williams said she wants to help shepherd troubled youth and their families in her community of Marrero, La.

Hers is a holistic mission aimed at healing troubled parts of the community on all levels, unlike the radical approach of Du Bois, whose Niagara Movement encouraged outspoken, militant action for civil rights change.

"I use hope," Williams said. "My own genuine hope is faith and belief in the positive parts of people, and this helps them maintain their self-worth and find their own solutions. Children are our main focus and until their parents help, we have a very tough job."

Williams is the only grandchild of Du Bois, whose daughter, Nina Yolanda Williams, taught history at Baltimore's Paul Laurence Dunbar High School. As a child growing up in Harlem, Williams said she met many visitors who held a range of religious and ideological beliefs. "Their differences were positive," she said.

Today's youth, she said, are starving for basic human contact and family leadership.

"Children don't need money thrown at them -- they don't need $100 sneakers," she said at the conference, sponsored by tour company R. G. Gainey & Associates. "They need our time, to travel, to know about racism and both sexes. There are so many things to learn.

"The leadership has to be the role of both men and women, too."

A trip she plans this summer to Ghana, where her grandfather's body is entombed at the W.E.B. Du Bois Centre for Pan African Culture, will provide inspiration for her community-service quest, she said. Williams also plans to study the teachings of the Niagara Movement.

"I'm almost 70 years old," she said, "and just now coming out of the proverbial closet."

Pub Date: 2/24/97

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