Monica Williams is a divorced, college-educated mother of five trained as a paralegal. Her skin is blacker than a thousand midnights. Against its blackdrop her teeth are smiled surprises.
She's got a big yap. She loves a white man. His initial attendance at a meeting of black church-bound boycotters elicited stares, whispers and questions.
"Are you the FBI?" they asked at New Prospect Baptist Church in Over-the-Rhine. "Do you have ID?" They were suspicious of his white face, his shirt and tie.
"Do you have ID?" Williams shot back.
She shopped for like-minded troublemakers charged with upending Cincinnati's status quo. She settled on the Coalition for a Just Cincinnati (CJC) in the summer of 2002, joining the group during its protest of Pepsi Jammin' on Main.
Williams has since been relentless in pickets against and criticisms of the mayor, the cops, do-nothing Negroes, bullying black men and well-meaning white liberals.
"Just because you're white, progressive, you wear Birkenstocks and you don't shave doesn't mean you're not a racist," she says. "Being a black activist is more than wearing mud cloth and saying 'Hotep' every other word. I'm an equal-opportunity critic."
She's Fannie Lou Hamer for the new millennium. She speaks in rat-a-tat-tat tones tearing into complicated precepts like children into presents on Christmas morning.
The intersection of black motherhood is perhaps the most complicated of all. In Cincinnati it means teaching black children — especially black boys — to simultaneously respect and mistrust the law.
April 7, 2001, electrified Williams. The murder of Timothy Thomas broke her heart.
Determined not to let frustration fester, Williams moved to action. But not without a little warm death.
"The first day of the curfew my sons were playing basketball and I went to pick them up," she says. "We saw two police cruisers come down Grand Avenue, real slowly. Each officer had these pump action shotguns and they each had these looks of glee. My 11-year-old son looked at me. They looked at us and rattled their guns a little bit and my son just started crying. Silently."
She pauses on the memory.
"I looked in his eyes and I knew what he was feeling — the rage, the indignity — and I realized those officers didn't care as much about us as stray dogs. I knew that day I was going to find a group to address the hurt and rage I saw in my son. What separated him from Timothy Thomas? Nothing, really, but seven or eight years. That was my galvanizing moment."
She joined the CJC aware of its legacy of splintered leadership. She remains loyal to the group despite the brash, burned-bridges reputation of current co-chairs Amanda Mayes and Nathaniel Livingston.
"Nate Livingston brings an enormous amount of experience and skill," she says, "and people who know him from before either love him or hate him."
She stays committed to the group maligned as instigators who convinced Bill Cosby, Whoopi Goldberg, Wynton Marsalis, Smokey Robinson and Spike Lee to bypass Cincinnati during the economic boycott. But with each victory comes a price tag.
Outsiders — including CityBeat — blasted Mayes' perceived anti-Semitism during a Fountain Square demonstration against the display of a menorah (see Porkopolis, issue of Dec. 12-18, 2002). Williams says there was pressure to publicly "dress down" Mayes after her sign announced, "Jews killed Jesus, had black slaves, stole our black identities!"
Several CJC members jumped ship because of Mayes' actions. Williams says Mayes' behavior laid bare their racism. She doesn't elaborate or name names.
She swallows back in-fighting, thwarted character assassinations and other garbage littering the sidelines of such movements. She's been spat at, sprayed with beer by white revelers at Oktoberfest and called "nigger" like it was her name. She's not a conspiracy theorist, but the three-time theft of her late model "soccer mom" minivan raises her suspicions.
Williams prefers broader contexts. A recent skirmish with Cincinnati Black United Front (BUF) member Dwight Patton, however, is distracting.
At a planning session attended by members of CJC, BUF and others, she says Patton twice pushed her during her conversation with another woman. He's more than 6-foot-4, large and lumpish.
"I will not be intimidated and, by connection, the CJC will not be intimidated by you jelly-backed, mealy-mouthed Negroes," Williams says. "The groups may take some flack for it, but it'll blow over. And the fight will continue."
The question is, will the internal fight surpass the one raging outside?
Hear Kathy's commentaries on National Public Radio's All Things Considered.