Quintin Williams is a leader of CRS’ FORCE (Fighting to Overcome Records and Create Equality) Project. Quintin wrote the following reflection about his experience advocating at CRS’ Day of Faith at the Capitol on April 8, 2014.
My favorite speech is “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” given by Martin Luther King Jr. the day before his assassination. In it he recalled the struggle against the infamous Bull Connor in Alabama to which he says, “I remember in Birmingham, Alabama, when we were in that majestic struggle there, we would move out of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church day after day. By the hundreds we would move out, and Bull Connor would tell them to send the dogs forth, and they did come. But we just went before the dogs singing, ‘Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around.’”
I remembered this part of King’s speech on Tuesday April 8th as I marched with other FORCE leaders and members of the Community Renewal Society toward the Illinois Policy Institute singing the same song King and others sang as they encountered great opposition. Contemporary injustice may not take the form of dogs and fire hoses, but lies can be just as harmful. On the Day of Faith at the Capitol we were not going to let institutionalized lies designed to perpetuate inequality turn us around. It was exhilarating to take part in that action.
After this experience we marched back to the Capitol where my team and I had one last meeting regarding absolute bars to employment for returning citizens, a fair tax system, and a reduction of the time between arrests and preliminary hearings. Our two meetings earlier in the day were fruitful. The first meeting was with a legislator’s staff, but we were still able to let our voices be heard. In the second meeting we were promised support on two out of the three initiatives. Finally, our third meeting at “the rail” was quick, but the legislator was receptive to the FORCE absolute bars campaign and thanked me for my story, saying it was an important one to share.
I shared my story again at the Prayer Rally in the Capitol Rotunda where I had the opportunity to speak to several hundred people. In my speech I emphasized how remarkable it was for me to be there when just eight years earlier my future was uncertain due to incarceration. I stood in front of hundreds of people in the Illinois State Capitol, sending a message to arguably the most powerful person in the building — Speaker Madigan. Earlier in the year the Speaker set rules guiding amendments to legislation, which severely hurt the chances of one of the most important FORCE bills to move forward. Walking up the steps to the Speaker’s office to deliver our letter asking him to allow our bill to move out of the Rules Committee was a moment that I will never forget.
Walking up those steps alongside other FORCE leaders reminded me that God often uses the most unlikely to carry out change. Moses was a man with a temper, who claimed to not speak well, and Paul was a fierce persecutor of Christians, yet God took these seemingly incapable men and used them for great purposes. Formerly incarcerated people of color are a highly stigmatized group, yet we led the charge up those steps to deliver this most important message. We wanted to remind the Speaker that legislation should represent communities, families, and individuals, so when legislation gets pushed to the side by bureaucratic processes, the interests of people get pushed to the side as well.
To be in the Capitol with all of those people putting their faith in action and having the opportunity to represent FORCE was a testament to the grace of God. Considering my past, I would have never thought I would be a part of this sort of event, but 1 Corinthians 1:27 reminds us that, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.”
Jesus Christ, who is “the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8) used me and my fellow FORCE leaders to demonstrate that His strength is made perfect in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). The perceived weakness of individuals with criminal records did not stop FORCE from walking in strength toward freedom and equity, and toward the power contained in the Speaker’s office. On the Day of Faith I witnessed that life struggles are not in vain and that there is immense power in collective, unified “faith in action.”