Students at Frederick Douglass Academy, 543 N. Waller, heard about conflict resolution and winning against the odds this past Monday. Exelon Sr. Vice President George Williams’ talk could not have been more timely, with over 30 shootings on Chicago’s South and West sides this past weekend.
As senior vice president, Williams is responsible for overall coordination of operations, including electric distribution, transmission maintenance, construction, new business, and work management. He is responsible for over 3,000 ComEd and contractor personnel.
Exelon selected Douglass Academy for the discussion because it had experienced the devastating loss of four teens in one week to community violence. Exelon partnered with United Way of Metropolitan Chicago in 2004, to create the Stay in School Initiative. The collaboration brings in valued community partners (BUILD Inc., Centers for New Horizons, and Youth Guidance) to create after-school programs that target elementary and high school students.
The administration at Douglass conducted role-playing exercises in which students participated. Afterward, Williams talked to students about growing up in Philadelphia and being the first in his family to attend college.
He told students they can succeed and beat the stereotypes often projected onto African-American youth.
“You might not have a particular role model, [but] you can be your own role model,” Williams told them.
Although he came from a tough neighborhood, his parents instilled the importance of getting an education. He became interested in electrical engineering and earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Widener University and a Master of Business Administration degree from St. Joseph University.
Williams served in a variety of positions before coming to ComEd, including vice president of operations at Entergy’s Grand Gulf Nuclear Station in Mississippi, general manager of plant operations at Carolina Power & Light, and plant manager of the Delaware & Schuylkil fossil-fuel generating stations.
After presenting his background, he took questions from the students, which included how hard was it to succeed and how did he avoid peer pressure? In answering students, William used personal examples from his own experience-some good and some not so good. But in all instances he said, he had the will power and determination to beat the odds. He became a father at an early age, but that made him even more determined to become successful.
Afterward, we asked Williams how got involved with this program.
“I volunteered as part of our volunteer [program], and I’ve also been talking to our community relations people about activities I could get involved in and I could be of help with. When I heard about Frederick Douglass Academy, I realized with my background and the way I grew up, I had something I could share with the kids that could be helpful to them.
“In north Philadelphia, things were not easy. As for role models, sometimes kids have to have a role model to follow versus being the role model. [But] when you have confidence in yourself that you can be that role model, that is very strong in terms in helping you demonstrate leadership and not succumbing to that negative peer pressure.
“I was the first African American to obtain a Senior Reactor Operator License for my company to work in any power plant. I was also the youngest plant manger to work in a fossil station for my company and only the second African-American plant manager at the time. I was also the first site vice president for a nuclear power plant for an energy corporation and here [Exelon], I am the first African-American senior vice president of operations that ComEd has ever had.
“My biggest focus is to let the kids know they can succeed against the odds, don’t be afraid to be a pioneer, and being a leader is the key to success.”
Willliams was selected by editors of U.S. Black Engineer & Information Technology magazine for their prestigious 100 Most Important Blacks in Technology list for 2006 and 2008. He also appeared on the 2005 list of the 50 Most Important Blacks in Technology. Honorees are chosen for this annual list based on their work in making technology part of global society. Selected as one of Chicago’s Interesting Personalities in Who’s Who in Black Chicago. George Williams is married to Lynn Williams, and they have three children-Charisse, Gregory and George, Jr. The family has been in Chicago for two years.