He would leave the secure surroundings of the Bethune-Cookman University campus and head across the International Speedway Boulevard bridge and walk, sometimes all night. In the early morning hours, he would sneak into the lobby at the Bronson Hall dorm and sleep a few hours on a couch as if he lived there.
“I would go down to the beach sometimes,” he recalled. “Sometimes I would just take any direction and get lost and try to find my way back — I would just walk.”
Williams, 23, who is graduated last Saturday with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, was homeless for most of his first three years at the school but too proud to tell anyone.
But just like on his nightly walks, he always found his way. He survived on handouts, slept in empty trucks or on a couch at the apartments of classmates who thought he just didn’t want to go home after a late-night study session.
Remembering the poverty, drug dealers and random shootings he’d seen growing up near Miami, he knew he was on the right path. At school, he would find family, a sense of purpose and even win the title of Mr. Bethune-Cookman University and become the first student to organize a scholarship — but first he had to find a place to sleep.
“Before the sun comes up, I would make sure I was somewhere to lay down,” Williams remembered. “I knew I was homeless, but I said to myself I’d rather be in Daytona homeless trying to go to school than ever go back to Miami.”
NO PLACE TO LIVE
Williams arrived at B-CU in the fall of 2008 with $3,000 he saved from working at a gas station in Miami. He knew it wasn’t enough but felt confident. Then he found out tuition, room and board ran about $10,000 a semester. Williams wasn’t about to let that stop him.