Always Traveling and Learning
When Patricia Williams was a little girl growing up in the Caribbean island of Granada, she felt a bit held back by her strict parents. “I was very adventurous and very inquisitive about the world,” she said. She left the island in 1968–50 years ago–but still retains the zest for life, here in Brooklyn, in Grenada and in her travels.
Williams grew up in the country, the only child of a druggist and a homemaker, she told Jessica Siegel and Leah Shaw.
They had chickens and a goat. “I drank fresh goat’s milk every morning,” she said.
She did well in school and wanted to be a flight attendant “so I could travel all over the world,” she said. At 18, she followed her boyfriend to the U.S. and Howard University. She said her knowledge of the U.S. was limited to what she saw through a View-Master, a binocular toy that you held up to your eyes while you clicked through photographs of famous places.
When she first arrived in Brooklyn and later, Washington, D.C., she realized quickly that “the View-Master doesn’t tell you very much about life.”
In Washington, she rented a room in a boarding house, where she and other immigrants lived. She worked in an office, inputting numbers for a bank. She went to school in the morning and then went directly to work from 2 p.m. to 9:30 at night.
“I can identify with the people coming here today,” she said. “Everybody I knew came on a student visa and worked illegally. They didn’t hurt anybody but they had to find a way to eat. And they’re assimilated into the system now.”
Howard was “an awakening” for her, she said. She arrived in July, three months after Martin Luther King was assassinated. Then in October, John Carlos and Tommie Smith, two black American athletes, raised their fists as they accepted their medals at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. “It was very eye-opening for me,” she said. “I learned that you can stand up for yourself and if you don’t like something, you have to do something about it.”
She married her boyfriend, Greg Williams (they later divorced) and had two children, Jeanine and Jumaane. Jeanine is a nurse practitioner and Jumaane is the activist city councilman from Flatbush, East Flatbush and Midwood who is currently running for New York State Lieutenant Governor.
While she campaigns for him, “I’d prefer that he would have become a lawyer,” she said. “I support him because that’s what he wants to do and he’s good at it. I think it’s very stressful. You get a lot of grief and you can’t please everybody. But it’s in his blood. He lives and breathes politics.”
It may have started when she took her children to marches in support of Nelson Mandela. She also remembers the first march she attended in Brooklyn after a black family’s house in Canarsie was burned down. “I just thought it was the right thing to do,” she said. She brought her children with her.
More recently, she and her son were arrested protesting in front of Trump Tower on the day of President Trump’s inauguration. “I thought we had to do something,” she said.
Williams worked for 31 years as a representative for a drug company, the first black person and the first woman that they hired. Now retired, she travels, writes poetry, crochets, paints, and is learning how to play the steel pans. “Growing up, girls were not supposed to play the steel pans,” she said. “It was taboo. Only the bad guys played them.” Her steel pans sit in her living room next to her piano and other instruments she has collected in her many travels.
“I think traveling widens your horizon,” she said. “I always liked learning about new places. The more you travel, the more you realize how everyone is not so different from who we are.”
Grenada is a Caribbean island north of Venezuela and Trinidad. It is know as the Spice Island because of the nutmeg and cinnamon that is grown there. Patricia Williams grew up in a rural area in St. Andrew’s Parish on the eastern side of the island. Fifty years later, she now lives in East Flatbush but goes home for several months a year.