Saturday, February 6, 2016 || By Michael Romain || Updated: 2/7/16
Hundreds packed the God’s Heritage Full Gospel Church, 1200 S. Fifth Ave., in Maywood on Feb. 6 to remember Jeremy Williams, 31, who died Jan. 29 from cancer.
Williams was the youngest of James and Regina Williams’s three sons. He grew up an Irving Elementary Tiger before anchoring successful teams at Proviso East High School that featured future NCAA Division I and NBA talents like Dee Brown, Shannon Brown and Charles Richardson.
During a brilliant, sunlit Saturday afternoon service, friends and family members praised a young man whose dignity and grace — both during hard-fought basketball games and during his lengthy illness — was a tribute to a close-knit neighborhood and to what one of Williams’s middle-aged cousins called “some of the greatest parents in my generation.”
Williams was born Sept. 27, 1984 into a tightly woven fabric of community whose common threads were God and basketball. It was a tapestry that was largely woven on the 400 block of South 13th Avenue, in the Progressive Church of God in Christ, now Progressive Life Giving Word Cathedral.
The church, now located in Hillside, was where Williams’s father matured and grew into his spiritual own. The elder Williams would later go on to pastor a congregation of his own — God’s Heritage, where he’d become adored by members (who simply call him Pastor Chuck, short for his middle name Charles) and non-members alike for his richly detailed and enlightening Bible studies, among other qualities.
“Growing up in Maywood, about one or two blocks down [from each other], we played [basketball] together, hung out, had a great time,” said Apostle Donald L. Alford, Progressive’s current pastor and Jeremy’s godfather, who, despite being younger, was something of a spiritual mentor to Rev. Williams.
“I look over this room and I see so many young people who came up on 13th Avenue at 433,” said Rev. DeAndre Patterson, a Maywood native, Gospel recording artist and longtime minister at Progressive. He now heads two churches of his own — Destiny Worship Center in Chicago and Miracle Revival Cathedral in Maywood.
“These kids made the whole Progressive church proud,” said Patterson. “Jeremy, you touched a whole lot of lives with your love [and] affection.”
“[James, Jr., the oldest son] was real quiet … he’d smile at you and keep going. Then Justin came along. Justin was my philosopher. Anything you talked about, Justin got into it … And then Jeremy came along. I thought Jeremy was quiet, but as he grew up I found out that he could really talk,” said Rev. Kenneth Hollingsworth, a longtime family friend who flew in from Las Vegas for the service.“These young men were very respectful.”
A special grace
Patricia Profit said she watched Williams grow up at God’s Heritage, before describing the preacher’s son with the “dancing eyes,” “who would just look at you and smile.”
But Williams was as tough as he was gentle, said Rev. Carl Smith, a Progressive minister who called the 6-foot-5 power forward “my big little brother.” Smith said the elder Williams and his wife were spiritual role models for him during his early days at Progressive.
“The life [James and Regina] lived as young people in the church gave me hope,” Smith said. “Coming off the streets, a drug addict at one time — seeing young people in the church really living for the Lord … You helped me stand man,” he said, addressing Williams, who sat in a pew next to his wife, only a few small steps away from his son’s casket.
“I … have spent so much time with Jeremy, Justin, [James, Jr.]. and the Crawfords and the Dukes and the Alfords and playing ball and having so much fun.”
“But I was telling Chuck one time I was at the gym playing ball with Jeremy [and his brothers] and a young man was cussing and talking crazy and I found out that Jeremy was tender and tough all at the same time. Jeremy told him, ‘Hey man, watch yo’ mouth. That’s my daddy’s friend,’” said Smith.
“Jeremy didn’t give anybody any problems unless you met him on the basketball court,” said John Thompson, a family friend.
“One thing I know about Jeremy. Playing ball, he could’ve had a lot of people he wanted to be like. But guess who he wanted to be like? He wanted to be like his father,” said Smith.
“He wanted to be like his dad, when a lot of children don’t even know their dads. Jeremy saw how his dad treated his family, he saw how he pastored the church, how he treated his wife, how he treated his brothers.”
And how he exhibited dignity and an air of victory even in what appeared to be defeat. He “was the strongest dude I’ve ever known,” said one cousin, who noted that Williams, in the last year of his life, may have foreseen how his fight with cancer would ultimately be resolved. Not in total defeat, many in attendance at the funeral believe, but in ultimate victory through temporary defeat.
“He played opening tip off basketball the whole game,” the relative said, likening Williams’s battle with cancer to a recent blowout loss the Cleveland Cavaliers suffered against the Golden State Warriors.
“Jeremy’s got a story to tell about how he made it over,” said Thompson. “Jeremy can say I beat cancer not once but twice. He beat the Hodgkin lymphoma so bad that it had to go change into something else and when that came he whooped that, too. Jeremy can stand there on the other side and say, ‘I won at this game called life.’”
“I walked in here yesterday … and it was just a handful of people,” said Alford, from the pulpit where the man he calls his brother preaches each Sunday and where Pastor Chuck would eulogize his youngest son.
“[James and Regina] were sitting there right where they are today. Sitting there smiling, greeting people and encouraging them. I was like, ‘Wow, you all are amazing.’ This is a special grace.”
Former Proviso East basketball coach Troy Jackson recalled the one moment he witnessed, and felt, that special Williams grace himself. Jackson, who was coach during the younger Williams’s junior and senior seasons, said even though his teams won at least 80 percent of their games during his two seasons at the helm, “to some people that wasn’t good enough.”
“I left Proviso East feeling like a failure, because a lot of people were kind of on my back because we didn’t win a state championship,” Jackson said, before recalling running into Williams during a high school tournament after both had moved on from their basketball days at East.
“We talked and at the end of our conversation, Jeremy said to me, ‘Coach, I love you and you’ll always be my guy.’ When he said that to me, I felt like a state champion. I felt like I had won a national championship. But that’s the kind of person he was.” VFP
A #JWill Cancer Awareness/Fundraiser basketball game is planned in Williams’s honor. It will be held Saturday, Feb. 27. Doors will open at 4:30 PM and the game will start at 5 PM.
Those who donate will receive tax acknowledgment letters. There will also be blue, red, black and white t-shirts available for purchase at $20 each.
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