By Dionne Gleaton, The Times and Democrat
Kendall Williams is a quiet intellectual whose consummate professionalism shines through despite his having been born with a common congenital disorder that affects his movement.
He was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at age 2. While the condition has sometimes made completing day-to-day tasks difficult, Williams said he refuses to give up on life and neglect his goals. He says he has too many to achieve.
Williams, 40, has been selected as the State Employee with Disability of the Year by the S.C. Governor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities. He was honored at the committee’s annual awards luncheon on May 4 in Columbia.
A research associate and teacher assistant in Claflin University’s chemistry department, Williams is currently working with Dr. Muthukrishna Raja on biofuel synthesis with the use of organic compounds. At the same time, he manages to teach physical science both online and for continuing education students.
“I wear many hats. I’m also the manager for the laboratory assistants. I currently have 21 laboratory assistants that I supervise this semester,” he said.
Williams has also been selected as the local Employee of the Year by the Greater Orangeburg Area Mayor’s Committee for People with Disabilities. The local committee held a breakfast in April honoring Williams, along with local businesses for employing people with disabilities. Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School student Brandon King was awarded a scholarship as Student of the Year.
Williams was pleasantly surprised by the honors. He said he strives to inspire others in his daily life, including his students.
“I was quite surprised, but I think it’s a very important award that recognizes those individuals who persevere beyond their disabilities to become a contributor to society in any way possible. Cerebral palsy does affect my mobility and limits my distance walking sometimes, but I have to persevere through that because I have so many obligations that I fulfill,” he said. “I have to motivate myself to get that accomplished.”
The Branchville native attended Branchville High School and went on to obtain a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the College of Charleston. He received a bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor in chemistry from South Carolina State University before earning a master’s degree in biotechnology from Claflin University.
“Since I turned 40, I thought it was best that I try to pursue my Ph.D as soon as possible before I lose the drive to do so. I’m looking forward to hearing from some programs that I’ve applied to,” said Williams, who has worked in Claflin’s chemistry department since 2011.
Prior to his work in the chemistry department, Williams worked in the university’s biology department under Dr. Omar Bagasra. He began his teaching career in 1999 after moving to Washington, D.C., where he taught earth science to ninth and 10th graders. He then transitioned to the field of information technology.
“I worked in that field for approximately 10 years. I moved back to South Carolina and worked in IT for Blue Cross Blue Shield for a period time. Then I worked at the Boeing plant in North Charleston just prior to attending Claflin University’s masters program in biotechnology in 2007,” Williams said.
The son of Charles and Joyce Ann Williams of Branchville, he said he has dedicated his life to helping others despite his own limitations.
“I still try to give as much back to individuals as possible. That’s evident in the way I teach my courses and follow up on my students. I’ll try to point out to them ways to get extra help if they should need it. I try to inspire others as I go through my life,” Williams said.
Dr. Angela Peters, a professor and chairperson of Claflin’s chemistry department, said she has known Williams for more than six years as a graduate student and research assistant now under her supervision.
“Kendall is only disabled physically. His mind and competencies are far better than any person that I know,” she said. “He has single-handedly interviewed, hired and trained approximately 50 undergraduate and graduate student workers in the past two years to work as lab assistants in the department of chemistry. He also continues to conduct research in the lab during his spare time.”
Williams attributes his work ethic to his late grandfather, David B. Williams, who died in 2008 at age 90.
“I have to give credit to my grandfather and the fact that I grew up on a farm. On a daily basis, especially during the summers, I was out in the fields picking green beans, peanuts, watermelons,” he said. “It really taught me to be self-reliant as well to have a very good work ethic.”
“My grandfather lived a long, fruitful life,” Williams said. “He was the type of individual that gave a lot of himself, too.”
He said his parents also instilled in him the importance of practicing the Golden Rule.
“I tend to live by that on a daily basis. There are so many other things that have been instilled by my parents over the years that I still carry today and benefit me in so many ways,” said Williams, who has two brothers, Baron and Christopher.
He encourages other individuals with disabilities to work to inspire others as well as themselves.
“It’s called being a role model to show that what I’ve achieved, they can achieve also and so much more.”