UW’s Dr. Damon Williams Joins the
Boys & Girls Club of America
Laying Out the Table
In some ways, Williams was setting the table for the UW-Madison to take its diversity efforts to the next level, that the programming and
structure will yield positive results in the future.
“When I left UCONN, I had been at UCONN for six years,” Williams said about his previous job before coming to UW-Madison. “And I look
back now on what we had built and some of the programs we had built while I was at UCONN, we didn’t know what the ultimate outcome
would be. But when you look back at them now, they are getting 92 percent graduation rates. And I believe what we’ve done here at
Madison is more epic in scale. What I think is going to occur at this university as long as we continue with the momentum is over the next
five years or so, we’re going to see break-through, game-changing outcomes and it is based on the foundational work that our community
was able to do and the work we were able to get done.”
Another important aspect of Williams work was to build bridges and relationships with community groups to provide services and support
to students of color at UW-Madison.
“I’m proud of the new partnerships that we built with the community, with Centro Hispano, South Madison Promise Zone, the Urban League,
100 Black Men of Madison and Boys & Girls Club of Dane County among others,” Williams said.
And perhaps it is the extensive work that he performed bridging “town and gown” that caught the Boys & Girls Club’s attention.
“As they were looking for their person to come into this role, they wanted someone who brought the on-the-ground experience in
understanding these programs and these communities,” Williams said. “And they also wanted someone who could help with thought
leadership and help shape the Boys & Girls Club’s discussion around youth development, so they were attracted to my writing and
scholarly abilities in addition to my leadership.”
It is this combination of experiences and skills that will allow Williams to impact the next generation of club members.
“It’s a real chance to have an impact in an epic way,” Williams said. “And one of the priorities I have is I want to deepen the connection
that we have in the Boys & Girls Club of America with higher education, such that we are able to more seamlessly not just get young people
into the clubs, but also keep them in clubs throughout their youth development life cycle. The challenge that we have now is that lots of kids
come when they are in elementary or middle school. But fewer come as they get into high school and they get more mature and have other
types of opportunities. I think it is important for us to strengthen the presence of young people in the clubs later in their adolescent and teen
years. One of the ways that we can do that is partner with higher education and help the clubs be a foundation for helping young people get
internships. And we have to make the clubs cool for kids. That means tapping into hip hop, hip hop culture and the spoken word
One regret Williams has is not seeing the development of the next campus diversity plan to fruition.
“My hope is that Chancellor Blank with her new leadership team will be able to right that process and really help the university produce a
vision for diversity going forward that won’t dismantle what we’ve built and go in a totally new direction, but can really build off of what has
been developed and innovate off of it,” Williams said.
Williams and the campus diversity movement will be watching.
By Jonathan Gramling
Perhaps it was always just a matter of time before Dr. Damon Williams, vice-
provost for diversity and inclusion at UW-Madison, would be tapped for a
greater role in helping young people, particularly students of color, ultimately
access higher education. In July, Williams announced that he was leaving UW-
Madison to become the Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s senior vice-president
for programs, the highest post an African American has held in the national
organization’s 150 year history. The programming that comes out of his division
will impact 4.5 million youth in over 4,600 clubs in the United States and abroad.
On August 12, a farewell get together was held for Williams at Hotel Red. A
couple hundred colleagues, community partners and friends came through to
wish Williams good-bye and to celebrate what Williams, in collaboration with
those in attendance, accomplished during his five-year tenure.
“I think the greatest accomplishment that we’ve had here at UW is the work we
did building infrastructure,” Williams said. “We built the Division of Diversity,
Equity and Educational Achievement. We built the Center for Academic
Excellence. We built the Wisconsin Equity and Inclusion Laboratory. We took
OMAI/First Wave Program to a new level. We took the PEOPLE Program to a
new level, the Posse Program to a new level. They didn’t have office space for
OMAI and the Posse Program. They didn’t have an academic infrastructure in
the First Wave Program. Over the last five years, we’ve seen the elimination of
the first year retention gap between underrepresented students and majority
students. We were able to recruit probably the most diverse faculty in a
generation that we brought into the university during the last couple of years
working with Vice-Provost Steve Stern.”