Column: Durham mayor candidate Marshall Williams Jr.’s youth doesn’t define him

Marshall Williams Jr., candidate for Durham mayor

By Hannah Adams

Published Oct. 2, 2023

When I drove up to the house, I felt anxious. It was strange to be interviewing a mayoral candidate in their household. But when I saw Marshall Williams Jr. on his porch, carrying two cases of water bottles inside, my anxiousness disappeared.

In that moment, the stark contrast between the political figure and the everyday individual couldn’t have been clearer. It was a powerful reminder that, beyond the titles and public personas, we are all, at our core, just human beings.

“I didn’t do this for the title,” Williams said. “This is just me. It’s always been me.”

Williams isn’t your typical mayoral candidate. Not only is he the youngest candidate on the ballot at 35 years old, but he’s motivated by more than just the title. Williams’ authentic dedication to the community is apparent, dating all the way back to when he created his company Maverick Innovation that is primarily dedicated to building a community of empowerment by highlighting and supporting disenfranchised communities through media resources. 

“I’ve always been disciplined and extremely hardworking,” Williams said. “In high school, I was getting up at 6 a.m., and I would run the entire Duke stadium before I went to school.”

In the face of adversity, he took on the mantle of responsibility, not just for his own aspirations but for the well-being of his family and friends. With both of his parents grappling with substance abuse issues, Williams had to mature at an early age, stepping up to care for his mom while his dad was serving time in prison.

“I’ve seen different parts of life at a very early age,” Williams said. “But what it’s done is built this beautiful child that has really been the epitome of what people can nurture in this city.”

Despite the family adversity he faced growing up, Williams said he is thankful for his aunt and uncle who took him in and gave him the opportunity to experience life from different perspectives – by living in a wealthy environment with his aunt and uncle during the week and an economically disadvantaged one on the weekends with his biological parents.

“It enabled me to learn a lot about many different people,” said Williams. “At that time when I was trying to find an identity and a place, it was survival learning to understand each group.”

His journey has not only bolstered his self-confidence but has also forged him into a leader of multiple fields. Williams has experience in various domains, serving as a Durham Workforce & Economic Development Board Member, Sales Leader at Cisco, NFL player for the Denver Broncos and the Indianapolis Colts, and contributing significantly to the pharmaceutical and medical device industry with Otsuka America and Zimmer Biomet.

“I lead people in pharma, athletics, academia, and government. And that ability to lead in those different domains gives me the best experience,” explained Williams.

While some individuals from the older generation may hold the belief that his age suggests a lack of experience, Williams serves as evidence that such assumptions do not hold true. From his days as a football player to his role as an IT Sales Leader at Cisco, and not to mention his work as the creator of his own augmented technology, Williams has consistently defied age-related expectations.

Durham that makes you always want to come back,” Williams said. “We fight for that.”

With an unwavering commitment to Durham and diverse experiences under his belt, Williams represents a new generation of leaders who challenge stereotypes and what it means to make a meaningful impact. 

“At the end of the day, you’re not a leader unless you’ve made someone else a leader,” Williams said.

This philosophy reflects his commitment to fostering and empowering individuals to assume leadership roles, a guiding principle that underpins his vision for a more promising future for Durham.

As Williams succinctly put it: “I’m only here to save my community.”

Edited By: Ethan Horton