When White Sox Executive Vice President Kenny Williams took the stage Wednesday at Millennium Park to address the Jackie Robinson West Little League national champions and a crowd of 10,000, he confessed it was only his second speech in the last 15 years.
Not to butt into White Sox business, Kenny, but here's some unsolicited advice.
Give more speeches.
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Millennium Park, Chicago, IL, USA
If Williams' next one is anything like his last one, kids and parents and everyone in Chicago need to hear more of what he has to say — but not necessarily about baseball. Williams can hold court at the ballpark with the best of executives in the game but is at his best speaking from the heart on social issues, as he did in Wednesday's five-minute talk as powerful as it was eloquent. It wasn't spin or self-serving. It was strong and, with due respect to the politicians and local celebrities who also spoke, included the words with the most impact offered from the podium.
Growing up in the San Francisco Bay area, Williams always has known the world was bigger than the baseball or football field in front of him. He was born to believe in causes. His father, Jerry Williams sued for the right to join a mostly white San Jose Fire Department. His godfather, John Carlos, was sent home from the 1968 Olympics along with U.S. teammate Tommie Smith for making a clenched-fist, black-power salute on the medal stand. Anybody who knows Williams well knows he measures progress that goes beyond where the White Sox are in the standings.
And that passion to improve the city he lives in came through clearer than anything on a day Williams sounded like a man capable of running for office when he's done running his baseball team — a notion he dismissed with a laugh later Wednesday. It was so good it deserves to be run in full, without interruption. Here are 500 words worth remembering:
"I had someone pass me by the other day and say those boys are so well behaved and I said, 'Yeah, we teach that (as part of the ACE program). The other stuff you see reported, the perception of what's happening in Chicago, that ain't us. These young men gave you a glimpse into who we really are.
"All this love, all this adulation, I'm worried a little bit their heads might start swelling. I'm going to take them down a notch. … But right now I'm going to bring attention to the superstars of the South and West sides, and I'm not talking about these kids.
"(I mean) the leaders of community organizations. Teachers. Before-school programs. After-school programs. The people in the neighborhood who haven't given up on the village mentality, because it does take a village. (This is) for people who are gathering, not just for a sports celebration, but are gathering and rallying sending the message to put down the guns.
"So pick up a ball or a glove, a book, a paste stick, a science project, something. Put down the guns!
"Everybody watches the news and we have cease fires going on all over the Middle East. … But nobody has said, 'Let's call for a cease fire in our communities. Can we please put down the guns!?
"Now to get to these young men … who conducted themselves like they were professionals. You had ABC, CBS, NBC, ESPN … anything with an N … trying to put a microphone in your face, trying to bait you, to show a little cockiness, to show a little arrogance, to show something other than grace and style. And you guys did not waver.
"You inspired me.
"And I'm going to tell you guys a quick story: I've only given one speech in the last 15 years. I have a fear of speaking publicly. I do Q and A's, so you've seen me on television. But I don't do speeches. These young men deserved this so I got up and got here today for them.
"Like I said, I've got a beef. I see (Hall of Famer) Richard Dent back here. He knows. … What's the first thing you do when you get famous, Dent? You thank your momma. That's what you do. I have not heard anybody thank their momma. So you guys, when you come on this stage, I better hear it. Because they did the washing. They filled your bellies. They got you to practice. They did all that, so you better give some love for the mommas.
"I'm going to close here, but I want to say you guys have inspired me, my wife, Zoraida Sambolin of NBC5 Morning Show, so much. We had already been in discussions with the University of Illinois-Chicago and the White Sox to try to bring a bigger, better model to the city to work with Jackie Robinson (League) and all the other leagues. We are starting a foundation. … We are going to continue to do some special things in the city of Chicago. Thank you very much. Enjoy the show.''
Williams' act was hard to top.