OCC has always been much more than a college to James Williams II. It’s been a significant part of his life for as long as he can remember. His mother Eunice Williams started working at OCC in 1996. Today she is the College’s Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer. When her son graduated from East Syracuse Minoa High School in 2000 there was little question where he would go to college, and it turned out to be one of the best decisions of his life. “OCC is that steppingstone that got me to be where I am now,” he said.
Where Williams is now is in a very good place. He’s a husband, a father and a college professor who teaches art. Williams blossomed as an artist on the OCC campus. His mentor was Nick Todisco, a legendary art teacher who passed away in October 2012 at the age of 75. “He pushed me to be better and to want more for myself. My desire to paint and investigate how to be a better artist came from my time at OCC.”
Williams graduated from OCC in 2002 with a degree in graphic arts. He transferred to SUNY Cortland at the same time as the woman he would eventually marry, TyaNisha, who transferred in from SUNY Morrisville. Both were resident assistants and hard-working students. In 2004 he earned a bachelor’s in studio art and she earned a teaching degree. Three years later they would marry.
Williams went from Cortland to the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore where he earned a master of fine art in 2009. Today he is still there, working as an adjunct professor, teaching foundation courses such as painting and drawing. His dedication to his students is something he learned from the most influential people in his life. “Nick Todisco’s attention and desire to make me better made me feel responsible to do the same now as a teacher. Deborah McDowell (Art Department Chair at OCC) always showed the same level of dedication. Because of their example I don’t mind staying late for my students and helping them. I’ve found over the years as students have left many of them have stayed in contact with me and wanted to get together. I’ve also learned similar lessons from my mother as well. She is very selfless when it comes to helping others.”
Williams is a busy man on campus. Besides teaching he is also the Gallery Installation Manager for the Maryland Institute College of Art’s more than one dozen galleries. In his spare time, inspired by his youth, Williams paints. “The romanticizing of childhood, particularly my own, had me create many alter egos such as Little Rooster, a young energetic boy who lives with his mother and father in the U.S. during the 1930’s. Many of Little Rooster’s stories parallel many personal moments from my life both past and present. It is through losing himself in his imagination that he becomes the courageous hero that he was destined to be and learns to overcome in reality one hardship after another.” You can view Williams work at his website.
Williams is a perfectionist when he paints. It’s the way he was raised and the way he was educated. “When I’m in my studio I can hear Nick telling me ‘it’s not good enough and I need you to keep pushing.’ So I’ll wipe down my painting and start all over again. It doesn’t matter if it’s something I’ve been working on for 10 hours. Both Nick and my mom raised me to not accept less.”
One of his proudest moments as an artist came in 2010 when he returned to the OCC campus and his art work was on display in the gallery at the Ann Felton Multicultural Center. “It was great to see current OCC students there along with my parents and professors. It was a humbling and very emotional experience.”
The mural that is Williams’ life is starting to look like a wonderful work of art. He has a great job and family, his wife is pursuing her master’s degree while working as a middle and high school teacher in the Baltimore area, and they have a one-year-old daughter, Indigo. While Williams admits the conversation about where she will go to college is a long way off, he’s confident her parents will let her know the path they took. “With tuition being so high at some colleges I will tell her OCC is a great option. No matter who you are it provides students the ability to try out everything before they decide what they truly want to focus on.”