This week we objectively picked one of Liberia’s trusted sons whose utmost interest is to see his country take the lead amongst the comity of nations without border, and further advocating for the wellbeing of his fellow compatriots in whatever way he could be a help.
Our personality profile of the week is Mr. Jones Nhinson Williams Founder of the New Liberia Foundation an organization established in 2014 with the express purpose of advancing the quality of life for millions of Liberians.
As a native Liberian who notably experienced the difficulties and despair the country and his fellow Liberians have over the years endured.
‘Jones’ as he is affectionately call by many of his peers and admirers both in Liberia and the United States where he currently residing was born in Southeastern Liberia in the town of Pleebo, Maryland.
His father, Kayee Massah Williams, was an employee of Firestone National Rubber Company, and his mother, Adel Kumonteh Peters, was a successful businesswoman and a community organizer.
He attended St. Francis Lower School in Pleebo advancing to St. Dominic’s Catholic High School in Tubmanburg in Bomi County. It was at St. Dominic’s that Williams was first exposed to the issue of human rights, hearing the story of Archbishop Arnulfo Romero y Galdamez of El Salvador.
The Archbishop was a voice of truth and fairness during El Salvador’s civil war and was assassinated after giving a sermon urging soldiers not to kill but instead heed God’s word. Williams was deeply affected by the Archbishop’s message and disturbed by the assassination, helping form the basis of his future work for the people of Liberia.
Williams continued his schooling at St. Kizito’s Inter-Territorial Catholic Seminary in Kenema, Sierra Leone, where he began training for the priesthood, graduating with honors in Development Psychology and Introduction to Moral Theology.
In 1994, he graduated from St. Paul’s Catholic Major Seminary (an affiliate of Rome Urbaniana University) earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy and Cultural Anthropology. In 2006, Williams received a Master of Science degree with a concentration in International Management, Public Policy and Finance from New York University’s Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.
While stationed at the Archdiocese of Monrovia, Williams met a group of five American nuns who were serving as relief workers and missionaries during the country’s civil war, and he joined their work for a brief period. Shortly after he left the country in 1992, he learned of their deaths at the hands of Charles Taylor, then president of Liberia. Depressed by the killings and astonished by the silence of the international community and the Catholic Church, Williams became a staunch critic of Taylor, calling for him to be deposed.
In 1994, Williams began a yearlong pastoral assignment in Liberia, during which he launched a radio talk show called the “Catholic Half Hour”. The show discussed morality, moral law, human rights and justice and served as a platform to further criticize Charles Taylor. This criticism continued until senior priests in his parish became concerned for his safety.
Williams was transferred to a minor seminary at St. Patrick’s campus, part of the Archdiocese of Monrovia, to help nurture young aspiring priests. Mentoring fit him well and led him to volunteer as a teacher at the AME ZION University College in Congo Town. There he worked with young Liberians arguing for democratic action and social change as the way to renounce tyranny and corruption.
Again his outspokenness against the Taylor regime lead senior priests to encourage him to leave Liberia and continue his studies elsewhere. He agreed and took a leave of absence to study human rights and advocacy, ultimately becoming involved in the Liberia Human Rights Chapters funded by The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) based in Washington, DC. With their support, Williams became the editor of Liberia’s first human rights newspaper, The Humanitas.
In 1996, Charles Taylor again waged war on Liberians, and Williams fled with hundreds of others to neighboring countries. While in Guinea, he founded various organizations to raise awareness and understanding of the plights of refugees. Through this work and with the information and data he gathered, he lobbied the UN Security Council to pass a resolution addressing the human rights issues in Sierra Leone. This same resolution had failed three times before Williams succeeded in its passage.
Taylor himself noticed Williams and ultimately offered him an ambassadorship. Williams instead developed a plan to have Taylor removed from office with the help of US officials and members of the international community. Within two days of this effort, President George W. Bush ordered Taylor to leave or he would be forced out.
After Taylor was forced out of office, Williams was unanimously elected to lead the delegation to the Accra Peace talks and was offered the opportunity to become Liberia’s interim leader. He declined the offer in order to honor the pledge he made to his people not to personally benefit from the cause of Liberia’s freedom.
After threats to his life, Williams moved to the United States where he could continue his work and help Liberians abroad. While in the States, Williams gained extensive experience working on US Federal and Maryland State economic policy. He is married with two daughters and currently resides in Baltimore with his family.
However, after another decade of disappointing leadership in Liberia, Williams decided there was a better way to help his people. The first act of implementing his vision was to found the New Liberia Foundation in 2014. Since the Ebola outbreak, Williams has worked to facilitate aid and provide support to groups sensitizing rural communities about Ebola.
He recently held a Diaspora Support Summit in Washington DC on November 8, 2014 and continues to engage and mobilize Liberian leaders in country and around the world to begin the process of changing Liberia for all.