GREENVILLE, NC (WITN) February is Black History Month and every Wednesday we're shining the spotlight on those who have, or are, making a positive impact.
This week, a look at the work of Greenville Police Officer Ritchie Williams.
He was kid from the streets of Fayetteville, who thirty years later, is using his own experiences growing up to help the lives of kids in Greenville.
Williams was the school resource officer for C.M. Eppes Middle School until last summer, when he accepted a new role as GPD's community outreach officer, running the Cops and Barbers program to open up dialogue between police officers and the community.
Williams says he took on the new role on the condition that he could still spend time visiting the students he refers to as 'his kids.'
The 19-year veteran of law enforcement has worn many hats. He says, "It's really a calling. I really just think the Lord called me to do it."
From working as a jailer in his hometown of Fayetteville in 1997, to attending basic law enforcement training on his own time, eventually getting hired by the Cumberland County Sheriff''s Office and then GPD when his family settled in Greenville.
After several years on patrol he became a homicide investigator, where he became familiar with many of Greenville's impoverished areas, something he knows a lot about.
Williams says, "My mom always worked two jobs. We were what you would call the working poor. We received federal assistance. We were on food stamps, we stayed in subsidized housing, but my mom worked two jobs to try and make ends meet for me and my brother."
As a kid, he never dreamed he'd become a cop.
Williams says, "I didn't hate the police, but I really didn't care for them either because what I remember is that growing up they were always kicking in my aunt's door, locking up her sons, my two favorite cousins. I can remember them coming in with their suits on, long guns, pushing her down on the couch, she's crying, and so I had that image of the police, even though my cousins were the biggest drug dealers in Fayetteville, they were violent and stuff, but as a kid I just knew they were my favorite cousins, and so I had this perception of the police that that's all they do is come into your neighborhood and lock you up, and so I was like 'I'm never gonna become a cop!"
After nearly six years working homicide cases in Greenville, he knew he wanted to do something to step in and help keep young people from falling into a pattern of bad decisions.
He started coaching football in the Police Athletic League program and then became a DARE officer before becoming an SRO in 2013, something he says he could do forever.
Williams says, "The thought that hey I may help the next kid, because you can never give up because if you can save one then that person is going to go and save another and then hopefully we can change the climate in our community."
CM Eppes Principal Charlie Langley says, "Kids love him to death, you know, he'll do whatever it takes. Our kids are not afraid of police officers."
they trust him, and often call on him for guidance.
Eighth grader Alexys Hilsinger says, "I can definitely say he has made me change into a better person, he's changed my life."
Fellow eighth grader Layaly Hamad says, "I mean I'm Muslim, and a lot of people don't accept that and he helps me accept the fact that people are going to judge you and I should just ignore it because there's gonna be a lot of hate in the world, so why not just learn from it right now to just ignore it and move on with your life because that's not gonna affect me at all."
Williams says, "It's about how you treat people, even at their lowest moment if you treat them with respect you'll get it back in return."
Officer Williams also encourages people of all ages to pursue the path to success that is right for them --- whatever that means for you, he says to just try and stay out of trouble.
Williams himself just got his degree -- graduating from the University of Mount Olive with a bachelor's degree in criminal justice this past December.