[Episcopal News Service] When actor Michael K. Williams’ the funeral took place on September 14, it was not in his hometown of New York but at St. James’s Episcopal Cathedral in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, which had become a spiritual home for him. Former bishop of central Pennsylvania Nathan Baxter, a close friend of Williams and his family, delivered the sermon, in which he recalled Williams’ generosity and “his affection for the Episcopal Church.”
Williams, who was found dead at her Brooklyn home on September 6 at the age of 54, grew up dating St. Augustine Episcopal Church in East Flatbush before becoming famous and acclaimed for her role in HBO’s âThe Wireâ. His nuanced performance as Omar Little, an openly gay black thief who targeted street drug dealers in Baltimore, Maryland, made him one of the most admired actors on television and led to other high profile roles on “Boardwalk Empire” and “Lovecraft Country”.
Baxter, however, remembered him mostly for his dedication to helping others. Baxter got to know Williams’ mother after moving to Harrisburg around 2007, he said, and began attending services at the cathedral. Williams often visited her and came to church with her. Williams, who struggled with drug addiction throughout her life, found solace in the church, Baxter said.
âDuring those years, at times when he was having real difficulties in his life, he would come to my office right next to the cathedral. He would come over and we would sit and talk, âBaxter said, adding that Williams would be there every Christmas Eve with his family.
Williams was a keynote speaker at the 2015 UBE Annual Meeting and Meeting of the Union of Black Episcopalians in Baltimore, where he also received the UBE Community Courage Award for his work with children at risk. Baxter recalled that the young attendees reacted with wonder as Williams spoke of his episcopal upbringing, the struggles he faced, “and how having a spiritual life can really give you a foothold, even if you stray. “.
Much of Williams’ charitable work was done in Harrisburg, which he had “adopted as his home,” Baxter said, including supporting basketball camps for poor children, distributing food to those who needed it, speaking at Black Lives Matter events and at social problem solving conferences. Describing Williams as “a wounded healer” in his funeral sermon, Baxter said Williams’ challenges gave him empathy and a willingness to help others.
âMichael was open about his own struggles with drug addiction and the issues he faced and the mistakes he made,â Baxter said. “The scar you see on his face that he got in a bar fight in his late teens – he never had that fixed, and part of that [was because it was] useful to throw it away. But another part of that, for Michael, was that he thought it was important for people to see that life wasn’t always successful for him.
That empathy was also what made him a great actor, Baxter said. While her funeral drew a few celebrities, it also drew old friends from Williams’ childhood to housing projects in East Flatbush, Brooklyn.
âWe weren’t able to get by with the projects, but Michael always came back and encouraged us,â Baxter recalls of saying a friend. â’We call him the prophet of projects. Because Michael has never been an actor playing a character. It was a human being playing a human being.
– Egan Millard is associate editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at [email protected]