Niles native fights for peace

Correction: In a prior publication of this piece, the date Brandon Williams’ death was stated incorrectly. The name of Tiara Williams’ organization has also been corrected to “Tattoo the World Kidz.” The Niles Daily Star regrets the errors and is happy to correct them.

This February, to celebrate Black History Month, Leader Publications is sharing profiles of African American leaders and community members making history in southwest Michigan. First up is Tiara Williams, who is working to make her community a more peaceful place.

NILES – Tiara Williams is still waiting for justice for her brother, Brandon.

Williams started “Tattoo the World” after losing her brother to gun violence on June 23, 2019, in South Bend. Brandon’s nickname was “Tattoo,” for his artistic penchant of drawing art, including tattoos.

Now, Tiara Williams continues her work with “Tattoo the World” in the southwest Michigan area, and especially Niles, to help other families who have experienced loss to gun violence. She is also working on ways to prevent the violence in the first place.

From noon to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 13, Tattoo the World will host its “The Cause of Love Bake Sale and Basket Fundraiser” in a drive-thru set up at the Michiana Sanitation Specialist parking lot at 1002 E. Main St., in Niles.

“We’re going to try to have a menu, so when people pull up they can look at that and not have to get out of their car,” Williams said. “We’ll keep social distancing.”

The nonprofit is also seeking business sponsors for gift baskets that will be raffled off as part of the fundraiser.

The proceeds from the event will go toward a new youth program Williams is putting together for children in Niles.

“We are trying to have the youth participate in a couple of programs we are trying,” Williams said.

She listed off programs in the works, including music production and artistic projects.

“My brother was into art, so we are trying to get things he would like,” she said.

Williams and her brother both grew up in Niles. Brandon was still living in the home they were raised in when he died.

Williams draws off of some of the experiences she and her brother witnessed growing up when she looks for needs within the community.

“You have to think about the low privileged kids,” Williams said. “A lot of them can’t afford to do things. How can we make it so these kids don’t miss out?”

Mentorship, working with the Berrien County Prosecutor’s office, and visits to court rooms and the jail are also things she considers may be valuable for the future program. All of that is a part of Williams’ vision. The upcoming fundraiser will support improving opportunities for Niles youth, which she believes will help give  youth more opportunities.

In addition to prevention, Williams works to help comfort families dealing with the same type of loss she and her family have experienced.

“We are working on upgrading our comfort kits. Our comfort kits have been at the beginning of everything,” Williams said.

The comfort kits are put together by Williams, and those who can help her, to give to those grieving a family member lost to gun violence.

“We are trying to upgrade those with books for the kids and adults, and just to upgrade them,” Williams said.

She works with an organization called Justice for Michiana and distributes the kits as needed.

Outside of her hometown, Williams connects to the South Bend and Benton Harbor areas through her work.

Most recently, Tattoo the World provided comfort kit baskets to the children of Andrew Blankenship, who was shot on Jan. 2 in South Bend. Blankenship later died from his wounds.

Williams said she has been in contact with Blankenship’s family.

“I just tried to talk our way through it,” Williams said of the feelings following a homicide. “It’s not going to be easy. You are going to have your good days and your bad days. I said [to them], ‘we are at almost two years [since Brandon was killed], and you still have your good days and your bad days.’ You have to find something to keep your mind busy. You just have to do something so you won’t think too much. My strategy is to stay busy. I started ‘Tattoo the World.’”

Working to both prevent gun violence and comfort families who have experienced what hers has means Williams carries these tragedies with her as she works. She takes what she sees and works to find, or create, solutions.

“I see South Bend and Benton Harbor as more urban areas. There are a lot of things they do that we don’t do,” Williams said. “I try to incorporate Niles into gun violence awareness. It’s hard to push it. We have lost a lot of boys from Niles. They went to South Bend and got killed. I know about five or six mothers who have lost [sons] over there. We don’t have anything for these mothers [in Niles]. We don’t have anything for these siblings going through this. We have to go to South Bend and Benton Harbor.”

Recently, she has started conversations with Spectrum Health Lakeland about partnering in southwest Michigan to make more services available locally.

As she works to raise funds to help create programs to prevent gun violence, to raise community awareness, and continues to connect with grieving families and help them navigate the circumstance, Williams has already built a small community around her.

“We just turned into one big family, everybody we connect with,” Williams said.

She waits for the day new details surface on those who killed Brandon.

“We are just fighting. We are still trying to stay strong through it all and trying to heal,” Williams said of her family. “There will be a time when we are getting justice, and we have to relive it all over again in court. Homicide is different from any other kind of grief — homicide, you have to relive all over again.”

To learn more about Williams’ organization, visit Tattoo the World Kidz on Facebook. Details on how to contribute to “The Cause of Love Bake Sale and Basket Fundraiser” on Feb. 13 are available in the page’s event details and posts.

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