When Eugene Williams Jr. hears about the travails of fellow child actors from the 1970s, he pauses and silently thanks his dad for helping him to stay grounded when his Hollywood lights dimmed.
When he was 4, he began a career that put him in some of the most memorable TV commercials of the time. He was eating Jello pudding with Bill Cosby, dancing as a human grape for Fruit of the Loom underwear and telling adults they had bad breath for Scope mouthwash.
Before Williams was in second grade, he was in 14 different television commercials and was making nearly $100,000 a year. By the time he was 12, he had become the first black child in a recurring role in the soap opera "Search for Tomorrow."
There are many stories of child actors who have turned on their parents or gotten into trouble since their cute little days on TV: Gary Coleman has pleaded no contest to disturbing the peace; Todd Bridges has been arrested several times on drug charges.
But today, Williams has gladly exchanged the bright lights and Madison Avenue casting calls for a more austere lifestyle: teaching English literature and Latin at Crossland High School in Temple Hills. And he is following the lead of his father, an educator.
"When I look back on it all, it feels a bit overwhelming," said Williams, 30, who is now married, has one child and lives in Waldorf. "Everybody has their 15 minutes of fame, but at some point, everyone's star fades."
But his star may be rising in a new way. The Williamses--father and son--have published a new book, "Grounded in the Word," which will help young people improve their vocabulary and at the same time increase their knowledge of the Bible. The book focuses on words in the Bible that are also on standardized tests. "The Bible is rich with words found on these examinations," said Eugene Williams Sr., a former Howard University professor and a former assistant principal at Dunbar High School who is a co-founder of the Washington Math Science Technology Public Charter High School.
"People [can] use this book as a good vocabulary source for improving their test scores and their comprehension of the Bible," Williams Sr. said.
The idea for the book was really born about five decades ago in the living room of his parents' home in Orange County, Va.
His father, Victor Vincent Williams, had only a third-grade education and could barely read, but the proud Baptist church deacon desperately wanted to teach his nine children about the Bible. And every Sunday, it was a struggle.
"When my father got to a word in the Bible that he didn't know, he would say, 'I don't know. It is just the word of the Lord,' " said Williams Sr., who was determined that his children would understand more than portions of the Bible.
Williams Jr. has inherited his family's love of language and the word of the Lord.
Dad and son seem inseparable, but in the early 1980s, things changed after Williams Sr. and his first wife were divorced, and she and her son moved to Miami. "It was a great loss. I didn't know what I was going to do to fill the void. I never got to see him play football," Williams Sr. said.
But despite the separation, the seeds Williams Sr. planted in his son would bloom. He attended the prestigious McDonogh School in Baltimore for junior high and the Ransom-Everglades School in Miami for high school.
Williams Jr. graduated from Emory University in 1991.
During his junior year in Atlanta, he learned in a southern literature class that racism was alive and well when a professor called him in for a conference and asked him whether someone else had helped him write a paper that was exceptionally done.
"It was a shock to me because I was a good writer, and A papers were nothing new," said Williams Jr., who decided to turn his rage into a book entitled "Raisin-in-Milk Syndrome: Ten Survival Tips for Black Students at Predominantly White Colleges and Universities."
As Williams Jr. got older, he continued to follow in his father's footsteps. "I really didn't choose education as a career. Education chose me," he said.
"Grounded in the Word" is actually Williams Jr.'s fourth book. He is the author of "Reflections of a Confused Middle Class Black Youth" and "It's a Reading Thing--Help Your Children Understand." Father and son said it was just natural for them to collaborate on "Grounded in the Word" because they have worked together on the three other books.
Although the index of "Grounded in the Word" says it is dedicated to "All People Who Love to Read the Bible," the 331-page book should not be thought of as a complete Bible dictionary.
The book looks at the Bible from Genesis to II Peter. For example, Genesis 1:6 of the King James Version of the Bible reads, "And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters." With this passage, the book focuses on the word "firmament," gives its definition and synonyms, says that it is a noun and then shows it in adjectival form and looks at ways to use the word.
Synonyms: empyrean, heavens, welkin
Usage: Pilots spend a considerable amount of time in the firmament.
Acts 19:13 is another verse highlighted in the book, this time focusing on "itinerant." "Then some itinerant Jewish experts took it upon themselves to call the name of the Lord over those who had evil spirits."
Definition: traveling from place to place
Synonyms: ambulant, nomadic, perambulatory, peripatetic, roving, vagabond, vagrant, wandering
Although Williams Jr. is consumed with helping young people succeed, he acknowledges that sometimes he misses the bright lights.
"There are times that I miss TV, but there is no sense in pining over it because there are so many things positive in my life."
CAPTION: Father and son, Eugene Williams Jr., left, and Eugene Williams Sr., co-authored the book "Grounded in the Word."
CAPTION: Bill Cosby and Eugene Williams Jr. reunited when Williams was a teenager.