In March 2008, Percy Williams, then a pudgy 12-year-old who wanted a place to play basketball with his friends, submitted testimony to the D.C. Council urging that the long-abandoned Crummell School in his Ivy City neighborhood be transformed into a recreation center.
“It will really have an impact on the community when Crummell School is reopened and it can be a positive place for people to go,” his testimony read. “I’ve waited my whole life for something to happen. How much longer will I have to wait?”
Seven years later, the city is still deciding what to do with the historic school, advocates are still fighting for it to be a community center and Williams will never learn the outcome. Monday morning, the 20-year-old was fatally shot in Ivy City, making him the city’s 125th homicide victim this year. As of Friday afternoon, there had been no arrest and police were still investigating the killing in the poor, largely black 1.7-square-mile neighborhood in Northeast, not far from the H Street corridor.
“Percy was a great person, and he deserved the best, and we didn’t give him the best,” said Parisa Norouzi, executive director of Empower D.C., the activist group Williams was a part of when he pushed for the recreation center.
On Friday evening, about 100 people gathered on a street outside a park in the heart of Ivy City, lighting candles, saying prayers and sharing memories of Williams. His family members and close friends wore shirts with “We Are Ivy City” on the front and a photo of Williams on the back. “Long Live Big P,” some of the shirts said.
“I just want him to be remembered as a good person,” said Mekeia Baugh, 23, Williams’s girlfriend of about five years.
Williams was born in Ivy City in 1995, the middle of three sons of a drug-addicted mother who died in 2010, relatives said. His younger brother, Antwan Williams, 19, said they were raised mainly by their father, who also had other children. The brothers played basketball together and were involved in youth programs in Ivy City, painting murals in the community, participating in oral history projects and attending political events to advocate for the recreation center — on one occasion even snapping a photo with then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty.
“We grew up in Ivy City — all of our life, our family grew up in the neighborhood. Ivy City is not big. We had to stay together,” Antwan Williams said of their community involvement as children. Percy “loved to interact with people. He always had our back,” he added.
Life became more difficult for the brothers in their teenage years. Their father died of pancreatic cancer in 2012, Antwan Williams said, and Percy took the death hard, struggling more in school and on the streets. In 2013, court records show, he was charged with drug distribution and pleaded guilty. He served a month in prison and was on probation at the time of his death.
“When things got rough for us, and we needed a little extra, we may have had to do what we had to do at the time,” Antwan Williams said. “He had a couple run-ins with the law, but he always knew right from wrong.”
Percy Williams started high school at the now-closed Spingarn High School in Northeast, but because of his legal troubles, he shuffled around. In 2014, according to Antwan Williams, he earned a certificate in a construction program through the court system and was a technician at the time of his death. It was a professional accomplishment for Percy, who as a boy loved to tinker with gadgets, and one that made his family proud.
Joe Hall, a longtime friend who also grew up in Ivy City, said Percy Williams wanted to be an entrepreneur, maybe get into the hospitality business and eventually find a way out of Ivy City. When Hall told Williams that he was accepted at a college in Louisiana on a scholarship but was nervous about going, Williams advised him to take the opportunity and leave Washington.
“Percy used to tell me, ‘I wish I had the opportunity like you to go to school, bro.’ He said, ‘You gotta go — you don’t got no choice. The streets and stuff are still going to be here,’ ” Hall recalled. “We were just trying to make it. He wanted to see everyone do better.”
Hall says that Williams was interested in fashion and always tried to keep up with the latest trends. As teens, they often hung out on neighborhood street corners, hosting cookouts, talking to friends and trying to avoid violence. When Williams saw young kids who wanted to buy food at a corner store, he would always throw a few dollars their way.
After his father died, Williams moved in with his older brother. More recently, friends said, he had been living with his girlfriend and helping to support her child.
“Percy took on the responsibilities of a man when he was 16,” Hall said. “He was far from selfish. He was the type of kid — they asked for $1 and he would give them $5.”
Sandra Robinson, Williams’s aunt, said her nephew was always smiling and joking, despite all he had to overcome in his short life.
“He was a wise, strong man that was just trying to survive,” Robinson said. “If the city doesn’t give young kids the opportunity to grow, these are the things that happen to people.”
Antwan Williams said that a funeral is scheduled for Oct. 30 at Upper Room Baptist Church in Northeast.
Peter Hermann, Jennifer Jenkins and Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.