Arthurine Metcalf Williams grew tired of the crime, violence and a Clarksdale that wasn’t what she remembered.
There was too much crime, too many children leading rudderless lives with no direction and a generation being lost to gangs and mean streets.
But rather than just talk and wish things would get better, she decided to do something about it.
She sat in a chair in the lobby of Lyon Elementary School, preparing to begin an event for the school’s children. This would become the first in-school event for her nonprofit action group, Children’s Optimistic Outreach Network.
“We just started this organization on the first day of April, 2021,” she shared proudly.
“I’ve seen so much violence and problems going on with the young people,” she explained. “I’ve tried to find a way to reach out to them. And that way, I came up with this idea. Not just today, at this school, but also far beyond that.”
For Williams, making an impact is so important that it must go beyond having large events, even though those are important. “I bring children to my home and spend time with them and mentor them. We go to church with them and we welcome them.” Williams added that the group reaches out to children of all ages, and especially focuses on those from ages nine to 17. “Even the strong children are fragile and their lives can go in any direction,” she added.
So how did she choose the ways to connect with the children? “I wanted to meet the children where they were. And the way to do that is to listen.” That, she explained, is one of the most important things that she and her organization do. “A lot of children just need somebody to talk to. That is something we provide that these children might not get from anyone else.”
While the day’s event at Lyon Elementary was her first school event, it was not the first event for the still-new nonprofit group. At the beginning of the school year, Tony’s Barber Shop hosted a Big Brown Bag Back-to-school giveaway.
The children at the school received bags with items to help them stay healthy during the pandemic. Even those with whom she does not personally speak can see that someone cares about them, Williams believed.
At Lyon Elementary, one person had received lifelong mentoring and love from Williams. It was the other Mrs. Williams.
Amy Williams Burnett is the adult daughter of Arthurine. Teaching fourth and fifth grades at Lyon has given her the opportunity to mentor young people each day. Working for the sake of others has been the life’s calling for Burnett, who served in Iraq in 2003 with Operation Enduring Freedom and again years later in Afghanistan.
Burnett couldn’t be prouder of the work that her mom has launched. “It is amazing,” Burnett said of her mom’s work. “We come from a really big family, and so this community has been good to us and we really want to give back. God has been so good to us. With genuine love, we give back to other people. Generosity has been instilled in all of us, and there are a lot of us.”
When Burnett speaks of her large family, the Metcalf family of Clarksdale, it is no exaggeration. “My grandparents had ten children and one of them had eleven children, so we’re pretty much everywhere,” she said with a laugh.”
So, on this day, the children of Lyon Elementary got a double dose of mentoring from the Metcalf and Williams families. It was a day that both would remember and cherish.
In the short-term future, Williams plans additional events at elementary schools in the county. For the longer-term future, she is working to expand the scope of events to appeal to an even broader range of students and their interests.
“We hope to have a football camp with DeKaylin. We’re working on that.”
DeKaylin is better known as DK Metcalf, the NFL football superstar, an alum of Ole Miss, and the great-nephew of Williams. She hopes the appeal of her family member will attract the attention of young people to hear the message of direction and optimism.
“The ultimate goal is to give as many children as possible a sense of direction,” she added. “Having someone to talk to, and showing children the right way to think about themselves will help give them that direction.