Video: Celebrating Preston and Connie Williams

November 4, 2021
Preston and Connie Williams
Preston and Connie Williams
On November 4, 2021, the HDS community celebrated Preston and Connie Williams for their distinguished legacy of service, leadership, and partnership with the Harvard Divinity School and broader Harvard communities.


In honor of their legacy, we celebrated the renaming of Andover Chapel to the Preston N. Williams Chapel and the establishment of the Constance W. and Preston N. Williams Scholarship Fund. Befitting Preston’s life and influential HDS career, the chapel has been a center of spiritual life at HDS for more than a century. To honor Preston and Connie’s legacy of fostering opportunity for students of all races, genders, and backgrounds for more than 50 years, the fund will support HDS students actively working toward belonging and inclusion, including anti-racism work, through their studies and experiences.

Full transcript:


SPEAKER 1: Good afternoon. That's not bad for a Harvard reply. Let's try that a little better. Good afternoon. Great to see everyone. I just want to inform all of you that I'm 14 feet away from you, at least. I am triple vaccinated. And in addition, I've been recently tested. So you're not under any great risk at all. And I just want to take an opportunity to note this day, which is so special. So special that I've come out in full clergy regalia, which, as those who know me, I try to avoid as much as possible.

But this really is a special day, one on which we have an opportunity just to say Thanks to Jim and Susan Swartz for making this building, which holds so many memories for so many of us, even more beautiful and open and accessible and inviting in its second century than it was in its first. But it's especially an important time to say how much we are blessed and thankful for the honored couple, the Williamses and what they've meant to countless thousands of clergy and laypeople from many traditions and especially, my own Christian tradition.

So I need your help in praying this prayer would you just say we are glad. That's not bad either. A little raggedy. But let's try one more time. We are glad.

AUDIENCE: We are glad.

SPEAKER 1: All right. This is the day that God has made, and we are glad and rejoice in it. Glad that in a season of pandemic and political upheaval and polarization, we are here on a mission of community and celebration. We are glad, so glad that we know and love this divine dynamic duo, whose lives have so richly touched our own. We are glad about Doctor Constance, Connie Willard Williams, whose practice has brought healing hope and help to so many people, families, and relationships. Whose research and writing has given clarity and voice to the poor, the inhabitants of public housing, and Black teenage mothers, making their voices and lives flesh, making them living subjects, not abstract objects of study and pity and disdain.

And we are glad that along the way she found a way to reach out with love and encouragement to a young couple, Gloria and Ray, pursuing their unorthodox pathway to ministry. We are glad for the Reverend Dr. Preston Noah Williams for his many years as a teacher and bridge builder and reconciler, who first took his gifts and skills to famed HBCU's Johnson C. Smith and North Carolina Central and Lincoln universities and Knoxville college. Because his mission was to enlarge the possibilities of participation and higher education for non-white people.

For his years as a teacher of practitioners and scholars, especially those seeking to find insight into what it means, to lead a life of faith and love and justice, who responded to the police brutality laid bare in the Rodney King beating and the urban rebellions that followed by founding a summer leadership institute to better equip pastors and churches to serve the present age. We are glad. So God, hear our joy. Hear our hope. And hear our commitment to passing on the legacy and love of Connie and Preston Williams to generations yet unborn. This is the day that you have made. And we are glad.

AUDIENCE: We are glad.

SPEAKER 1: And together we say, Amen.


SPEAKER 2: So I'm also 14 feet above contradiction. And thank you, Ray, for those beautiful, inspiring words of blessing. And it's a great joy for me, as Dean of the Divinity School, and a friend of our really wonderful guests of honor, that I welcome you all here today. Those in person in this beautiful chapel and those joining virtually to celebrate Connie and Preston Williams, where we are glad to be here.

We're here today to recognize two pillars of our community, who have supported the Divinity School and Harvard University for half a century. Preston began his career with Harvard after earning his PhD here in 1967. Scholar, professor, leader, social justice advocate, mentor of very, very many art enthusiasts, Preston has been a towering figure in the Divinity School's history. Since beginning his professorship here in 1971, he was the first tenured African-American faculty member at the school. And he went on to lead PhDs as acting Dean from 1974 to 1975, spending the year in [? Duart ?] house with Connie, David, and Mark. I think all the great improvements endured house were done in that year, actually.

Preston is also the founding director of Harvard's W.E.B Du Bois Research Institute, the nation's oldest Research Center dedicated to the study of the history, culture, and social institutions of Africans and African-Americans. In addition to many other well-earned accolades, Preston was awarded the Harvard medal in 2021 for devoting his life to working for social and racial justice and supporting belonging and inclusion of all scholars and students at Harvard University.

On a personal note, I've been the recipient of many short emails of encouragement from Preston Williams. When something that it was accomplished attracted his attention. He's a genuine encourager of others. I treasure these short, pithy, earnest and deeply supportive email messages. So Preston, thank you.

Connie is a renowned scholar, teacher, and leader in the fields of social work and public policy. As the associate professor emeritus at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis, Connie has an extensive background in direct practice public service and education. Connie earned her PhD at the Heller school and received an honorary doctor of Humane Letters degree from Curry College. She was also the founding director of the undergraduate Social work program at Boston University's Metropolitan College, served as the chief policy analyst and the Massachusetts governor's office of human resources, and authored a few books along the way.

But on a more personal note, Preston and Connie Williams have been married for 65 years.



We're in our 40s. To be in your 60s is kind of something. To share more of their wisdom on that very impressive feat, they could hold a course on family here at HDS. So that now all our relationships lasts for 65 years. [INAUDIBLE] Preston and Connie have dedicated their lives to working for educational excellence and social justice. For these reasons and many, many more, the new Constance W. and Preston N. Williams scholarship endowment fund has been established to support aids students actively working toward belonging and inclusion, including anti-racism work through their studies and experiences.

This fitting and lasting tribute honors both their commitment to community and their dedication to a more just and equitable future for all. Many of you have made gifts to the scholarship fund already. And we are deeply grateful. We welcome all gifts to the fund, including making it an annual tradition. You'll not be able to leave today without. One of the many gifts this wonderful renovation of our main campus building has inspired is the renaming of Andover Chapel. Now known as the Preston N. Williams chapel or Williams chapel, for short.

Befitting Preston's devotion to faith and inclusivity, the chapel has been a center of spiritual life at Harvard Divinity School for over 100 years, established in the Christian tradition and to serve many traditions and purposes. And more recent times, the annual Billings preaching competition final, the ecumenical noon service, a weekly gathering hosted by different student groups to pray, meditate, and engage in rituals across the schools many faiths and spiritual practices are the two of the very many events that traditionally take place in this chapel's sacred spaces.

It is also fitting that the Williams chapel shares a home with a new multi-faith space just down the hall, a Testament to our school's commitment to pluralism and diversity. One story I wanted to share with all of you this afternoon was when Louanne and I were able to tour the in-progress renovation of Swartz Hall and the Williams chapel with Connie and Preston. The building was very much still under construction. And we all donned hard hats and yellow vests to see the progress. Preston, apparently oblivious of personal safety, marched purposefully into every new space, touched all the wires, examined all the pipes, climbed all the stairs. And Connie tried to restrain him to no avail.


Seeing the building through Connie and Preston's eyes was a powerfully emotional moment. They noted that in their 50 years of being part of the Divinity School community, they never thought they would see the day when the building was transformed in such a beautiful way, especially for the benefit of our students for generations to come. And to have the chapel, this epicenter of the campus, named in honor of Preston, this was an inspired idea that started with Jim and Susan Swartz, is really a landmark moment in our schools history, truly a landmark moment.

So Preston and Connie, thank you for sharing your care, your love, and your wisdom with our school and with the world. May this place of gathering and worship forever represent your dedication to faith peace and justice, the values you have exemplified all your lives. We're very grateful to you. So I now invite Susan Swartz to share some reflections.


AUDIENCE: Preston has led a very full life and as many things to many people. Beloved Harvard professor for 50 years and always a leader in whatever he does. To me, Preston is a giant and the source of my commitment and connection to the Harvard Divinity School. We first met in the summer of 2004 at Martha's Vineyard. I was having a solo art exhibition at the Craven Gallery. And Connie and Preston decided to attend the opening that Sunday afternoon.

Preston read through my biography, took the time to read through my biography and my clippings, and took note of the fact that I put the initials, GTG, underneath the signature of each of my paintings. I explained to him that those initials meant glory to God. And all that I painted wanted to be an example of what God created on Earth.

So he spent some time talking about painting and spirituality. And I was touched by his interest. And then we went on to talk about other things. Sometimes, later that fall, I'm really not sure when, Preston called and wanted to know if I would be interested in exhibiting my work at the Divinity School, maybe spending an artist, a week as an artist and resident.

So after much prayer and contemplation, I accepted and spent a wonderful week in the spring of 2005. I was greatly impressed with my conversations with the students. I found they were motivated, compassionate, deeply engaged in the world, and really determined to make a difference in their life's work. It's also when I met Dean Bill Graham, who I enjoyed very much. And we had many discussions. And then the Dean eventually invited me to be part of the Dean's advisory Council. And here we are today.

I will be forever touched and grateful to Connie and Preston for the friendship and for their connection, connecting me to the Divinity School. I have become another in a long line of students and friends of Preston's, who lives have been touched and immeasurably altered by his constant leadership, keen insights, and a wonderful example of an active and engaged life well-lived. Naming this magnificently restored chapel in his name is the greatest gift I can imagine to give to this great man. Thank you, Preston.



SPEAKER 4: Good evening. What a pleasure to be here. It's been so many years since I've been back in the Divinity School and particularly, in this chapel. It's really, really lovely.

So I came to Preston and Connie as a student in Preston's class. He covered Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi's influence on the nonviolence movement, and the importance of the Black church as a driver for social change. At that time, the Divinity School and Black life at Harvard, in general, felt like it was in a bit of a heyday. There were many visible and luminary Black scholars and professors throughout the University. And among them Preston was a pillar, part of the bedrock on which they stood.

And I came to know Connie when they invited the graduate student group, Harambee, over for dinner. And they really spent time getting to know us. It was quite a special moment. I had since been invited back for Thanksgiving and Christmas and Easter dinners and over the years, had the pleasure of coming to know Mark and David and later Judy and [? Tren ?] and the grandchildren, [? Krupa ?] and [? Noah. ?] We have through the years, developed a bond, not only of mentor and friends, but very much like family.

When I think about the enduring works, the enduring deeds of Connie and Preston, I am continually struck by how they have this consistent ability to bring people together. This convening power. They've been around their dinner table and elsewhere convening, shepherding, strays like myself those new to Harvard or Boston are passing through for generations. Among the luminary scholars to whom I alluded earlier, many will tell you that at some time or another during their time here, they have sought the much needed guidance, support, wisdom, good humor, community around the dinner table with Connie and Preston. And the same can be said for generations of HDS students.

In sum, they have been and continue to be pillars, supporting, consistent, and load bearing through the years, part of the enduring architecture of HDS. They have created spaces where people have come together their entire lives. They have been stewards of intellectual and spiritual growth and social change. So how entirely fitting that the Andover Chapel should now be named for Preston and Connie Williams. In this physical manifestation that we have here. It's really the manifestation of the institution building that Connie and Preston have been doing all along all these years, the spiritually, culturally, and intellectually significant place, this place where people come together aptly and proudly bears the Williams' name. And the Constance W, and Preston N. Williams scholarship fund together with this chapel will ensure that this continues in perpetuity.

So thank you to the Williamses. And thank you to the Swartzes. To all of us here and the entire HDS community, this is truly a gift to all of us. Thank you.

SPEAKER 5: Good evening. It is truly an honor to return to Harvard Divinity School for this auspicious occasion. I would like to share with you what I learned from Preston working with him on this summer Leadership Institute.

After enrolling at HDS in 1992, I presented to Preston an idea for a summer program focused on community and economic development for clergy and faith based practitioners. Preston approved of the idea. I would later learn from fellow students that Preston was known as the Godfather of the Divinity School. And if he gave a thumbs down to an idea, it was dead on arrival. So I was delighted when he approved of the summer Leadership Institute, in theory. In theory.

A lot of people have ideas. And they go nowhere. But I'm going to tell you, this was the beginning of a wonderful initiative called the Harvard Divinity School's summer Leadership Institute or the SLI. Working with Preston, I learned that he is an institution builder, methodical, systematic, strategic, and determined to be successful. I gleaned from working with Preston that there were several key elements required to maximize the likelihood that the SLI would be successful.

We had to have a clear and compelling vision of the SLI that resonated with others. Preston mobilized and accessed resources securing funding from Chase Bank, the Ford Foundation, the Lilly Endowment, and more. He cultivated relationships with a coherent network of leaders from across religions denominations and around the world. We had to have a program with a value added proposition that consisted of a high quality interdisciplinary program that pulled in top thinkers, leading clergy, renowned professors, and business and community leaders. Preston ensured that we had a reliable target of participants by working with denominational leaders to recruit and enroll congregants and other participants. Preston made sure that there was an identifiable impactful unifying ethos that imbued the slide, which reflected the history, character, pride, hope, and spirit of the Black church.

In addition to being a theologian and a scholar, I learned that Preston is also a Master fundraiser and organizer. Under his supervision, we organized and hosted the Black church summit, developed the Black church community, and economic development video series, created the SLI curriculum, wrote the first set of Harvard Business School style case studies focused on pastors, and implemented the summer Leadership Institute.

Preston made sure that SLI participation was inclusive and diverse, yet rooted in the African-American religious experience. Preston was and is unapologetically Christian, unapologetically committed to the Black church, and unapologetically a believer in the beloved community. I had so much more to say today. But I was told I had to limit it to three minutes. That was very hard. But I'm going to do it, Preston and Connie. I love you with all of my heart. And I am eternally grateful for your presence in my life and the life of my beloved husband, Reverend Dr. Fred Lucas and our daughter, Frederica. Thank you.


SPEAKER 6: I've been so moved by the speakers that went before me. I felt as if I'm shrinking except for the support and love that I've received at Harvard Divinity School and particularly, by the guidance of Preston and Constance, the doctors, Williams. It's a [? signal ?] honor to pay tribute to two of the best people I know. I'm happy that this chapel will bear your name forever. I struggle with whether I should say in perpetuity or forever. But my grandson told me forever means the most, grandma. So the most.

For my husband, [? Carl, ?] and me, Preston and Connie are the embodiment of Galatians 5:22, of love and unselfish concern for others, of joy and inner peace, patience, not just the ability to wait. But how we act while we're waiting. They're the embodiment of kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. With God's love, they have invited us into their circle of godly loving kindness. And we are grateful they are our mentors in faith. And are examples in marriage, are examples in parenting, are examples in professionalism, and our examples as advocates for social and economic justice. They helped us craft a life, filling our Christian call for service to family, service to the public, and service to our beloved community.

So I'm one of those SLI kids. My SLI experience was both as a student and an instructor. Reverend Mark [INAUDIBLE] who is here today, invited me and introduced me to Doctor Williams, who invited me to apply. That put legs on my vision. By God's grace, the CDC at West Angeles that I started, has built provides housing for more than 1,000 families. It has assisted.


Over 500 small and community businesses get started and survive. Violence is down 80% in all of the schools where we have peer mediation contracts. And there's so many more things that happened because they invited me to SLI.

In the SLI, I learned how to think about how to plan and how to achieve our mission, which was to increase social and economic justice to demonstrate compassion and alleviate poverty. And we did those things as a tangible expression of the kingdom of God, using the vehicle of community development. Thank you, [INAUDIBLE]

Simply put that's just livable wage jobs, decent affordable housing, and an atmosphere of peace, something we all want. I even had the courage, after my years of coming, to write a book called, Extra-- excuse me. Extraordinary Ministry In Ordinary Places. I wish I had the words to express how much I respect and honor you, all that you've done, and all that you are. My gratitude and love for you both is immeasurable. I'm thrilled at Harvard Divinity School and your friends, the Swartz, your friends that are here, those that are looking online all your supporters recognize your contribution by naming this chapel for you. Congratulations



(SINGING) I remember that the steel company canceled a picnic for all workers because white workers ordered segregation. You couldn't go to the swimming pools if you were an African. I lived in an integrated neighborhood. I went to integrated school, but my whole life was surrounded by racism. Hate can not drive out hate. Hate cannot drive out hate. Hate cannot drive hate. Only love can do that.

I grew up in the church. I decided at about 8 years of age that I was to go into the Ministry. And there was only one change in that. Instead of becoming a pastor, I got involved and colleges and universities.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Darkness can not drive out darkness. Only light can do that.

What we want is freedom. And freedom involves making choices. Now people don't always make the choices you would like for them to make. They go their own way. Their route is circuitous. But it's a [? right ?] [? room. ?] Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that.

Oh, hate cannot drive out hate. No, hate cannot drive out hate. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that. Only love can do that.



SPEAKER 7: My name is Cheryl Sanders. And it is a great honor for me to share a few reflections this afternoon celebrating Connie and Preston Williams on this wonderful occasion of the renaming of Andover Chapel to honor Preston's Harvard legacy.

In January of 1978, I transferred from a brief stint of part time study at Howard University School of Religion to begin my full time MDiv degree program studies at Harvard Divinity School. My introduction to New England winters commenced with the 28 inch snowfall of the great blizzard of '78.


Unlike the snows in my hometown of Washington D.C., this snow did not melt the next day, but gathered itself in great black piles that lasted until sometime in May. During those dreadful days, I met Professor Preston Williams. Without saying a word, he showed me that Black people could survive Harvard and New England winters. My first impression of him was that he would be trustworthy as an ally and a mentor.

Preston was present at everything, classes, faculty meetings, committee meetings, lectures, special events, receptions-- especially the receptions-- worship. He never just showed up. He came prepared for whatever the occasion was, always poised for full participation, never content to be a token observer, but pressing his way, diplomatically, to have a seat at the table with a strong voice of reason, insight, and advocacy.

As time went on and as I continued my studies in the PhD program, I grew in my appreciation of Preston as a trusted advisor. I trusted his advice, even if I did not always follow his advice. His invitation for me to become his teaching assistant opened more doors of opportunity and access. In 1984, he urged me to apply for the faculty opening and ethics at Howard. And he set a stellar example of presence, preparation, and participation in scholarly gatherings and societies to which he introduced me.

At any given meeting of the American Academy of religion or the Society of Christian Ethics, you can expect to see President Williams present and fully participating in the sessions, the plenaries, the caucuses, the parties in the exhibit area by books. Decades after his service ended as president of both of these societies, he continued in participation. Today, the renaming of this chapel brings back memories of Preston's presence and preparation and participation in corporate worship at HDS. And his ability to maintain a centered and enriched spiritual continuity in his scholarship in his teaching and in his mentoring and in the friendships. He cultivated in this space that is now honored to bear his name.

Preston has been richly blessed to have Connie as a cherished partner in multiple arenas of social, civic, and professional life that have brought such great distinction to what it means to do life together as a couple. I salute both of you, Connie and Preston, for the vibrant legacy of spiritual and scholarly vocation you have brought to light at HDS and beyond. May the Williams' name in this chapel reverberate in blessing for all who gather here to experience the power of prayer. And as they worship, may they be embraced with waves of restoration and renewal. Thank you so much for all you have done.


SPEAKER 8: I'm Robin Lovin. And as I looked at the program and all those initials and dates, I realized that it was 50 years ago that I graduated from the Divinity School for the first time in what I am now proud to call the Williams chapel. And I can't think of a better way to celebrate that anniversary than to be here with Preston and Connie, especially because I returned to Harvard a few years later as a graduate student and became a research assistant and teaching assistant with Preston starting in the fall of 1974, the beginning of a relationship with both Preston and Connie that has continued to the present, though the setting has changed from a little office under the eaves in what I'm now proud to call Swartz Hall to their home on Martha's Vineyard, where I've enjoyed their hospitality in recent years.

On the vineyard, Preston still maintains a working routine, which includes writing sermons, attending community events, and mastery of the 24 hour news cycle. One thing that hasn't changed since I was a graduate student is that I always leave a visit with him more aware of what's going on in the world than I was when I arrived. It did occur to me after my most recent visit, though, that with all the news programs and other things we've watched over the years, I don't ever recall watching a sporting event with Preston.


But then I realized almost immediately that Preston's favorite sport is politics.

Now when I say politics, I don't mean primarily the polarized media circus that we all watch these days. That's part of it, of course. That's part of politics. But when I say that politics is Preston's favorite sport, I mean what Max Weber called slow, boring through hard boards, by which human communities at all levels find ways to structure their lives together, whether those communities are churches or town meetings or corporations or Divinity School faculties.

Preston is a keen observer of politics in all of these settings. And he teaches those of us who've been his students in so many different ways to observe and understand the politics that we have to deal with in the places where we are. He helps us see connections between the small events and the little things that occupy most people's time and attention and the big questions that get raised in places like divinity schools, and church meetings, and chapels like this one.

And when the opportunity presents itself, Preston will take a turn at the slow boring through hard boards himself. Preston has devoted himself to bringing other people into the kind of politics by which we create meaning and opportunities, in places where we find ourselves. We've seen this most visibly in the summer Leadership Institute. But those of us who've worked with Preston as students and colleagues have experienced in our own lives, in our own ways.

When I finished my PhD program, I not only knew the scholarship that went into my dissertation, I knew how academic institutions work. And I had been introduced to the leaders in my discipline. I want to give Harvard Divinity School credit for bringing a steady stream of those leaders through these halls. But it was Preston who made the introductions when they were there.

Above all, Preston and Connie understand hospitality. We've heard this from so many people today. Preston and Connie understand hospitality. And that hospitality is not just about opening doors, but making you feel like once you come through that door, you belong there. Part of that is making sure you can give full attention to what's happening in that place, that you're not distracted by other problems, whether that's making sure that somebody is there to meet you when the ferry docks at the vineyard or making sure that you have enough money to pay attention to your studies instead of working an extra shift at Starbucks to pay the rent.

And that's why it's important that our honoring of Preston and Connie today includes not just the naming of this chapel, but the establishment of a scholarship fund for future generations of students, who will learn this kind of politics at the Divinity School. Nobody understands better than Preston and Connie how to say, you belong here, whether that's in the words of a sermon or a lecture or in the financial arrangements that make this extraordinary experience possible for everybody who can use it. Let's hope and pray that we've learned these lessons from Preston and Connie well enough to share them.


SPEAKER 1: I stand here humbled with gratitude and love and all that are here gathered today, I thank. I thank my parents. I thank my family, Judy and Noah, and the Swartzs, and Dean Hempton, Lori and Nancy and Sue and the HDS team that is always supportive and that's made things happen, amazing things happen.

So what is in the name? When I was at Harvard, my freshman dorm was Greenough. Greenough was named after Chester Noyes Greenough, a former professor and acting Dean of Harvard, who presided over the infamous secret court of 1920 that led to the expulsion of eight students on charges of homosexual activity. In sophomore year I moved to Quincy House, where occasionally I would walk down to Mather House, where my dad was an associate to meet him for dinner. Mather House, named after Increase Mather, who was awarded an honorary doctor of sacred theology from Harvard and later became Harvard's president, but today is perhaps most recognized as the father of Cotton Mather, a central figure in Ibram X. Kendi's Stamped from the Beginning.

In 2020, President Bacow formed the committee to articulate principles on renaming. And said, I would like this committee to articulate the general principles to help determine when the names of such historical figures should or should not continue to be associated with Harvard buildings spaces, professorships programs, and other named objects.

So what is in a name? Noah McCray was born in Alcolu, South Carolina in 1864. And he beget a daughter, Laura Bertha McCray. Bertha McCray married Anderson James Williams, who was listed in a 1930 census as a shear helper in the steel Mills. Anderson beget two sons. The first was Anderson James Williams, and the second was Preston Noah Williams. Both born in Alcolu, South Carolina and due to the boll weevil, raised in Homestead, Pennsylvania, where their father had gone to work in steel.

Patrick Henry Higginbotham, born in 1874, married Tiny Ledwell, and beget Jesse Rosetta Higginbotham, who married the son of Mary Susan Willard, Wilson Howard Willard. Wilson was listed in a 1940 census as a brakeman in the coal industry. He and Jessie Willard begat five children. And the third daughter was Constance Marie Willard.

Constance Marie Willard married Preston Noah Williams in 1956. They arrived in Cambridge in 1961, when my father became a PhD student at Harvard. In 1971, when my father was named the Houghton Professor of Theology and Contemporary Change, my parents had already formed deep roots in the greater Boston community.

This West Virginian daughter of a coal miner and the son of the great migration were uniquely positioned to help students and faculty of color form networks and navigate a city, often in racial turmoil on a campus steeped with an intimidating and venerable history and buildings that bore the names of individuals misaligned to present day values. On campus and even more importantly, at my mother's dinner table, were cakes and pies and warm cooked meals, welcome all members of the Harvard community, in cakes and pies, were provided a space of grace and a sense of belonging at Harvard through my parents' warmth.

Preston and Connie provided empathy, support, mentoring, and guidance to a generation of students and faculty at Harvard. So this name, the Preston and Williams chapel, will stand the test of time. It is fitting that the Constance W. and Preston N. Williams scholarship has been established. And we are proud on this day that God made.


SPEAKER: This is a little strange. I've become very good at Zoom. And let's see how I do in person. So our family has had a long association with this community, the Divinity School and this little section of Cambridge, which is very close to where we grew up and our very early childhood days after moving to Massachusetts from Pennsylvania.

So when you talk about what's in a name, apparently, this neighborhood is known as the Agassiz neighborhood, which was named for Louis Agassiz, whose reputation was tarnished because his views on scientific racism. And interestingly, it was renamed for a woman named Maria Baldwin, who was the first African-American principal of a school, which happened to be the Agassiz school. So the city of Cambridge actually changed the name of this area to Baldwin. And the name of the school had been changed quite a few years earlier.

But an interesting fact and digression. But we grew up in on Holden Green, which is right around the corner. And it's a very compact little neighborhood for graduate student housing. And it was a great place to grow up. And we have some of our earliest childhood memories from living there. And I remember my mom taking us over to the Divinity School and looking right over there, through the window, and seeing my father in his carrel at Andover library, where he spent a tremendous amount of time and had a stock answer for not participating in any of our childhood activities, which was wait until I finished my PhD.


And we were like, what's a PhD? And why can't you come to the birthday party? But we got over it and had a lot of fun living here. It was a very different neighborhood at the time because Somerville wasn't quite the fancy New Brookline that it's become today. It was a gritty, working class neighborhood. And the wine and cheese cask was an Esso station, the tapas restaurant Dali was an old style drugstore. You get the idea. It wasn't like it was. And we were sort of right on the edge of that neighborhood. And also, on the edge of this very leafy, fancy kind of suburban part of Cambridge that was populated by a number of famous Harvard and non-Harvard fancy Cambridgian luminaries, like Julia Child and John Kenneth Galbraith and E.E. Cummings and Daniel Patrick Moynihan and on and on.

And so it was a fancy neighborhood, but we were in Holden Green, not quite as fancy. I looked on the Harvard Housing website. And they described it as a complex that was a park like atmosphere in a historic neighborhood bordering the Cambridge Somerville line. And it said the complex contains 104 apartments, some of which are two level townhomes. And I didn't know we lived in a town home. It was more like a row house. But that's how it was described.


And but it was we really had a close physical connection to this area, which makes this tribute even more meaningful, given all the rich childhood memories and familiarity we have with the place on a physical and spiritual level. So it's very special to sort of be coming home in a fashion. And when my father graduated from Harvard, we did have a brief period where we had almost no connection to the neighborhood, physically, and not a direct connection to the Divinity School because we moved to Belmont. And he worked at Boston University, took his first job there as a professor. And that would soon change. But we were away from all of this for a few years.

And then he received an offer to join the faculty here, which was in 1971. And it was not very long after a very turbulent time in this country. And the parallels to today are interesting because in those days, clearly '68 and '69 you had the Vietnam War was very divisive and really divided the country on class lines. You had the King assassination, which led to urban unrest, racial violence. You had the Democratic Convention later that summer, which was televised and all of that, was in people's living rooms. And people were really concerned about the direction of the country.

And I think it may have been more divisive in those days than it was even today. And so that was the backdrop when my father came to Harvard. And I think they even had unrest here at Harvard. There was an occupation of University Hall and demands tacked up on Nathan Hughes's door, one of which was to eliminate ROTC and have African-American studies and so forth. But it was a very turbulent time. And it wasn't. There was no such thing as diversity and inclusion and all that kind of stuff.

But my dad was sort of an early pioneer. And when my parents came here, they frankly did a lot to make students of color and all students, frankly, very welcome and really provided generations and generations of people with hospitality, as Robin spoke of, and a safe place to go. And somebody to talk to. So like good philanthropists, good educators, touched generations and generations of people.

And while my father was here, he had many, many milestones beyond his initial hiring. I recall when he made tenure. He was given an endowed chair. He served as acting Dean. We lived in Jewett house. And there was the summer leadership and Institute the portrait in the Braun Room and finally the Harvard medal.

So and then this is the ultimate honor, in terms of a long litany of successes. So to have this chapel and the scholarship is really, really great. And I just want to thank everybody. We are deeply honored and grateful to have this lasting tribute to my parents' legacies and a very special place, which we have a special connection to. And I'd like to thank Nancy Byrne and Lori Stevens for organizing all of this, Dean Hempton for being so welcoming over the years, the Houghtons, who I don't believe are here, and of course, Susan and Jim Swartz for their great philanthropy and this wonderful honor. So thank you all very much.




SPEAKER: This mic is just right for me. It was too low for some people.


I don't have my glasses. I think they're in my coat pocket. But I think I'm fine. A small group of family and friends are here in this chapel with us. And many, many more are watching online. We welcome all of you and feel your spirit and your warmth, even though you may be watching remotely. We know that you are with us. And we welcome you, also.

Thank you, Dean Hempton and Lou-Ann for your warmth, friendship, and leadership. We value that very much. And it's enriched our lives. Thank you, Susan and Jim and Dean Hempton for naming this chapel for Preston Williams and for the creation of the scholarship fund, which has had many people contribute to it over the last five or six months. We are very grateful. And we feel honored that these two tributes are being given to us.

So I am filled with gratitude and joy today for this and for our whole career that we have spent here. Jim and Susan, we appreciate your generosity and commitment to Harvard Divinity School. And more than anything, Susan, we appreciate your vision and your eye for beauty, for creating spaces that are not only useful, but beautiful. That is a wonderful gift.

I want to thank the musicians here today, Chris Ed, Charles, and Teddy. The music has just been uplifting, soul filling, and wonderful. Charles, we especially thank you for composing the a hymn for this occasion. It's meaningful and beautiful. And it was wonderful to hear it for the first time. And I want to hear it again. So we'll have to make sure that Teddy, a good baritone, and you are around and we have the right pianist, so that we can hear it again.

We owe a special thanks to the staff at the Divinity School. You have worked tirelessly and with such good cheer. It's not easy to plan for an event like this, when you have COVID in the background. You have a limited number of people who can be invited. And it's very difficult. But they kept a smile through it all and were wonderful communicators. Nancy, [? Susanna, ?] Laurie, Amy, Sue, Joan, [? Megan, ?] Bob, [? Kardina, ?] [? Kieran ?] [? Maloney. ?] I hope I haven't missed anyone. I'm sure there are others who also joined in to make this day possible.

We thank you. And this has been a wonderful afternoon. It will stay with us for a very long time. And I'm now going to have the man of the hour come up and have the last word.


SPEAKER 2: Take your mask off.

SPEAKER: This is a great day for Connie and me and our family. It is a day that I never imagined. I am thankful for the honor bestowed upon us by Susan and Jim Swartz and the Harvard Divinity School under the leadership of Dean David Hempton. I met the Swartzes when I was invited to their home to participate in the Ministry. Their ministry are supporting fledgling social justice causes and organizations.

Jim uses his skill as a venture capitalist to find and help grow social justice institutions, as well as successful corporations. One such venture for example is the Equal Justice Initiative led by Bryan Stevenson. Susan not only collaborates on these projects, she has her own. In the summer, her inspirational gathering features a speaker, conversations, reflection, and fellowship over lunch. Participants can leave, often leave with a book for readings and further reflection.

I was motivated to participate in conversations with friends and new acquaintances. I often walk through the Schwartz's home to admire the paintings, everything from a still life of a bird to Aspen woodland landscapes, lilies and ponds, vivid intensive colorful abstract paintings. Susan's walls are full of beauty.

There was an inscription in the lower right of Susan's paintings that I could not fully understand. When during an exhibition, I asked Susan about the inscription, she informed me that had it meant to the glory of God and that all of her art is to the glory of God. It was in her home that I began to understand her commitment to philanthropy and social justice, the depth of her faith, and her love of nature. My own interest in the relation of religion in the arts, as well as that of some faculty and students at Harvard Divinity School, led me to ask Susan if she was willing to share her knowledge and love of painting with the Divinity School community.

Susan consented. I asked Dean Graham to invite Susan to lecture and hold an exhibit at Harvard. The exhibition, the lecture, the Susan Shallcross Swartz chair, the marvelously renovated Swartz Hall, and much more followed. Susan, Jim, I am grateful that you include the Harvard Divinity School, Connie, and me in your Christian ministry.

On this extraordinary occasion, I thank, also, my family, my students, faculty and staff, colleagues, friends, and all who have joined in the celebration with their support and help over the many years. I thank James Farmer for soliciting funds for the social, for Summer Leadership Institute from General Motors. I recognize the heavy lifting done by those who, over 50 years ago, persuaded the Harvard Divinity School to create the position I was chosen to fill.

Among the activists who brought change was Craig Lewis, [INAUDIBLE] Harvey Cox, and the late James Washington, and Christopher [? Mateta. ?]

My relationship with students beyond the Divinity School was centered in [? Mather ?] house, where I was, for many years, an associate. Sandra [? Nordoff, ?] former House Master, Dean, and her husband, Lee, are honored at Mather by an art gallery. They, together with the Harvard Foundation under the leadership of the late [? Alan ?] [? Counter ?] and [? David ?] [? Evans, ?] created the portrait project that commissioned [? Steve ?] [? Coyte ?] to paint my portrait.

I cannot overstate my joy that all these persons have acted to make my ministry fruitful. This chapel, which bears my name, and the scholarship fund in honor of Constance and me will enable many others to fulfill their vocations. I hope the chapel will be a sacred space, where people can encounter the God beyond all gods and unite across boundaries and diversity to create the beloved community. I hope the scholarship fund will aid many to fulfill their vocation of service to others.

This moment is one of the most meaningful in my life because it links Connie and me to the mission of one of the world's greatest universities and its original purpose, the education of a learned clergy. Thank you, Dean Hempton and the Harvard Divinity School. Thank you, Susan. Thank you, Jim.


SPEAKER: I want to thank everyone who took part today and just these wonderful tributes that were paid to Preston and Connie. And the testimony of a cloud of Witnesses does not lie, especially your own children and your academic children. The words we've heard today, I think, operated around affection, hospitality, generosity, wisdom, determination, integrity, love, inclusivity, warmth, and unrelenting commitment to justice and goodness. And I think above all, a deep sense of appreciation. You two really are the best of the best.

So while words cannot fully reflect the legacy you've created with your lives, Preston and Connie, we wanted you to know how much your leadership means to our community. So I have a little gift to present to you. It's a gratitude book with letters from students, friends, and family as a way of sharing our appreciation for all you've done and continue to do to teach us that a more just world is possible. So thank you so much. This is a desk copy that I have.



You can certainly open it. Or why don't you just look at this one. And you can keep the nice box for later because this is what's inside it.

SPEAKER 2: All right, thank you.

SPEAKER: What these photos and letters and this beautiful book show is it Preston and Connie are very often at the center of other people's lives and affections without ever attracting attention to themselves. And that's a gift. So thank you so much.


So thanks, everyone, for coming together today to celebrate Preston and Connie, weather here, in person, or over the airwaves. And thanks to everyone who spoke and played and sang. And thanks, especially, to everyone who planned behind the scenes and participated. We're really grateful. So thank you.