Photo by Jarrad Henderson
The year was 1986. Horatio Williams recently graduated from Osborn High School in Detroit and was a rising college basketball star at Tuskegee University. His dream was to shine in the NBA. He wanted to bask in the perks of going pro: being famous and signing autographs. Williams was well on his way until a car hit him while riding his bicycle, which put him in a coma for three days. And just like that, game over. Except the accident, which ultimately ended his pro ball dreams, turned out to be a masked blessing.
"I was a good ball player. I think I had the drive and the work ethic to make it," says Williams. "After the accident, I just couldn't do the things I used to do. I couldn't jump like I used to jump because I broke my tibia and fibula bone. Then I came to the reality that I wouldn't be able to perform on that level. What was next? I asked God 'what was next?'"
During his recovery, Williams got an answer. He was unable to walk for four months then spent the next five months in therapy. He says he couldn't afford a car so he relied on non-emergency medical transportation to take him three times a week. That's where he met his mentor Sanders Dorsey, a lawyer and owner of No Wait Non-Emergency Medical Transportation-the man who literally and metaphorically got Williams' life moving again.
Once Williams recovered, Dorsey gave him a job as his aid. Although Williams was pursuing a career as an accountant at the time, the seed Dorsey planted in him found fertile ground and a love for helping people soon blossomed.
"I was going to court with him and running errands. I was driving him around to wherever he needed to go. I was making sure he had what he needed for the transportation company. I was just his right hand. Whatever he needed I was there," says Williams. "He gave me a different look at life. He was in a wheelchair and he didn't let anything stop him. He didn't let anything hold him back and it just inspired me."
After 2 1/2 years of working with Dorsey, No Wait Non-Emergency Medical Transportation went under. But vital parts were salvaged, much like a gift of life.
"He just gave me a van and a car and told me to see what I could do. He had a few clients left over and I was off and running from there," says Williams reminiscing his start in '91. "I started picking people up and being able to help people and it just grew. I started off with 6 clients and by the end of my first year I had almost 27."
The transportation business
Now with 16 transportation units, 13 employees and a nice batch of regulars and newcomers, Williams' business is in full flight. On Time Plus Transportation, a 24-hour non-emergency medical transportation company is very similar to Williams' mentor's company, just targeted to a different market.
"He was targeting state business and I did my research and I targeted workers compensation and auto accidents," says Williams who works with various auto insurances and the city of Detroit.
"We have a revolving door of clients. It all varies. If someone gets hurt in a bus accident, that's the city of Detroit. They'll call us to pick them up. If you have AAA insurance and someone ran into you and you hurt your back, they will call us and say a young lady needs to be picked up. She's going to therapy three times a week for three months or four months."
Williams and his team don't just pick up and drop off, but also build relationships over time. Even though Williams isn't doing most of the transporting, he still likes to check up on some of his clients.
"I talk to some of my clients and see how the service is going. I've been doing it so long that if I don't see a client on the schedule I ask what's going on? 'What's going on with Mike Johnson? I don't see him on the schedule. I know he goes about three or four times a week,'" says Williams. "And my manager will tell me that he's on vacation or the doctor's not in or he got to go to a different doctor's appointment."
He says instead of "signing autographs," which is something he probably would be doing right now if it weren't for the accident, "I can sign checks and help people provide for their families."
"That's really what drew me to it. It wasn't the money part; it was the fact that I was able to help people provide for their families," says Williams.
Molding future leaders
"Everything I try to do, I do it with my heart," says Williams. "I'm just not going to jump into something because there is a financial benefit. If my heart is not in it, I'm not in it."
Williams says his heart was in giving opportunities to children. It started in 2000 with Butzel Middle School, five years before his foundation was established. The middle school was where Williams got his start in sports so he decided to invest in the gym which included a new score clock, new hoops and rims, and new bleachers. He also fed and clothed some of the students who were in need.
"My mentor was a good-hearted person. He always wanted to help people. That was my passion too," says Williams. "If God put me in a position where I could help then I was going to help. I think that's just our duty in life, to give back and help the unprivileged people and see if they can prosper too."
After the successes at Butzel, Williams decided to create the Horatio Williams Foundation, at the former Wayne County Medical Society building, in order to touch the lives of as many students as he could. The non-profit organization has a variety of programs under the two categories: leadership and sports.
The leadership programs include a variety of programs like ACT and SAT test preparation, chess, tutoring, dance, jazz and life skills for middle school students going to high school.
"I'm big on education. The facility doesn't have a gym or nothing like that. I just want to focus just on their education. If I can help them that way I can help them in the long run," says Williams. "That's what I tell all my athletes. If you go to the NBA, you are only there five or six years. If you go to the NFL, you're only there three or four years and you are still in your 20s. Life just began. What are you going to do now? So I try to be honest with them. Let them know the truth and just go from there."
Williams may not be shooting b-ball on the court anymore, but he is definitely on the sidelines rooting for those who do. The organization has sports programs like the Second Chance Game where athletes who weren't necessarily star athletes in high school can show their talents to coaches and scouts for scholarships. He also has a two-week basketball camp during the summer that's free.
"All the programs are my favorite to me because I see all the results in the kids. I have kids who are 9 and 10. When I see them come into the building, they are happy about going to chess or going to the tutoring or the life skills program," says Williams. "That just brightens my day up. They have a safe haven in the community where they can come and be a part of something. They are out of the house. They are not in front of the TV playing Xbox."
As a treat he takes all of his students to Cedar Point every summer. This time he is taking 500 students. Williams says his goal is simple to "build some leaders."
If it weren't for his accident, Williams would probably have had a successful basketball career. But that life is no longer his dream. Williams says many athletes have no direction after the court cools down for them. Many go bankrupt and some of the players, who are stable, didn't give back.
"The life I'm living now is a dream. I just thank God that he put me in this position and blessed me to meet someone like Sanders," says Williams. "Now I can give these other kids opportunities. I love what I'm doing. It's the best thing that I could have done in my life. I wouldn't change what I'm doing now for nothing in the world."