LOOSE ENDS: Princeton resident Dwaine Williamson is an advocate for people in Princeton, and throughout Mercer County
By Pam Hersh
Nov 29, 2017
Dwaine Williamson's Alexander Hamilton-like background has led to him working as an attorney and advocate.
I sat at a capacity-filled McCarter Theatre auditorium on Sunday afternoon, Nov. 19, and absorbed the intellectually and emotionally jarring content of seven plays about Princeton's involvement with the institution of slavery.
Even though I felt depressed by my ignorance regarding Princeton’s past, I came away feeling upbeat about the value of a communal examination of the town’s history. The plays, part of the Princeton and Slavery Project, conveyed a clear message: building up one’s knowledge of the past, rather than ripping down all evidence of the past, might be an effective medicine for treating today’s cultural, social, and economic ills.
What further cheered me was that the message about the curative value of historical examination was one I had heard a few weeks earlier in a casual conversation, rather than a play script. The words of wisdom emanated from Princeton resident Dwaine Williamson, an attorney who is making his presence felt as a prominent community advocate in Princeton and throughout Mercer County.
In the past few years, I became acquainted with Williamson — a longtime resident of Griggs Farm where he and his wife, Trina, raised their son and two daughters — through his community service. He is an officer in the Princeton Community Democratic Organization, an alternate member of the Princeton Municipal Planning Board, and a member of the Advisory Board of the Witherspoon-Jackson Development Corporation.
A speaker at many local academic and civic events, Williamson caught my attention when he moderated the PCDO gubernatorial debate earlier this year. He became my friend in reality (as opposed to the virtual world of Facebook), when he was appointed this year to the board of Mercer County Community College, where I also serve as a trustee. At a recent MCCC meeting, he described himself as a “solutionist,” who finds lessons in history that guide him to find solutions to challenging situations in his professional and volunteer roles.
“Regarding solutions, I try to take a no-blame, evidenced-based and cost-effective way to solve problems," Williamson said. "This means doing an unbiased and thorough analysis of the situation that relies heavily on historical perspective, discussing it with interested parties and then coming up with an acceptable solution."
History, he said, is key to this process, and involves learning about, and respecting roots, the roots of the nation, the roots of one’s race, the roots of one’s family. “It informs good problem solving," Williamson said. "The knowledge of one’s past helps you move forward."
Williamson has an Alexander Hamilton-style past that has shaped and continues to shape his future as a progressive leader in the community. The 46-year-old attorney with his own law practice in Trenton, was born on the island of Jamaica, immigrated to Trenton with his mother and brothers, graduated from Trenton Central High School in 1989, graduated from Georgetown University in 1993. He was the first in his family to graduate college, and he became a naturalized United States Citizen in 1994.
In the midst of the challenges of growing up, financial struggles, the Trenton street life that for a while infected one of his siblings, he found intellectual stimulation and emotional solace by reading about history. Also, he said he had great support from the teachers at Trenton Central High School. It was there where he met Trina, a Kean University graduate, and who now teaches second grade in Trenton.
Being a real “history nerd” as a kid led him to believe in America and molded his determination to “defend and strengthen the principles on which this nation was founded.” Committed to teaching the benefits of connecting history to present-day issues, Williamson mentors teenagers within the Committed and Faithful Princetonians program of the Princeton YMCA. CFP is a mentoring initiative created in 2004 by Larry Spruill to help at-risk teens achieve academic, social, and personal goals and overcome obstacles in a safe and uplifting environment.
A recipient of the 2015 Committed and Faithful Princetonians Certificate of Achievement Award, Williamson teaches a CFP class every other Thursday. “We basically examine the racial and socio/economic history of the United States — how we ended up where we are today," he says. "There is no blaming, but rather examining and providing context, so kids do not just accept their situations as part of their fate, so they do not to go along with what they perceive as ‘normal’ for their socio-economic circumstances. I want to motivate them to take control of their future and adopt a positive vision.”
Williamson, who worked in finance before establishing his Trenton-based private law practice, said he believes that “law exists both to protect us and to provide us the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness rooted in the Declaration of Independence.” He prides himself on his ability to make the complexities of law easier to understand so that his clients can apply the laws to their own circumstances and assist them in achieving the American dream.
Looking at his past history, I conclude he will remain a presence in Princeton’s future.