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Williams values chance to share with young people

White Sox executive vice president takes part in special group discussion

CHICAGO -- Since being promoted to White Sox executive vice president at the end of October, after 12 years as the team's successful general manager, Ken Williams has found one noticeable difference.

"I sleep a lot better," said a smiling Williams, speaking to the media Tuesday following a Youth Guidance B.A.M. (Becoming a Man)--Sports Edition program with 12 male students between the ages of 16-18 from Hyde Park High School on Chicago's South Side.

The recently engaged Williams -- to CNN morning news anchor Zoraida Sambolin -- said he misses being "in the mix," and despite having more of a life, by his own admission, wants to find some balance to make sure he doesn't drive himself crazy. Part of that current lull felt by Williams inherently is built into the offseason, with nothing to presently scout for the organization as an example of part of his new responsibilities.

Past offseasons certainly weren't this quiet for the man who acquired 171 players over 72 trades.

"I'm used to having conversations with all the other general managers and, in some cases, owners and all of the various people that make up or compose your organization," Williams said. "Basically, I'm there for [new general manager Rick Hahn] and he reaches out often, but that's just a small part of the day. So, I've got to fill some other time some kind of way."

Williams and Chicago Bulls general manager Gar Forman supported the White Sox and Bulls partnership with Youth Guidance B.A.M. via Tuesday's special visit. They took part in a closed classroom discussion where the focus fell upon what the B.A.M. core value of self-determination meant to them on a personal and professional level.

Both teams joined with Youth Guidance, a violence prevention and educational enrichment program serving 500 students in 16 Chicago Public Schools, as part of the shared commitment to anti-violence initiatives among Chicago's youth. The discussion went so well that the group asked for an extra 10 minutes before inviting in the media for the conclusion, where two of the young men in the circle spoke of the positive affects the B.A.M. program has had on their lives.

"What a pleasure to get the opportunity to visit with them," said Forman of the morning program, representing part of this partnership in existence since early 2012. "To be part of that circle and to hear the determination that these kids have and where they are at and where they are headed, it was really a thrill for me to be involved.

"We are all constantly learning and growing. We talked about it when we were in the circle. Obviously, these young men are determined to make progress, and what they are doing both in school and with their personal lives, we can take from them also and learn.

"So, I was just impressed with how they were so open with some of the things they were going through," Forman said. "It was a lot of fun for me to get to share some of the experiences that I've had that may be helpful for them, and to even share some experiences I see with our players that they can grasp and use as they move forward. They obviously are affecting change. It's such a neat group."

These young men reminded Williams of his peer group at that age. He called sitting in the circle one of the most enjoyable experiences he's had, partly because it took Williams back to his youth.

"It also has taken me forward to the responsibility that I think I have at this point in my life and my career to make an impact and be there for some of these young men," Williams said. "As was expressed around our little circle, there are some real-life issues that many of them are dealing with, and to a much greater degree than I ever had to experience growing up.

"But a lot of them are very similar. I enjoyed it. It was very real and I look forward to becoming part of the program."

No clear-cut solution exists to magically stop the senseless violence among youth in Chicago or throughout the country. According to Williams, it's more about each individual doing his part. It's about accountability and responsibility, with no excuses.

"I've heard it all, and like I told them, I don't want to hear it. There are no excuses. You are either focused and determined to prepare yourself, or you are not," Williams said. "If you don't have expectations for your children or expectations for yourself to be better, if you don't have expectations on a daily basis that you just wake and make a conscious effort that 'Today, I'm going to do something that betters myself,' then you can't expect it to happen.

"Everyone is up against a lot of odds. I was up against them as well. You either try to push through them, or you don't. That's my message to them. It gets pretty real. But the kids were honest in their expressiveness and I was honest and Gar was honest and returned volley to them because they're checking in.

"They got to check in real, especially with these kids," Williams said. "They'll know you're not really there for them and it's just a game, and it's not a game. It's real."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin.
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