Dear Friends of Fair Housing,
It is with tremendous sadness that I inform you that L.B. Williams, an actor and one of the Fair Housing Justice Center’s (FHJC) testers, passed away just over a week ago. L.B. was a talented performer and beloved friend. L.B. once said that, “Change takes a long time to happen. But it has to start somewhere.” He was part of starting a change through his more than 11 years of service as one of the FHJC’s first testers, including participating in a test alongside Norman Lear as part of the EPIX Original series America Divided.
There are many ways that the FHJC will honor L.B.’s life and work in the coming weeks, including at the 2017 Acting for Justice Awards on September 25, 2017. But to start, we present the following story, written based on an interview conducted with him on January 30, 2017, in memoriam of L.B. Williams. He is deeply missed by his many friends and colleagues at the FHJC.
Acting for Justice: L.B.’s Story
More than a decade ago, L.B. was looking for a job. An actor by trade, L.B. specifically wanted a job between gigs that had something to do with acting. That is when he learned about the opportunity to become a tester for the Fair Housing Justice Center’s (FHJC) Acting for Justice program. “It seemed like a good match,” L.B. reflected. “This job would allow me to express myself as an artist and as an actor. And I felt worthy at the end of the day.”
For eleven years, L.B. has done tests to uncover housing discrimination in the New York City region. Perhaps most notably, L.B. conducted a test with TV legend Norman Lear as part of the EPIX Original docu-series America Divided. “You never quite know exactly what you are getting into,” he said. According to L.B., every test is different because every person is different. He never knows going into a test if the housing provider he will meet is having a good day or bad day, if the person will be available to meet or not, or if the person is likeable or not. “You never know who or what you will encounter,” L.B. said.
During some of L.B.’s tests, he was discriminated against because he is African American. However according to L.B., his testing experience has been almost like a two-sided coin – at times saddening and at others uplifting. “Sometimes you see people at their worst, but sometimes you see people at their best,” L.B. explained. “It is always encouraging when there is no bad outcome, no discriminatory behavior uncovered in a test. It gives me a sense of hope for mankind.”
However, part of the reason why L.B. has been a tester for so long is because of all the work that still needs to be done to eliminate housing discrimination. “It sort of saddens me that we are still dealing with the same old ‘isms,'” L.B. noted. “You would think that would have been behind us by this point.”