Most journalists are far more accustomed to reporting the news than being a newsmaker.
Vernon A. Williams, an IUPUI communications and community engagement strategist as well as a veteran print and broadcast journalist, was placed in that unusual position when put under the studio lights as part of the current exhibition "SONS: Seeing the Modern African American Male," which shows through Oct. 31 at the Indianapolis Central Library.
Williams' likeness is among 30 color portraits by Charlotte, North Carolina, photographer Jerry Taliaferro. Williams and Michael R. Twyman represent IUPUI in stoic imagery. IUPUI alumni Gary Gee of the Herron School of Art and Design; Lacy Johnson of the McKinney School of Law; and Vop Osili, who is on the IUPUI Board of Advisors, are featured in the show, too.
"Reflecting on my years of covering the news, you grow accustomed to journalism being a thankless profession," said Williams with a laugh during a recent visit to "SONS." "You're not used to people taking the time to say anything unless they are upset or take issue with a story. So the 'SONS' recognition is a rare and humbling acknowledgment."
The show is part of a series Taliaferro is conducting around the country. Previous "SONS" exhibits showcased African-American men of multiple generations in Baltimore; New York; and Jackson, Mississippi. All of the shows, including the one in Indianapolis, featured 30 men who were nominated by fellow community members. The Indianapolis Central Library edition saw 60 total nominations.
The color portraits reside in a gallery space, while some black-and-white shots are in the library's lobby. Video interviews were posted on the subjects as part of the show. Twyman, an adjunct faculty member in the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, was delighted to find his name under a promotional sign reading "I am a philanthropist."
The teaching side of Twyman's philanthropic career is something he cherishes.
"I learn so much more from my students than what I could ever impart to them," Twyman said. "We're always teaching each other. I enjoy having the classroom as a laboratory for just the generation of ideas and solutions around how we can be more responsive to community needs."
While teaching his current courses -- Race, Social Justice and Philanthropy as well as Diversity and Culturally Responsive Philanthropy -- Twyman has cultivated an impressive career in Indianapolis. He is the owner of InExcelsis, a private consulting firm that works with companies to maximize performance, and is the founding Indiana director for the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust, where he managed a multimillion-dollar grant portfolio. Twyman was honored for his work with the trust in the form of the Dr. Michael R. Twyman Endowment Fund with the Indianapolis Marion County Library Foundation.
"It's full-circle," said Twyman regarding the familiar venue that is hosting "SONS." "A lot of the work I support here is trying to provide access to underrepresented communities in Indianapolis so they can take advantage of the wonderful programs and services that are here at the central library and all of the neighborhood branches."
One of Michael Twyman's latest projects is bringing the Barbershop Books program to Indianapolis barbershops that cater to black men and boys. The goal is for the generations to bond over reading while visiting the barbershop.
As the first black reporter for the Gary Post-Tribune, Williams broke barriers and news. His decade at the daily -- along with years in radio broadcasting -- built a foundation for a career that flourished at IUPUI.
Williams found his niche in the Office of Community Engagement.
"It was a natural progression in my career since I have been seriously involved in community service since high school," Williams said.
Williams' decades of volunteerism were fueled by his wealth of contacts, ideas and faith. Helping people through mentoring, scholarships, communications expertise or just meeting people at their needs is his primary passion.
"To whom much is given, much is expected. I believe my life and career have been blessed so I can be in a position to bless others," Williams explained. "You work without expectation or anything reciprocal -- just fulfill a need. You don't wait for cameras or spotlights or stages or plaques. You just do it."
Save the date
Vernon Williams' play, "Price of Progress," will run Jan. 29 and 30 at the Campus Center Theater. The Jan. 29 show is for IUPUI students, staff and faculty members, and the Jan. 30 event is open to the community.
In the Office of Community Engagement, Williams' desk has been busy during the 50th Anniversary year. An author of four books, he is putting the finishing touches on the script for a play to debut in January. The production is based on the 2010 Paul R. Mullins and Glenn S. White tome, "The Price of Progress," looking at the history of the cultural scene of Indiana Avenue before, during and after IUPUI's construction.
Williams is also on the organization team for the Black and Latino Alumni Networking Night, to be hosted Oct. 24 by the Diversity Enrichment and Achievement Program, IU Alumni Association, and the Indy chapter of the Neal-Marshall Alumni Club in the Campus Center. Another major project on his radar is the coordination of a statewide summit of African-American alumni of Indiana University, to take place Nov. 10 in Bloomington.
While his career was always meant to showcase others, Williams is proud to be a part of "SONS" and to be counted among outstanding Indianapolis men.
"To be on the side of 'Hey, we like your body of work. We think you've made a difference.' It's a very humbling experience," Williams said. "I view whatever I do as a manifestation of my godly assignment -- an effort to be 'kingdom-minded' in my approach to life."