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khalil williams, Brooklyn, COVID-19 Writers Project, C19WP, narratives, pandemic stories
Khalil Williams

Bronx native Khalil Williams is a 42-year-old custodian who has been living in Flatbush for one year. This new Brooklynite said he loves the diversity of his new borough.

Khalil, or Kha (friend of God) as he’s known by family and friends, is the founder of BornLove LoveBorn LLC., a clothing brand. He’s also a co-founder of ImagiNations, a nonprofit that assists the formerly incarcerated in finding employment.

The challenges of reintegrating into society is something that Khalil understands first-hand. At 12 years old, Khalil had his first encounter with the criminal justice system. Police officers arrested him for robbery, which landed him in juvenile detention for 18 months.

It took some time and maturity for him to leave that world behind. After his release, Khalil got involved in “large-scale” street crimes. By 17, he was sent to Rikers Island, where he joined the Bloods gang and continued “gangbanging” for about the next 18 years of his life. Following Rikers, he served a 96-months sentence in federal prison.

After that release, Khalil was determined to become a productive member of society. But it wasn’t easy. He worked briefly setting up and dismantling soundstages. That enabled him to afford a room, but he soon became unemployed and homeless after that job ended.

“For 18 months, I lived on the streets or in a shelter, on a friend or relative’s couch, in the subways or just walking the streets of Manhattan,” he recalled. “I was hungry and didn’t take showers for weeks.”

Today, Khalil works for a cleaning company at a medical facility. The past is now in the rearview mirror. He takes full responsibility for his past actions and is moving forward in a positive direction.

Unlike many people who lost their jobs under the crush of the pandemic, Khalil said he was an essential worker who kept his job and continued going to his workplace.

But it wasn’t business as usual. “It was overwhelming,” he said, describing the experience of wearing layers of protective gear to sanitize nooks and crannies at the facility that were ignored during normal times.

Khalil and his coworkers were tested regularly for COVID-19. He was sent home to self-isolate for two weeks when his temperature was above normal.

The suddenness and deadly impact of the virus created the greatest fear for Khalil.

“It came from nowhere, and no one knew what it was,” he said. “People were just dying.”


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