Big Cat, Big Heart: The Real James Williams
At 6 feet 8 inches, James “Big Cat” Williams stood as an intimidator at right tackle for the Chicago Bears for 12 years. Williams started with the organization for a consecutive 134 starts, beginning in 1994 through 2002, and served as a soldier of both defense and offense under coaches Mike Ditka, Dave Wannstedt, and Dick Jauron. His loyalty and dedication to his team and position won him the Ed Block Courage Award in 1997, the Bears’ Brian Piccolo Award in 2001, and a trip to the Pro Bowl the same year. But even after all the years and accolades from his time on the gridiron, the biggest feather in the Lake Forest resident’s cap is his newest endeavor: Big Cat Charities.
Founded this past year with colleague Delana Price-Johnson, Big Cat Charities’ focus is to eradicate the hunger and homelessness of women, single parents, and families. “We chose to focus on these issues because I realized I have been very fortunate,” explains Williams. He says that even though people have maybe worked hard through their life, sometimes individuals can find themselves in dire situations due to bad decisions or circumstance. This doesn’t make them bad people, nor should they have to suffer, Williams says. “We all have made mistakes and I am grateful that none of my mistakes have caused me to be hungry or homeless.”
Two different Chicagoland organizations benefit from the work of Williams and his team: Deborah’s Place and Maryville Crisis Nursery. Deborah’s Place provides supportive housing for women and strives to break the cycle of homelessness in Chicago. Maryville Crisis Center provides short-term care for children who are experiencing a severe disruptive crisis and are challenged with an urgent matter. Children ages newborn through 6 are provided with 24-hour care for up to three days in a nurturing environment.
Even though Big Cat Charities has only been churning for one year, they have enjoyed a lot of success. The group put on a Bowl-A-Rama this past November that was packed full with the support of current and retired Bears players. In June, Big Cat Charities will be hosting another celebrity-heavy gala, poised to be one of the group’s biggest of the year.
Most importantly, this North Shore father of two knows that everything he does should be an example. “My children have been given the opportunity to grow up with a lot more perks than I did,” Williams says. “I know if I don’t make them aware of people that are less fortune, no one will.” Williams feels it’s crucial for them to understand what it’s like not to have. “I feel it is my responsibility to empower them with wisdom and understanding—instead of judgment and condemnation—of those who are less fortune.”
For more information and a list of upcoming events, visit bigcatcharities.org.