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Continued: Rosenblum: North Minneapolis neighbor talks of barbecue, violence and jobs

  • Article by: GAIL ROSENBLUM , Star Tribune
  • Last update: August 2, 2014 - 2:00 PM

I first wrote about her in 2011, when she was promoting her new line of fruit-flavored barbecue sauces: banana, pineapple, coconut. More remarkable than the taste was Williams’ back story.

Abused by her stepfather, she was pregnant at 12 and the mother of three by 20. She was a homeless crack addict and prostitute. She lost a son to gun violence when he was 14. She served two stints in prison.

Then a judge said to her, “You don’t need prison. You need direction.”

Williams took to her kitchen and created Sister Chris’ and, through sublime quality, personal charisma and the grace of God, got Lunds and Byerly’s to carry it. In 2010, Williams’ company was named Neighborhood Development Center Small Business of the Year.

She’s since had to pull the sauces off grocery shelves to obtain a wholesale license, which she’s aggressively seeking. More urgent is her desire to move the operation out of her garage and into the community, so she can hire other former felons to work their way up and out of poverty.

“My life is just different now,” Williams said. “I’m no longer the problem. I’m part of the solution.”

So she walks, past her small putty-colored house with a “Together We Make Our Neighborhood Safer” sign leaning against the wire fence, to door after door, as children’s laughter and squeaky swings at nearby Jordan Park fill the air.

“ … a community business,” she tells a couple. “We’ll focus on people who live the way I used to live. My son was shot and killed out here.”

The woman, petite and wearing a pink T-shirt, raises her head. “Mine, too.” She signs Williams’ sheet.

“I’ll see you at National Night Out,” she tells a young father at a house nearby.

“You got it,” he says. She recruits his kids for a skit they’ll perform about bullying. “But we’ll practice after church,” Williams says, “because they have to go to church.”

She laughs as she walks away. “He closed the door on me. He probably didn’t hear me.”

She’s still laughing as she heads toward another block to recruit for the one and only Community Barbecue Extravaganza.

“There will be other block parties,” she said, “but the community party is going to be on James.”

gail.rosenblum@startribune.com

612-673-7350

Follow Gail on Twitter: @grosenblum

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  • Vicie Williams, right, doesn’t let anyone get past her: She called to neighbor Kelly Vongkhan and crossed the street to tell her about the National Night Out extravaganza she is organizing.

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