Hip hop mogul, entrepreneurial chef and descendant of Harlem’s legendary Sylvia’s restaurant Lindsey Williams has decided to throw his hat in the ring against incumbent U.S. Rep. Adriano Espaillat in the upcoming election for the 13th Congressional District.
Sylvia’s soul food restaurant is a cornerstone of Black-owned businesses in Harlem. It was founded by Sylvia Woods in 1962. The restaurant became a gathering place for Harlemites, Black politicians and advocates alike. The restaurant is still operating on Malcolm X Boulevard and is owned by the Woods family.
Williams is a grandson of the Woods’ dynasty and was born in New York City. He admittedly said that even though the restaurant was often the epicenter of political discourse, he shied away from getting involved through the years and the restaurant is nonpartisan. He remembers people such as Rep. Charles Rangel and Mayor David Dinkins in the restaurant and his mother grew up with Assemblymember Inez Dickens.
“I don’t feel the same energy anymore. The connection,” said Williams. “Go to any grocery store, any restaurant and you’d see Charlie Rangel. He was connected to the community. Say what you want, but he loved Harlem and he went to D.C. and fought for Harlem. I want to be that person to fight for this community and other Black communities across the country.”
He vividly recalls the night then-U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited the family restaurant. Williams was working as a manager under his grandmother at the time, and insisted she prioritize meeting the chief Cabinet member. But the “Queen of Soul Food” greeted every other customer present—from locals to the Rev. Al Sharpton to Ed Bradley from “60 Minutes”—with the same dignity and respect before she got to Albright.
“She [didn’t] say much, she just [did] things and you have to learn a lesson later,” said Williams. “Always take care of your people. Take care of your locals. The ones that get you here, take care of them first, you see them first.”
Williams says he’s worked in the music industry for 18 years, experience he maintains will help him navigate the similarly shark-infested waters of politics. As a chef, Williams authored his “Neo Soul” cookbook for a healthier spin on the family trade. He’s applied both endeavors towards advocacy, working on healthy eating campaigns in Black and brown communities during his time in the kitchen and masterminding a Public Enemy benefit for detainees in Rikers while he was at Def Jam.
The pervading issue of gun and gang violence has inspired him to passionately turn his attention to Congress. He has been speaking about running for the last year.
His main mission, he said, is to focus on fully funding education, decreasing gang and gun violence, and growing youth development in the district through vigorous hip hop, vocational education and community programs. The congressional district includes Harlem, East Harlem, West Harlem, Hamilton Heights, Washington Heights, Inwood, Marble Hill and the north-west Bronx. In short, Williams wants folks to know the neighborhoods are more than just cheap rent for incoming businesses.
He believes Black and brown youth in the city are disillusioned, disenfranchised, and can’t relate to traditional politicians and therefore don’t vote. Williams said his campaign would target younger voters and get kids more engaged in politics to reduce recidivism. His ultimate plan, if elected, is getting youngsters civically engaged and then passing them the political baton—fittingly, he tags his campaign slogan as “we got next.”
“We know that these kids are worth saving. We know that our communities are worth saving,” said Williams.
Still, he’s up against stiff competition. Espaillat is the first Dominican American to serve in the House and was elected back in 2016. He is an outspoken advocate for the rights of immigrants, affordable housing, meaningful criminal justice reform, infrastructure improvements, expanded youth programs and better educational opportunities.
Tandy Lau is a Report for America corps member and writes about public safety for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep him writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://bit.ly/amnews1
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about politics for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://bit.ly/amnews1