Hidden History: Galesburg native inspiring youth

Black History Month

GALESBURG, Ill. — Roland Williams Jr. is known in his hometown of Galesburg, Illinois, for being an up and coming actor and model. But, his journey to network television is something everyone can learn from.

“I was driving down the street,” Williams said. “And, I had the radio on, and I heard an ad that says do you want to be on TV, movies, print come to Bettendorf, Iowa. So I said why not, I don’t have anything else to do. I kind of looked at my mom and she said alright let’s go.”

Williams Jr. made the journey to the Quad Cities in pursuit of his dreams.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Williams Jr. said. “They went over these rules and talked about the industry and talked about if you were interested in being seen. So, I ended up walking in front of them, and they said you have potential. I didn’t know what that meant. What does that mean? And, they ended up giving me an envelope, and they invited me to a convention.”

Williams Jr. along with some of his family members traveled to Minneapolis. He attended the convention to meet with agencies representing hundreds of media companies throughout the world.

“I got in front of all these agents because they would take up you know one person at a time,” Williams Jr said. “I think I was number 1,133, and after that nobody wanted to sign me. There were 50 to 60 agencies and nobody wanted to sign me.”

Despite the disappointing news, Roland returned to Galesburg and was uplifted by his support system.

“We went to the one in Minnesota, and we just kept telling him,” His auntie said. “If this is what you really want to do. Just because your opportunity wasn’t there at this time it doesn’t mean that your opportunity isn’t going to be there next month or next year — so you just have to keep going if this is really what you want to do and we will be there no matter what.”

Roland returned to Galesburg and worked until he received another opportunity to display his talents, this time in Chicago.

“I went there, and same thing. nobody wanted me,” Williams Jr. said. “So, at this point I thought maybe this really isn’t for me. Maybe I should either go back to college, or go to college, or get a real job.”

A year would pass, and Roland would get one more chance to prove himself at a convention in Chicago and that’s when his life was changed forever.

“I got in front of the agents and there were two agents that wanted me,” Williams Jr. said.

Roland signed with an agency in west suburban Chicago, and two years later his career begin to flourish. He was featured in a print ad for Finish Line.

“I was in their winter catalog,” Williams Jr. said. “I was in their stores on the display the closest Finish Line was in the Quad Cities. So, my buddy and I drove up and sure enough I’m on the display. I’m sitting there looking and the lady was like can I help you and I was like no, I’m just looking at the poster.”

Roland family and friends rushed to various malls throughout Illinois to see the larger than life size ad for themselves.

“We ended up driving over to Bloomington just to go to the mall to be able to see him up there in print and it was unreal,” his Aunt said. “It was like oh my gosh, this is Rolly. This little kid we watched grow up here. He is bigger than life. He’s one of the actual posters.”

From ads and being an extra on popular television shows, Roland has now landed his first speaking role on network tv which is just a testament to his hard work which is something his former teacher hopes inspires the youth in Galesburg.

“A lot of you people tend to think, I can’t wait to get out of Galesburg,” his former teacher said. “And they tend to forget their roots. And Rolly has never done that. He’s always appreciated coming from here. I think that’s the inspiration for many students, just because you come from a small town you can do it.

Roland story is something we can all learn from… just because doors may initially close, if we keep knocking one will eventually open.

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