Joshua Williams was four and a half years old when he figured out his life’s calling. He discovered it by listening to his heart.
“My grandmother gave me $20. I saw a homeless man. I felt really bad. I gave him the $20. I felt good, but I wanted to do more,” said Joshua, now 12 and a Miami Beach resident recently honored by BET with a Shine A Light Award by for his work with his nonprofit Joshua’s Heart Foundation.
Joshua begged his two aunts to help him start a program to help feed the hungry.
“They didn’t do anything. I fired them,” he recalled. Then Joshua asked his mom, who was used to his persistence and his new ideas.
“After a while, she saw I was really serious,” he said.
He and his family (grandmother, mom and aunts) started giving cooked meals to homeless people every Saturday. His grandmother cooked and he, his mom and aunts helped package the food in containers to take to downtown Miami to feed the homeless.
Soon, there was a line of 150 people waiting for them weekly. But a city ordinance stopped them from continuing their distribution there. Joshua was not about to give up though. They moved their operation to his grandmother’s church.
“We would help families at the church or in the North Miami community at first,” said Claudia McLean, Joshua’s mother. “He said, ‘We can’t just give them a bag of rice and vegetables. Each time, he demanded more.”
Joshua explains. “We started small. It is easier now because we have volunteers. There’s a bigger demand, more people need help. We try to keep up. I do my best.”
Joshua’s Heart Foundation has been distributing meals for almost eight years, since 2005. The organization became a nonprofit in 2007—and yes, his aunts now volunteer and help distribute food with him. The foundation has distributed over 500,000 pounds of food as part of its mission to stomp out world hunger and break the cycle of poverty.
Sounding like a man instead of a boy, Joshua offered, “A lot of people think Miami is only for the rich and has sandy beaches. There are beautiful beaches and lots of rich people, but there are areas that have a lot of poor people too.”
His mother calls him “very passionate. He believes this is his purpose.”
“I believe this purpose was given to me by God,” said Joshua. “I know I am doing the right thing because it comes naturally to me. I am a natural leader. I am happy with what we are doing now but not satisfied yet. We need to do more; there is so much more to do, but I cannot do this alone.”
“I’m just the secretary and I do what I am told and what I can do,” his mother said, laughing.
Joshua said he has three goals in life.
“My main goal is to be a scientist and do a double major in biology and engineering, so I can do cool stuff and find a cure for cancer or some other diseases. If that doesn’t work out, which I believe it will–and hope, my backup is to be a basketball star and give a lot of my money back to the community.”
Because of his example, he has been able to recruit pint-sized volunteers, many of them his friends and schoolmates. He said they have “600 young people and over 650 adult volunteers.”