Gregory Williams badly wanted be a Muncie Central High School Bearcat. And for that, he was willing to do just about anything.

So he'd play 10 to 12 hours a day. Even after football practices started, Williams would come home afterward and play basketball in the evening.

"I learned that if you really want to do something you have to be totally committed, out-of-your-mind to it," Williams says now.

He had started his junior season on the varsity basketball team but was demoted around Christmas to the "B team." Williams was driven to make the varsity as a senior.

As you read along in Williams' book, "Life on the Color Line," you're certain he will achieve his goal.

And then all of a sudden - he doesn't.

Williams was cut from the team.

"That was a disappointing time," he says. "I learned that sports were not necessarily as fair as I thought they should be - because I don't know what went into that decision. I hope what went into it was could I contribute to the team (and) was I a good enough player to stay?"

He wonders.


It is fitting to feature the new University of Cincinnati president is this issue of Cincy. This is our Most Interesting People issue, and that “MIP" title certainly fits Gregory Howard Williams.

UC's 27th president, who officially started the job Nov. 1, brings more than a lifetime of academic achievements to his new position. He is an accomplished author who has appeared on "Oprah," "Good Morning America," "Larry King Live," "ABC's Nightline with Ted Koppel," “Dateline NBC with Tom Brokaw" and National Public Radio's “Fresh Air" with Terry Gross.

He has traveled the world and counts Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel, as a friend.

When asked who he would want at his "ultimate dinner party," Williams mentions many of those people. But he starts with his father, who died at age 61.

"I'd like to have my dad at the dinner table - sober," Williams says. "Actually, he did die sober. It was a great thing that he was able to move forward in his life. He was a great story teller and a guy of great wisdom and understanding."

James "Buster" Williams was a driving force in his son's life. Buster was an alcoholic. He was often unemployed. He had more than his share of personal struggles. But he never lost sight of encouraging Gregory to succeed academically.

“His message continued to drive me for many, many years," Williams says. "My dad had his problems but he was totally committed to me as well as he could be, dealing with his own alcoholism. And he believed in me when not everyone believed in me.

"I had high aspirations. I had high goals. My dad said, "Greg you can be president one of these days.' It turns out he was right. I did turn out to be president of two great institutions."


Williams started growing up in Virginia. In 1954, when he was 10 years old, his parents separated, his father lost his business and Buster Williams took his two sons to Muncie, Ind., where his family lived.

It was on the bus ride to Muncie that Buster first told his children they were part African-American and were going to live with African-American relatives in an African-American neighborhood. Until then, Williams believed he was white.

"Life is going to be different from now on," Buster Williams said. “People in
Indiana will treat you differently."

Suffice it to say, the next several years were filled with highs and lows that are described in the book in candid detail.

Through it all, Gregory Williams never wavered in his goal to be a lawyer.

"What I really learned is perseverance and to stay focused," he says.


Williams graduated from Ball State University, earned a masters degree at the University of Maryland and a law degree, masters and Ph.D. at George Washington University. At the University of Iowa, he was a law professor, associate law dean and associate vice president of academic affairs. At Ohio State, he was dean of the law school. At City College of New York, he was president of the university.

He always had a special drive. His father was a great motivator and set high goals for his son. Miss Dora, a family friend, took in Gregory and his brother six months after they arrived in Muncie, despite making just $25 a week as a maid.

As he shared his own story, students urged him to write a book. Back in Muncie, he asked friends and family what they thought of it. "Greg," they said. "This is not your book. This is our book. You told our story."

"That's what I really wanted to do - tell the story of what it was like to grow up in a very racially divided community," Williams says. "But, of course, it's not just about racial division. It's about overcoming obstacles. It's about living in a dysfunctional family. It's about dealing with poverty. It's about trying to survive."

And succeed.

Editor's note: A longer version of this story appeared on