She literally became homeless shortly after migrating from Jamaica to the United States.
But she is now among candidates vying for the powerful political post of Commissioner in the city of Lauderdale Lakes, Broward County, Florida.
Reflecting on her incredible journey, Karlene Maxwell Williams, who turns 51 today (September 21), noted: “I was gonna make something good of myself no matter what, and I did it.”
She was born in poverty at Victoria Jubilee Hospital in Kingston; she lived at Half Way Tree in St. Andrew and Waterford in St. Catherine.
Karlene attended Half Way Tree Primary School and Holy Childhood High.
She, at age 18, left Jamaica with her newborn son to join her mother in the land of stars and stripes.
Karlene initially juggled two part-time jobs at different department stores – Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s.
But things started to go askew for her within three months of her being in the United States.
“My mother and I got into a big argument; she called the cops and she put me out,” Karlene recalled. “So, here I was at 19 with nowhere to go – homeless in America, in the cold.”
A Good Samaritan put up the mother and son duo – allowing them to sleep on her floor until Karlene earned enough funds to, sadly, send her baby back to Jamaica.
Karlene also worked briefly at McDonald’s after being booted from her mom’s house.
When her baby left the United States, she returned to homelessness.
“I went to Grand Central Station with my bags and I stayed there for two weeks. I was literally homeless,” she told The Beacon.
One day, Karlene boarded a train.
It was destined for Miami, Florida.
“I came off the train in Florida and found a women’s shelter and I stayed there and tried to figure out what I was going to do with my life,” Karlene said.
Her next stop was at Job Corps – a government-run programme, which allowed her to live on campus and access educational opportunities – all free of cost.
Karlene never looked back.
She attained an Associate Degree in Travel and Tourism at Bauder College; she went on to acquire a Bachelor of Science degree in Management from the University of Phoenix.
“I could have gone into many wrong directions,” Karlene posited. “I could have been in drugs; I could have found me a sugar daddy; but I knew what I wanted for myself and I knew that I was capable of good things.”
Karlene got a job at the Florida Department of Revenue|Child Support Enforcement. She spent 15 years there.
She started her own business – Maxwell Mediation and Maxwell Solution, and is a Florida Supreme Court Certified Mediator.
Karlene also volunteers immensely with projects in Lauderdale Lakes, where she has been living for more than 20 years.
Bent on pouring more of her talents into the city, the non-partisan candidate is competing with two other aspirants for the post of Commissioner (Seat Four).
She, if elected, will have the authority to help make crucial decisions regarding Lauderdale Lakes.
It’s a task to which Karlene thinks she is equal.
“I am not a talker; I am a doer,” she declared.
Her big plans include beautification of the city, strengthening the enforcement of city ordinances, reducing property millage rates, improving youth and seniors programmes, and attracting businesses to the city.
Karlene also has an insatiable appetite for immigration-related issues, not only because she has been volunteering with the Florida Immigration Coalition Citizenship.
“My heart is with immigrants because I am an immigrant,” she said.
She is now seeking to become certified with the Department of Justice in order to better help immigrants – including those who want to obtain green cards and citizenship.
Karlene, now a mother of four, said she ensures that her family does not shed its Jamaican identity.
Her children attend a private Jamaican school in the United States, and her husband of three decades – Martin Williams – is a native of Portland in Jamaica.
Karlene stated that, over the years, her relationship with her mother also has improved. “We are on a good page now; we are talking,” she added.
Furthermore, the baby she sent back to Jamaica when hardship struck eventually returned to the United States – and, of course, is an adult now.
Asked what advice she would give to little girls back in Jamaica, the unapologetic go-getter said: “Don’t give up, keep your head on your body, look straight ahead and don’t listen to negativity. Speak your truth and just do you.”
By Horace Mills, Journalist
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