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CBN.com Karate grandmaster Donnie Williams grew up poor in Savannah, Georgia, feeling inferior about his life. Only God and the influence of his mother were able to change his path from racial hatred and rage to reconciliation and peace.
“I hated white people because they had everything and I had very little,” Donnie says. “And they were my reason for searching for things and reaching for things.”
Donnie Williams grew up fatherless in the deep south of the 1950s. His mother, Lissie Williams struggled to support the family. As the Jim Crow laws of segregation fought against Donnie’s hope for a better life, Hollywood, through television, fed those dreams.
“I knew when I was a little boy that I wanted to have something in life. I wanted to possess. I wanted the biggest car, the nicest home. I didn’t see any black people on television with a big house. They were all the maids, like my Momma. They were all ‘the church people,’” Donnie recalls.
His mother Lissie prayed for her children and made sure they all went to church. At a young age, Donnie accepted Christ as his Savior.
“And after that prayer, I believe in my heart that I had a personal direct relationship with God,” Donnie says.
His family eventually moved to California and settled in a tough neighborhood in Los Angeles. In some respects, it was a move “up.” He was within striking distance of Hollywood and his dreams. But, in other ways, it was a let down. Now, Donnie was “the new kid” and had to figure out a way to be accepted. He discovered karate as his way to fit in.
“Martial arts really helped me,” Donnie says. “I was a scared kid, skinny, and didn’t want to fight anyone without a bat or a chain or rock in my hand.”
As the years went by, Donnie’s focus on martial arts intensified. Soon, he was competing and with the help of a new mentor, Steve Muhammad, and he was winning. The two formed the Black Karate Federation (BKF) to give sponsorship and backing for black competitors.
“And all of a sudden Donnie Williams was something to deal with. I’d say, ‘Well, I’d better let them know I’m in town.’ So I got big floppy hats and capes and I had a chest with a 6-pack and I would take my shirt off for the women to see,” he says.
He was soon dubbed “the crown prince of karate.” Donnie caught Hollywood’s attention. He was on the road to fulfilling his childhood dreams.
“Enter the Dragon was my very first film in 1972, and I was in this movie 3.2 seconds,” Donnie says. “But after Enter the Dragon, I was a star.”
Donnie acted in films with Jackie Chan, Jim Kelly, David Carradine, Chuck Norris, and Isaac Hayes. He even advised Clint Eastwood for a fight sequence in the movie The Gauntlet.
“My life, all of a sudden, was surrounded with people that were helping me. All of them were non-blacks,” Donnie says.
As he became more successful, the chip on Donnie’s shoulder toward white people got smaller. But, unfortunately, so did his relationship with God.
“I didn’t really have a relationship with God,” he says. “I knew about God. I knew that He would answer prayer. I knew that He would help you if you’re in trouble. I knew that He was calling me, but I wouldn’t answer the phone cause Momma always said that I would be a minister. When I was smoking cigarettes and whoring around, my mother said that God had a calling on my life.”
Donnie married and had children. He began putting less emphasis on competition and more on teaching karate and supporting his family. It was a far cry from his “six pack” days when he was assistant tournament director at the prestigious international karate championships. His old hatred resurfaced when a competitor named Jaffe didn’t like a call Donnie made on one of his students during a match.
“He called me a liar. And my objective was to hurt him, period. But I wanted to do it the right way,” he says.
To do it the right way meant Donnie would have to meet Jaffe in competition. He won all of his qualifying matches. But the toll on his body made Donnie realize that he needed to call upon God for help to beat Jaffe.
“The area that I spoke in was this: I’m not interested in being the champion, but if you help me whoop this guy, I promise you I’ll serve you,” Donnie says.
“I won the match, forgot all about God. God didn’t matter. Nobody else mattered. I was the champion. I was traveling around the world. I was in movies. I was the big – the big stuff again and had all – everything going for me,” he says.
In an interview with a newspaper reporter, Donnie mentioned his prayer and his promise to serve God if he won.
“So he asked me. ‘Well, what did you do about that promise?’ It was like sticking a knife in my stomach. And I said, ‘Well, uh I haven’t done anything.’ And that’s where it began,” Donnie says. “From that day, I started serving the Lord. From the day, I met with that man.”
Donnie says that he’s been delivered from many things since that day.
“My hate for white people...I had to get delivered from that. My ego and pride and, I had to get delivered from that when – when you hate someone, I believe, it’s because of your own short-comings tighten,” Donnie says. “And my hate was a smokescreen to hide who I really was and what I was really going through within myself.”
“Today, I’m totally sold out to God,” he says. “My life is God’s life, literally.”
Donnie currently serves as the pastor of the family church in Pasadena, California. It’s a fitting tribute to the prayers and faith of his mother Lissie.
“So my mother spoke over me what she felt God had ordained in her to say. And I’m a living witness that it’s existing today,” Donnie says.
He believes that his fighting days aren’t over completely; he just wages warfare in a different arena now.
“A spiritual warrior, a prayer warrior, a praise warrior … is a person that is ready to go to battle for what he or she believe in so – what God placed in me, I’m a warrior,” Donnie says. “I’m a warrior for Jesus.”
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