Arts & CultureEveryday People

Everyday People

William Holley is the executive director at Multiple Choices Center for Independent Living. He had a lot of interesting things to say—more than we have the space to print—so, let’s get to it.

Flagpole: How long have you been the executive director at Multiple Choices?

William Holley: I became executive director here in 2006. And, what we do is we provide support, assistance for individuals with disabilities to live in communities of their choice. For people who are differently abled, it’s very difficult to negotiate the premises sometimes. For instance, I’m a blind person. You wouldn’t know that unless I told you. I am legally blind. My vision is not the greatest in the world, but I can manipulate and negotiate the premises pretty good because I’m familiar with it. When I go outside, I have to make sure that I take a cane or something to make sure that I can get up and down the street without hurting myself. So, we provide those canes. We may provide a wheelchair for a person who is not able to walk. For a person who is hearing impaired, we may provide a hearing aid… But, I’ve been living in Georgia since ‘79. And I’ve been in and out of programs and doing stuff in Athens since ‘97, ‘96. I used to be at the University of Georgia.

FP: Oh, really—what did you do there?

WH: I used to be the, what do you call it, the diversity coordinator for the Institute on Human Development and Disabilities.

FP: So, you where did you come from originally?

WH: I came from New York City.

FP: What brought you to Georgia?

WH: I bought into this thing about Georgia being an opportunity for African-American males, like myself, to come down and really become a part of a growing opportunity. Back in the ’70s, that was sold to us. We should come down and give a look. And I came to Atlanta with the understanding that here’s going to be this great opportunity, just to find out that it wasn’t what I thought it was. Basically, it was just a pie-in-the-sky dream that these people had. At that time you had people like the Maynard Jacksons and the Andy Youngs and folk like that moving around the country and [saying] “Give Atlanta, Georgia a try.” And I gave it a try. That’s what brought me here. After I got here, what kept me here wasn’t the stuff they were saying—it’s so pretty here.

This is one of the prettiest states I’ve ever been in. I fell in love with the climate… I was satisfied: I could have lived under a tent just to get out of that stuff up there. One of the things that happens is that you leave New York and you come to Georgia… and you get down here and the heat hits you and the humidity hits you, and you go, “Who could live in this stuff?” So, you’re kinda damned if you do, damned if you don’t. But, in comparison, I think that Georgia, weather-wise, is a much better place than New York. I’ve adjusted to the heat; I don’t mind sweating a couple of months out of the year. I go inside and I cut the air conditioner on like everybody else, and I stay there. If I didn’t have air conditioning, I’d have the windows open and the fans going. Get in a cool spot under a shady tree and just try to live through it. But Georgia is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. I love the fall here. I could do without the spring; it almost kills me.

FP: The pollen?

WH: The pollen kills you here. I’ve never seen anything looks like this stuff flying through the air… But, basically the weather kept me here. I came here and I liked the weather, and then I did buy into the opportunity and the potential. I finally looked around, and I said, you know, uh, this place hasn’t been, what do you call it, it hasn’t been polluted yet. And what I mean by pollution—I don’t mean pollution like the air and all that—I mean there was still some clean, down-to-earth, you know, real people that had some real good thoughts and ideas about how to build, how to take advantage, how to protect a great society and the environment… And I bought into that.

FP: When you came here, did you have family that you came with?

WH: Actually, I came here with no family. I ended up marrying somebody from Georgia. As a matter of fact, she’s from a little town called Maysville, right up there in the foothills. That’s how I got family here, but I was not from here. I had no family here. I just came here. I was like a pioneer. I came here on a wagon.

FP: Everyone is talking about how we are on the cusp of all these baby-boomers becoming elderly. Obviously, you think we need to improve services now…

WH: …When I think of baby-boomers, I think of the ’60s. I think that things that people were saying in the ’60s, even though they were radical, in many ways, they were very right… As we grew and became a little older and more conservative, we abandoned some of those ideas that would have stimulated a different approach to society… People seem to want to attribute that period of time to acid-headed pot-smoking hippies. Everybody wasn’t a pot-smoking acid-head hippie. Some people had some very intelligent thoughts and minds and did some great things.

Some of the stuff did happen, but not enough. I think that out of problems in our society come opportunities. I think with the baby-boomer population coming along, we are going to see a return in that kind of thinking. I believe that life is like a journey, and a transitional journey. You start as a kid and then become a teenager… You’re not a lot different than a child when you’re aged… so then, all those things that happened back when you were a young, energetic child re-occurs to you.

Something very simple that most of us don’t think about—and I’m giving you this from an old man’s perspective—you know that knee that you fell down and injured when you were in high school? …You may have [borne] that injury for years and years, but then it stopped bothering you and you forgot all about it. When you get over 50, it’s going to come back to visit you. It’s called “Arthur.”

I know this is a roundabout way of trying to tell you something, but… life comes in cycles. Some of the issues that we talked about when we were younger are going to come back up when you become a senior, because we haven’t done anything about them all these years.

You can’t prepare for Arthur. The only way you prepare for Arthur is: don’t fall.