Yuri Williams: Cause-play Superhero
By Dianne Anderson
Behind the mask, whether The Mandalorian, Deadpool or Spiderman, AKA Yuri Williams, was a lot like the community he serves.
Long-term depression following his mother’s death in 2009 was debilitating. On his first day back to work a bereavement leave – as was his everyday custom – he called his mom at 5:15 a.m.
“It’s ringing and ringing, and I realized that she’s not going to pick up any more,” he said.
For reasons he can’t identify, he decided to call in work one day to say he’d be an hour late and he opened an Instagram account. The first to pop up was an officer out of Arkansas who was doing some great things helping his community. Another, a hip-hop trooper and cosplayer, was on a mission to visit sick and needy kids.
That was an inspiration.
“He’s a Stormtrooper and I always loved Star Wars and came up with this idea. One day when I woke up, that’s what I wanted to do to bring smiles to people [by] wearing a costume,” said Williams, a Long Beach resident and founder of the nonprofit, A Future Superhero And Friends.
But, it’s not so much Cosplay as “Cause Play” that has become his life’s mission, so much so that about 80% of all funding for programs is out of pocket. Although he gets grants occasionally, he still hasn’t landed any big ones, yet he manages to serve about 5,000 kids a year.
“After I went on Good Morning America, I thought that would get me over the top, but I’m still climbing up the hill,” said Williams, deputy juvenile correctional officer with the probation department in Orange County.
He works to help the homeless, with vets, with the senior community or just about anybody in need of survival and basics, food and help with the rent, wherever he can. He uses his Spidey-sense to detect the needs of the community. He provides lunches, hygiene kits, socks or whatever he can redistribute that’s been donated.
“I’ve been out here since 2009, and I’m out here on the ground doing the work. Me and my buddy, during the holidays, we get together with all 50 states, uplifting children with disabilities and life-threatening illnesses,” he said.
Building relationships in the community to understand and help them access what they need is the first step. Before COVID, he had morning exercise routines with the seniors, but had to stop when the world shut down. He is looking to restart that program, along with an art program, and also bring it to senior homes and the skid row area.
Upcoming, he is hosting an art workshop for children with disabilities and life-threatening illnesses, but it’s open to anyone that wants to do art for the day. He has an art program for kids 8 to 22 years, in partnership with a professional graphic artist.
“We’re giving away tote bags with supplies for them to take home as well as color draw and paint on the spot. I’ll be dressed up as Deadpool, we’ll color and I’ll take pictures with the kids. Then we’ll have lunch,” he said.
In August, he’s also hosting a big backpack drive where he grew up in Los Angeles as a way to give back. He sees the extent of need nationwide, but also in Long Beach.
“What I see is a lot of businesses not lasting like they used to because of rent increases. I see people moving in and out of different houses because the rent is high, and the housing situation is worse. Economically, people are trying to just get by off their paycheck alone,” he said.
The crime rate is also high among youth. Working inside the jail, he sees how they are recycled through the system.
His program is in honor of his mother, a probation officer who lived in Los Angeles during the crack era. When he was young, she’d bring him to work inside juvenile hall, where he fell in love with the idea of making a difference in helping the youth.
“If she saw one of her clients on the streets, smoking or doing something, she would pull over and give them a couple of words. She was only 5’2”, but there were kids 6’3” and 300 pounds. They were scared of her,” he said.
In working with the disabled community, another goal is to bring activities mainstream. Not long ago, he met one mother of a severely disabled child, who hadn’t brought him out much because she feared they would say something about him.
He feels it’s important that special needs children get as much exposure and contact in the real world.
“This is a family thing. I bring out people that don’t have a disability or special needs, but I want them to interact with other children with special needs just so they can relate and see how families interact,” he said.
Some people ask why he does so many different things in his outreach.
“I call it cause-play because it’s for a cause, children with disabilities, special needs and seniors,” he said. “I just want to grab and help as many people as I can. I can’t stick to just one thing. There is such a need with the houseless community and children with special needs and disabilities,” he said.
To donate to the cause, visit their wishlist, see https://afuturesuperhero.com/