Glide Memorial shines light into the dark corners of people's lives

On a corner of Ellis Street in San Francisco's Tenderloin, light seems to find its way into the dark corners of people's lives. 

"We're always talking at Glide about making things better," says Reverend Cecil Williams, the spiritual leader and pastor emeritus of Glide Memorial Methodist Church, "Touching each other's head and heart." 

Reverend Williams has been at the heart of Glide for more than 55 years, preaching unconditional love in ways that some have seen as radical, and others consider revolutionary.  

"What we see is a people that needs love. A people that needs also to say to each other. I care. I will be with you. I'm not going to give up on you. Never, never, never," says Williams, "We give up on people too much and too quick. And we put them down. And we got to reach...where we stop putting people down and start lifting up." 

Williams is set to turn 90 this year, and when you think about Black History Month, it's clear this is a man who has lived that history.

During his tenure at Glide, he opened his church to all people. Through the civil rights movement, he took a stand at rallies with Angela Davis and the Black Panthers. He fought for justice, even if it meant going to jail. During the AIDS crisis, Glide offered HIV screenings and a welcome haven for those often shunned elsewhere.

Williams also helped grow the church into a congregation family of more than 10,000 members who help Glide feed thousands and shelter the homeless.

Williams also has shown how someone can walk with people from all walks of life, from Warren Buffett to Nelson Mandela, Maya Angelou, to politicians and presidents such as Barack Obama.

"Black history is black lives. It is the Black experience. It is the human condition," said Williams, "I want to make sure that people understand that to be Black is not a disservice or a put down. It's a put up. It's letting us know that we are standing and we are somebody's," said Williams. 

In his world, everybody counts.

"In my world, everybody's got a place. In my world, everybody's got a space. In my world, everybody is everybody if they want to be somebody. Want me to rap a little bit about that?" he said, punctuating his rhythmic preaching with a laugh.

Williams said he doesn't have a special power or magic touch. His secret is simple. 

"I reach out to people all over the world. I'm not afraid of anybody. I just, I care. And I'm going to show I care by what I do," said Williams. 

He credits too his wife of 37 years Janice Mirikitani, a poet, activist and first Glide president.

"The one that took me and said to me, I'm going to make you a better human being. I'm going to make you a better man," said Williams. 

Reverend Williams is a man some have called saintly.

"People say to me, you're just like Jesus and I say, well Jesus was pretty bad. My Jesus. Jesus was a revolutionary. Don't you know that?" said Williams with a laugh.

Reverend Williams, though, is a revolutionary who works for peace, even when it's just crossing paths with an angry driver in a parking lot. 

"I was just taking my time and I thought everything was clear and this man was on the side of me trying to get by. And finally, he got by. And as passed by, he gave me the finger. I gave him this one. And he had to laugh you know," said Williams demonstrating how he held up two fingers in a peace sign. 

And his 90th birthday wish?  

"Frankly speaking, I would really want the world to become a more lovable place and a more courageous place," he said, adding that it takes courage to embrace change. 

Williams said it's the guiding light that keeps this revolutionary reverend on the go. 

"I want everybody to know I'm going to keep changing. I don't care what happens. I'm going to keep changing," Williams said. "That Cecil Williams, he's always into something. He's always doing something. My theology is basically, it's in the doing. It's in the doing that you know me."