On any given day, Devin Williams might receive a text saying, “What’s today’s mathematics?”
It’s a quick way for his close friend, Javin Young, to check in on him without needing to prod.
“It’s like, ‘How are you actually doing?’” Young said. “‘I can’t complain’ is like the standard Black man answer … but that doesn’t mean you’re doing well.”
Williams, the president of USC’s chapter of the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) and a fourth-year sociology student, grew up in a Southern, Christian, Black household.
He said it’s common to be told to “pray about it or deal with it” instead of being open about your mental health.
That is also true for his time in the Marine Corps Reserve. When he was injured during training and spent a month in recovery, he said he didn’t talk with his bunkmates about their situations or mental health.
As his worldview has evolved and he’s leaned into understanding his spirituality, Williams said he’s been tested and “pushed to a boiling point.”
But now, he’s choosing to change his mindset and break that cycle of bottling up his feelings.
“I’m always looking to the brighter side, always thinking positively, manifesting, as well as meditating,” Williams said.
Because of his experiences, he wants to spend his career making sure people have the resources they need and feel comfortable seeking help.
His friends say making others feel comfortable is something that comes naturally to Williams, the Texas-born and Columbia-grown creative.
“He’s somebody that I went to in my darkest times, and I was able to let my guard down with him, and he’d always be willing to listen to what I had to say,” Shane Davis, a friend since fourth grade, said.
As Williams has grown, he’s broken out of his shell, his friends say. When Caira Wilson met Williams in seventh-grade math class, she said he was “very, very quiet.”
Now, his friends describe him as a free spirit who never meets a stranger.
“There will never be a dull moment with him — you’re always going to laugh, and I think that’s why it’s so easy to gravitate towards him, because of how he makes other people feel,” Kendric Lindsey said. “He’s an inspiration to take risks.”
Lindsey, who graduated from USC in December 2020, knows Williams best as a creative.
Williams — who has known how to dress since middle school, according to Wilson — started modeling for Lindsey at the end of 2020.
“Wherever I go, if I had a nice outfit on, I’d be like, ‘Hey, take my picture real quick,'” Williams said. “People tell me (to look into modeling) all the time, but it kind of went in one ear and out the other.”
Lindsey said his and Williams’ modeling partnership works because Lindsey is always looking to do a shoot and Williams is always looking to be in front of a camera.
He’s bold on set — taking risks with clothing and poses — and always contributes ideas to the creative process, Lindsey said.
By all accounts, his friends describe him as someone who isn’t afraid to change his appearance, who isn’t afraid to wear a loud outfit and who is quietly confident.
One area where Williams is able to translate that confidence into leadership ability is through his position as the NPHC president.
USC's chapter of NPHC is comprised of eight historically African-American fraternities and sororities represented on campus. Williams is in the Zeta Epsilon chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity.
“Our organizations were all created in some form or fashion to be advocates for the Black community and to better the Black community,” Joseph Boyd, the NPHC president before Williams, said. “I’m excited to see how Devin uses his advocacy.”
Advocacy work goes hand in hand with having strong willpower. Williams’ strong personality and will may have been strengthened, in part, by his time in the military.
He completed basic training before attending USC and is in the Marine Corps Reserve, following in the footsteps of his mother — who was in the Air Force for 21 years.
Williams said basic training was worse than people think. “Going through boot camp is the most miserable time of your life,” he said.
But it taught him that he can accomplish what he sets his mind to.
“Looking back, it’s worth it,” Williams said. “You feel really accomplished. As miserable as I was back then, I look back and laugh at it.”
While he said there have been times that he has walked into class and had a professor ask him if he was in the military based on his demeanor, his NPHC vice president, Laurynn Jeter, didn’t believe he was in the Marine Corps when he told her.
“I was like, ‘Devin, you’re lying. You’re not really in the Marines,’” Jeter said. “But then I was driving behind him one day and his little Honda had the Marine Corps tag.”
Though Williams’ time in the Marine Corps, with NPHC and as a creative all comprise who he is, he said he doesn’t want to be put into a box.
“I try not to limit myself, as far as having one personality trait,” Williams said. “I don’t want to be defined by, ‘Oh yeah, that’s Devin, he’s a Marine. Oh yeah, that’s Devin, he’s a Kappa,’ even though people know me as that, I want there to always be more to me.”