James Smith-Williams was a student at North Carolina State University in 2017 when he heard Brenda Tracy speak about surviving a gang rape by college football students. At the end of her speech, Tracy asked a question that still sticks with Smith-Williams to this day: "If you're a good man, what are you doing to be a good man?"
Since then, Smith-Williams has strived to live up to that standard, and now he has been recognized for his advocacy.
Smith-Williams was honored with the "Champion of Justice" award at the DC Volunteer Lawyers Project's (DCVLP) 15 anniversary celebration for his work to raise awareness on behalf of domestic violence survivors and their families on April 20.
"It's awesome. It's incredible," Smith-Williams told senior vice president of broadcasting Julie Donaldson. "I think it's a testament to all the work last year, and it's nice to be recognized for what we do."
Smith-Williams is a founding member of the Champions Program, which is part of the nonprofit, Set the Expectations. The organization is dedicated to "ending sexual and interpersonal violence through prevention work with men, advocacy and engagement with agencies serving survivors and their families," according to their website. Their efforts have raised more than $142,000 in donations to agencies.
The Champions Program allows current and former athletes to use their platforms to "champion community agencies and groups who serve families and survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence." Of the $142,000 that has been raised by the program, $75,000 was given to survivors in Washington, D.C.
"As I've grown up, I've come to appreciate that life is very much a team sport," Smith-Williams said during his acceptance speech. "It's about community, and in this sport of life, success is not about winning the competition. It's about making a contribution."
Smith-Williams, who was drafted by Washington with a seventh-round pick in the seventh-round of the 2020 NFL Draft, said he has been blessed with a rare opportunity and career, and it would be "a true shame" if he did not have a meaningful impact.
"The DC Volunteer Lawyers Project, they brought us together under one roof tonight for that very reason: to support this important work," Smith-Williams said. "To share a sense of responsibility and take a moment for reflection."
While getting an award that recognizes one's services can feel individualistic to Smith-Williams, he also knows that it took a "community" to help him make such an impact. That includes the lawyers of the DCVLP, who offered thousands of hours of pro bono work to help domestic violence survivors and their families.
"Your advocacy in the legal system is essential to changing the system itself," Smith-Williams said to the lawyers in attendance. "Your work provides life-changing services, and I stand in awe of how you have made a difference."