By Rachel Cohen
SAN LEANDRO, Calif. — ASHLEI WILLIAMS sees her careers as a Christian rap artist and now as an Oakland police officer as both helping serve people.
"What I do on my own time, I can now do as a career and make a difference in someone's life," the 26-year-old said.
Williams, a San Leandro resident, was born and raised in Oakland and graduated valedictorian from the 162nd Oakland Police Department Academy on Thursday.
Out of the 47 students who entered the academy, 21 graduated, according to Sgt. Mary Guttormson, an academy coordinator.
Williams doesn't see being a valedictorian as making her any better than her classmates.
"I just got one more point. We're all equal," she added. "Yes, I gave 100 percent. I just applied myself."
For the honor, she spoke at the graduation ceremony, drew first for shifts and was first to pick her badge number. She started as a patrol officer Saturday and was looking forward to serving the community she grew up in and learning as much at every level as possible.
Williams has family in law enforcement but more in firefighting and was planning on becoming a firefighter until about a year ago. She was training to be a paramedic while working as a personal trainer at 24-Hour Fitness, where two of her clients were Oakland police officers.
"If I don't try something, I'm never going to know if I could do it. I could potentially miss an opportunity or die tomorrow," Williams said. "People have desires in their minds.
The worst thing that could happen is I don't like it."
She applied to San Leandro and Pleasanton police departments but really moved forward with her application for Oakland police.
Throughout the six-month police academy, Williams kept up her career as rapper R.E.I.G.N., which stands for Reaching Everyone In God's Name. Since she was 21, she has gathered a wide network of support by performing in schools, juvenile halls and churches from Los Angeles to Sacramento. She released her first CD of 16 original songs last year.
Before becoming a rapper, Williams said she planned on becoming an actor, and studied one year after graduating from Oakland Tech High School at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City, until returning home for a summer. She penned her first song and found she enjoyed music as much as her audiences enjoyed her.
"Acting ties into ministry. I understand the stage and how to use it for me doing music," Williams added.
She takes her rapping career seriously and performs three weekends a month — one performance even happened between two police academy firearms tests. But she maintained that the police academy was her first priority.
Williams said she ultimately wants to go into investigative work.
"I like conversing with people," she said. "Getting them to talk to you and solve a crime."
She said the tactical practical training exercises were the most challenging part of the academy. Like the Oakland Police Department slogan, "It's more than you think," she said she grew more mentally than physically.
Her biggest concern is the way people look at police officers in uniform.
"I don't change," she said. "I don't put on a police officer uniform and change into a superhero."
Copyright 2008 Alameda Times-Star
Calif. officer leads double life as rapper