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Burlington skateboarder and DJ Andy Williams died a decade ago. 'A_Dog Day' carries on his legacy

A sepia-toned photo of a person wearing a brimmed hat, a flannel shirt, jeans and sneakers and holding a record album with the words "A Dog" while seated on a bench inside a camper.
Dean Blotto Gray
Andy "A_Dog" Williams was a beloved DJ and skateboarder in the Burlington area. The Waterfront skatepark in the city is named for him. Each August since his passing in 2013, Friends for A_Dog, a local nonprofit created in his name, holds a city-wide celebration of his life with live music, skateboarding and art installations.

If you've ever walked past the concrete bowls and ramps at the A_Dog Skatepark on Burlington's waterfront, and wondered who it's named for, Andy Williams, better known "DJ A_Dog," was as passionate about skateboarding as the things tied to the culture, like art, music and design.

Williams was also a strong believer in the power of finding your community.

He passed away in 2013 from acute myeloid leukemia or ALM. And for the past decade, the local nonprofit in his name, "Friends For A_Dog," has held the Burlington event "A_Dog Day" in late August.

The day-long celebration is meant to honor the life of the beloved skateboarder and DJ, and especially to raise awareness for the bone-marrow registry. That registry, which is open to people 18 to 40 years old, matches people with certain illnesses to those who might hold life-saving cells within their DNA.

The registry is free to join and involves a non-invasive cheek swab to capture DNA, which is then shared to a nationwide database.

Vermont Public's Mary Williams Engisch spoke with Jozie Furchgott Sourdiffe from Friends For A_Dog about the all-ages event and Williams' legacy of positivity that still reverberates today. Their conversation has been condensed for clarity.
Mary Williams Engisch: Well, firstly, tell us about Andy "A_Dog" Williams. It sounds like he really appreciated being part of that tight-knit skateboarding community in the Burlington area.

Jozie Furchgott Sourdiffe: Yeah, Andy was somebody that was one of the most positive and beautiful people that you'll come across. He was incredibly passionate about skateboarding. That's kind of where he found this community, was through skateboarding.

He grew up in St. Albans, and through that, he found music, specifically, hip-hop, making mixtapes and learning how to DJ. His whole career and life and community is rooted in skateboarding.

A person wearing a ballcap, tee-shirt and shorts leaps over a red fire hydrant on a skateboard.
Friends for A_Dog
Andy "A_Dog" Williams.

And the nonprofit in his name, "Friends For A_ Dog," has put on the celebration — "A_Dog Day" — since 2013. It's city-wide. It's a huge blowout! Give us a taste of of what folks can expect, and why that hits the right note for celebrating Andy's life.

We always start off at the skate park, which is named after Andy, which is a beautiful honor. And we start the day off there at noon. We have DJs. We have live music, we have skateboarders, all ages.

It's a really beautiful community celebration from, you know, little kids to older folks and everybody in between. And there's food trucks, and we have a bone-marrow registry.

After Andy transitioned, we decided instead of holding like a traditional funeral — which really wasn't speaking to him — was to have a big celebration of life. So we want to celebrate his life in all the ways that he loved.

You know, he was somebody that growing up in Vermont, like St. Albans, which especially back then, was extremely white. And he moved there with his mom. His mom was Filipino, and Andy moved there. And you could have felt very isolated, moving to this very white place that was out in the middle of nowhere.

He found skateboarding in that community, which accepted him with open arms. And that's something that he always was passionate about: sharing his passions with other people, especially people that might not necessarily have the access or means.

And we mentioned Andy had ALM, acute myeloid leukemia. Can you talk a bit about his search for a match for a bone-marrow transplant? And why now that's such a big part of A_Dog Day?

Yeah. So Andy, you know, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, and his was especially aggressive. I was his partner, so I went through this process with him.

If you don't have a related donor, like, you know, Andy didn't have siblings. So we had to look for unrelated donor.

Andy is laying down in a hospital room. He has one arm up with his hand in a fist. His other arm is laid down by his side with wire attached. He is receiving a stem cell transplant. He is wearing a green graphic t-shirt, black hoodie, black cap and blue jeans.
Jozie Furchgott Sourdiffe
Andy Williams receives a stem cell transplant.

And there's a national database that is run through the nonprofit Be The Match. So Andy, being Filipino and Black, there wasn't a lot of representation on the database. They said that his chances of finding a donor were 1-in-20-million.

But Andy being Andy, instead of being devastated, he just went full force with you know, educating people about becoming donors, holding bone marrow donor drives and trying to get as many people as we knew signed up on that database.

It was for Andy but we also knew that every person that signed up was such a rare match for somebody else. And if they weren't Andy's match, it would save someone else's life, which has happened. I know people that signed up because of Andy and have been matched and saved other people's lives, which is a really beautiful thing.

Besides carrying on his legacies and passion for music, dance, skateboarding and art was to carry on this education and getting people signed up to the bone-marrow registry. Because we saw, in real time, the importance and life-changing impact of it.

So, you know, we also wanted to continue that — advocating for people to join, which is literally saving someone's life, because that's something that Andy became passionate about.

Jozie, I'm so sorry for your loss. And thank you for sharing more about Andy with us.

It's nice to be able to talk about the work that we do and talk about Andy. I always love talking about Andy. It brings me a lot of joy, so thank you.

Andy at the beach. He wears a white tank top, knee-length gray cargo shorts, red sun glasses and a black cap, watch on his wrist. Hands in his pocket and looking afar. He stands in the sand, where bundles of tall grass stand. The ocean is in the background. It's dusk.
Jozie Furchgott Sourdiffe
Andy Williams at the beach.

A_Dog Day is Saturday, Aug. 26 in Burlington at the Andy "A_Dog" Williams Skatepark, Nectar's and Metronome.

Mary Williams Engisch is a local host on All Things Considered.
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