As the voice of Michael K. Williams crept from a large sound system hooked to the back of a truck, the bustle of an East Flatbush street slowed down a bit.
People stopped to pay their respects and to retrieve white balloons that would later be released during a vigil for Mr. Williams, held right in front of the Brooklyn housing complex where the actor grew up.
“He went to Hollywood, but never forgot where he came from,” said Anthony Herbert, a community advocate who hosted the vigil at the intersection of Foster and New York Avenues. “He was a brother of our community.”
Mr. Williams, who was found dead on Monday at his home in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, was famous for his portrayal of Omar Little, the shotgun-wielding gangster in the HBO epic drama “The Wire.” But that character wouldn’t be possible without the real-life people from East Flatbush from whom he fashioned Omar.
“Everybody loves him because from when he was on ‘The Wire,’ we couldn’t believe that he was just walking around like he wasn’t a Hollywood celebrity,” said Nena Ansari, 66, of Flatbush. “People were just like, ‘Is that him?’ We were shocked to see him walking around without security guards. But he was a regular guy.”
Mr. Williams, who was born in Brooklyn in 1966, grew up in the Vanderveer Estates housing complex now known as Flatbush Gardens. Built in 1949 and 1950 on the site of the old Flatbush Water Works, the 59-building complex for working-class families was also home to a teenage Barbra Streisand and her family.
Assemblyman Nick Perry, who has represented that part of Flatbush for nearly 30 years and lives near the complex, said that Mr. Williams would often visit over the years, and include Mr. Perry in youth-focused events or food drives. They encouraged residents of the complex to get the Covid-19 vaccine during the pandemic.
“He lived elsewhere, but he always seemed to feel that he belonged and owed something to the neighborhood he grew up in,” Mr. Perry said.
Residents who attended the vigil felt it was their duty to pay tribute, whether they knew Mr. Williams personally or not.
Tammie Pierce, 53, of Flatbush, said Mr. Williams had lived next to her cousin in the housing complex. She never had a chance to meet him, but she always admired him for his talent.
“I live down the block, so I came to show some love and release my balloon with them,” she said. “He was a great actor, and all the good people come out of the projects.”
Jessica Ortiz, 48, of Flatbush, said she grew up with Mr. Williams and loved the fact that he visited the neighborhood often.
“He always came back here and looked out for the place where he started,” she said. “The characters he portrayed, like the gangsters, that wasn’t him. He was a real soft, gentle, kind, give-you-the-shirt-off-his-back kind of guy.”
Mr. Williams told The New York Times in 2017 that he continuously drew inspiration for his characters from people around the complex. When he didn’t quite know how to handle a shotgun, he and a local drug dealer stood on the roof of one building and shot into a steel door.