The walk was the idea of Rev. Lonnie Wesley, III, pastor of Greater Little Rock Baptist Church and Escambia County Commissioner Lumon May in response to the increasing violence in the black neighborhoods across Escambia County.
On Jan. 10, a shooting in the Montclair neighborhood left one person dead and two others hospitalized. Last summer, 19-year-old Matthew Cox was gunned down in front of his mother’s house on Deauville Way near Montclair Elementary School.
Unfortunately, murders, gunshots and drugs have become commonplace in that part of Escambia County. Operation Clean Sweeps and town hall meetings have failed to have any lasting impact.
This event was different. Commissioner May, Pastor Wesley and their friends, Dr. Joseph L. Marshall of St. John Divine Missionary Baptist Church, Dr. Tyler V. Hardeman of Antioch Missionary Baptist Church and the Rev. LuTimothy May of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, wanted to make a statement—not alone, but with 100 men from their churches.
As Commissioner May told me in the days leading up to the demonstration, “It’s time to wake the sleeping lion.”
A week earlier, I talked with Rev. H.K. Matthews, a Pensacola hero of the civil rights era, about leadership.
“So many people call themselves leaders,” he said. “It’s my contention that leaders are not made, they are born.”
He pointed out too many self-proclaimed leaders love to hear praises of their leadership, but don’t speak out on injustice.
“They aren’t prone to exercise abilities that they don’t have,” said Rev. Matthews. “Leadership has to come from the inside. You have to have passion for people.”
Matthews would be proud of the passion of Wesley, Marshall, Hardeman, the May brothers and their friends.
“This is not politics,” Commissioner May told the crowd at Montclair. “We must come together. Each one must reach one. Our greatest investment should be in human capital.”
Pastor Wesley simplified the message even further. “We’re here because we love Pensacola,” he said.
He, his fellow pastors and Commissioner May plan to repeat these walks in other parts of the community. Each time they will get a little better organized—maybe even Mayor Ashton Hayward, Superintendent Malcolm Thomas and the other county commissioners will join them.
If the politicians choose not to do so, it won’t matter. These lions aren’t waiting for them to act any longer.