Rev. LuTimothy May is the pastor of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, a congregation of about 700 nestled among low-income housing developments in Pensacola’s inner city.
He has been called a glutton for punishment.
May tried for more than a year to purchase abandoned Brownsville Middle School from the Escambia County School District. He and his church wanted to convert what had become a dilapidated crime-nest into a community center, something that would add value and provide services to a neighborhood badly in need.
The vision found supporters in the non-profit world, business and local government. However, the one ally that mattered most—the District—wouldn’t believe and slammed the door in May’s face.
After such a defeat, many would lower their sights. Not May.
“We never let people stop the vision,” he said. “We just have to find other ways so that, at the end of the day, we can say, ‘Mission Accomplished.’”
And, so, May signed up to captain a sinking ship: A.A. Dixon Charter School of Excellence.
May has spent the past year turning the ship around, improving students’ performance and excavating the school’s important mission from a heaping pile of debt.
It remains to be seen whether this will be enough to save the school from closure. Either way, May said the past year had been one of his best.
“It’s probably one of the hardest challenges that I’ve faced,” May said, “but, nevertheless, it has brought more value to my life, to my understanding of where our obligations need to be as a community and that we can collectively overcome what all odds said we can’t.”
The “collective” part is key. May said Pensacola needs to stand together more.
He is troubled by the inequality that exists. “Even if I’m okay, if the majority of the city is not okay, that means it’s not okay,” he said. “It’s not enough for me to be a millionaire if someone else is only making $10,000 a year to feed their whole family.”
May said progress depends on improving the education system. “If you want to know how many young people are incarcerated and on probation, go look at the suspension list of the School District,” he said.
Improvement will take teamwork and strong leadership. May said the leaders of our past were too close-minded and wrapped up in ego, but he is optimistic that things will change.
“I think the city is on a decent track of collaboration,” he said, encouraged by the rise of a new generation of leaders. However, he also advised caution.
“We have to start sounding the alarm, so that the mold we’re replacing we don’t become.”