Pastor Lonnie Wesley III has just returned from speaking with local students at C. A. Weis Elementary School. He’s still riding off the buzz.
“This is like the fifth straight year of being a speaker for the fifth grade class, and, man,” Wesley said, “it’s just a joy to deposit something positive into the life of a child.”
Pastor Wesley serves at Greater Little Rock Baptist Church in Pensacola. But it might be more accurate to describe his congregation as community-wide.
Recognizing his home is rife with racial and economic disparities, Wesley has set out to serve the area’s minority community. He wants to help his community better their circumstances and opportunities.
“Every community is in need of the kind of spirit that is a helping spirit, a hand-up spirit,” Wesley said.
The community Wesley serves is one he is intimately familiar with. The youngest of eight children, he was born and raised in Pensacola.
“I grew up on Michael Drive, brother,” the pastor said. “Michael Drive is a stone’s throw from Truman Arms. So, I was in Truman Arms everyday, behind B and C buildings, by the basketball courts.”
After school, Wesley left the area and earned his degree in Mass Communications at Alabama State University. After a couple of public relations jobs with the National Football League—working for both the Dallas Cowboys and Cleveland Browns—he returned home.
Back in Pensacola, Wesley participated with the One Hundred Black Men’s Moving Forward program. A taste of things to come for the pastor, this early-‘90s effort aimed to serve the educational needs of students who were expelled from school.
“Gave them the opportunity to keep up with their class work while they were out of school,” Wesley recalled. “It was tremendous. It really kept a lot of kids in the loop.”
After a couple of years back in town, Wesley left again. This time for a job with Jackson State University in Mississippi.
“While over in Mississippi, that’s when I started preaching,” Wesley said, explaining that the church he attended asked him to preach; he ended up serving there for seven years.
In 2004, the pastor and his wife began to think again of home.
“I prayed the Lord would allow both my wife and I to come back here to help our siblings and our parents,” Wesley said. “And the Lord blessed.”
It was a homecoming 10 years in the making.
“We love Pensacola,” Wesley said. “We didn’t know how much we loved Pensacola until we moved away.”
It is this community that he so loves that the pastor hopes to serve. It is this community—that so often neglects to accommodate the less fortunate—which he hopes to help.
“The top of a community is only as strong as the bottom of the community,” Wesley said.
That’s where the pastor is putting his energies. Into the foundation. Into the people.
“I try to invest in people,” Wesley explained. “We are the best resource we have.”