Speaking out against violence in their communities, local ministers joined forces on a recent Saturday afternoon for some Sunday-morning inspiration.
“We have to teach our children: stay away from it,” said Rev. Lonnie Wesley, pastor of Greater Little Rock Baptist Church.
In a wide-open lot off of Cervantes Street, members of the local African-American community gathered to hear testimonies, discuss the area’s issues with violent crime and enjoy a day of fellowship. Under the shade of a canopy of oak, they mingled while sweet smelling smoke wafted from a barrel grill and a row of watermelons lay waiting.
“I think this is great, that the churches came together to make this happen,” said Lumon May, a candidate for the District 3 Escambia County Commission seat. “We have to have safe neighborhoods.”
The candidate’s brother, Rev. LuTimothy May, pastor of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, officially kicked off the rally with an opening statement. He said the rally was intended to shine a light on a community ill, while also inspiring people to work toward a brighter day.
“To let Pensacola know there’s another way besides shooting, stabbing and killing,” Rev. May said.
Areas of Pensacola—areas such as Brownsville—have experienced an uptick in violent crime. Recently, the owner of AC Grocery in Pace Plaza—not too far from the rally site—was killed during a gun battle with a robber.
A great-aunt of Terra Fountain Quarles, the slain 41-year-old store owner, spoke during the rally, thanking the community for their support. She also requested that people help restore a sense of safety to the streets.
Rev. Wesley recounted how a large number of people had offered their sympathies at Quarles’ funeral. He said that if such a number of people had frequented AC Grocery, instead of passing up the store for another one further away, then Quarles might have been able to afford a proper video security system.
“Like the ice is colder at Bear City than it was at Terra’s store,” Wesley said.
Rev. Joseph Marshall, the pastor of St. John Divine Missionary Baptist Church, encouraged those in attendance to support their communities. He recalled how community mentors had been important during his own upbringing.
“In other words, as the Jeffersons would say, ‘as they moved up, they would reach down,’” Marshall explained, stressing the importance of positive role models. “I could have went the other way if someone did not care enough to stay actively engaged in my life.”
Rev. Hosea Montgomery shared memories of his civil rights days. Recalling how he was present during historic events—like the Selma-to-Montgomery march—he said positive change requires not only the inspiration of the few, but also the relentless presence of the many.
“You may not be able to do as others do and be a leader, but you can be a supporter,” the pastor said. “Just your presence is important.”