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The Past Has a Future

By the time Reverend Wayne G. Thompson became pastor of First Baptist Institutional Church negotiations for the church's property in the Gas Plant area were almost completed. His first order of business was to ensure the church receive a fair settlement for its relocation and to work with leadership to find the right location.

The remaining churches were at somewhat of an advantage because they were able to utilize information gained from past displacement negotiations. The experiences of churches and businesses during the redevelopment of Methodist Town, and the relocations that took place during Phase I of the Gas Plant area were important. What they learned is that the value is not in the building but the land. In order to move, the churches needed to be in a position to buy land plus construct their new churches. In the end, the three remaining churches were able to secure deals valued at close to $1 million each.

Where Are They Now?

I presented Pastor Thompson with a list of churches that were once located in the Gas Plant area in hopes that he could help me determine where they once stood. During a period that preceded the 1950s, The St. Petersburg Times, had a section titled News of Negroes of St. Petersburg and Pinellas County. In this one page section was all of the good news pertaining to Negroes, but mainly the black church community. The paper provided the names of churches and their current events but interestingly, for decades did not list their addresses.

Thompson reminds me that “Some of the churches were relocated (in the 1970s) for the interstate” so he wouldn’t be able to help with identifying each one. I shift the conversation to the impact on the faith-based community and the reaction to being displaced.

“It impacted the whole community because they moved us out. I can’t say if they were upset. I can’t say if they were happy. The people (the city) said to move so they moved. It’s not about what you want it’s about what was necessary and what had to be done. Imminent Domain is always there so when they say you have to move, you have to move.”

He continues, “People are survivors so they do what’s necessary to be done. The church is like people. I was told First Baptist didn’t want to move but the city said they would take it and we won’t get anything. So they had to go back and talk.”

I clarify my original question by explaining what I meant by the impact. The question was more so about membership. How did the move impact the church's membership rolls?

“There was no change because, by that time, we had 30 years down there, or however many years they were there, they were just doing what they had to do. We moved here and people left and people came. People drove in by that time. It was the 80s and a lot of people weren’t living there anymore. It was all gutted out.

The white people with the tenement houses and the people who were upwardly mobile, they were already gone. Then you had…they took everything out of there. All of the (housing) projects were gone. They took all the homes people owned behind there from 17th to 19th street. There is one house that’s still there. My uncle owned that house and he would not sell it. It’s still standing.”

Baseball Stole More Than the Gas Plant Area

As Pastor Thompson shares the history he goes beyond the Gas Plant area which is bound by 16th Street South to Dr. MLK King St (Ninth St) and First Avenue to Fifth Avenue South. The redevelopment plan and the interstate expanded west to 22nd Street South. Across the street from the church’s 16th Street location was a low-income housing project named Laurel Park (Royal Court). It was built in 1940 and consisted of 16 residential buildings and 168 units, including a community daycare center. Laurel Park was home to an estimated 500 residents. It was torn down along with several private residences to make room for a surface parking lot for the baseball stadium.

It was interesting that his uncle’s home still remains. As a young child, my aunt and uncle’s first home was on 18th Street and 4th Avenue South. I wondered how people get away with not selling. He replied, “They refuse to sell and I guess if the city decides they don’t need it, they let them stay, but if they decide today they need it they are going to go and take it.”

It’s not about the impact for us it’s always been about mobility for us to get up and move. When we’re not the owners and even when we are…First Baptist owned the property, Bethel Metropolitan owned the property, Prayer Tower owned the property.”

Getting What’s Owed

Continuing, he shares, “So they could have dealt with what they had to deal with but when it came to the money they were only going to give the replacement value. They gave the churches the replacement value and what it would cost to rebuild at that time. It wasn’t enough money compared to what they had put into their buildings. But they gave more than what they would have gotten if they had just sold the properties.

That’s why this church (speaking of First Baptist) got to be down here. It’s what it is (referring to the size) because the leadership, Emmanuel Stewart and the rest of them didn’t want to build. The original plan was for a 1,500 seat church, and for months we battled them for 1,500 seats.”

The leadership team eventually won despite the wishes of their new pastor. I inquire as to whether or not the church is bigger than the previous church?

“No, I don’t think so. I think it was an even swap. The old church had a basement with square footage the length of the church. It went from 16th Street to the alley. The upstairs was carved up and had offices and classrooms. That’s where all the space was but the downstairs was huge and the length of the building. In those days it was a civil defense location. That’s where they talk about nuclear bombs and being underground. That’s when churches had a basement. Bethel Community had a basement, First Baptist had a basement. Bethel Metropolitan didn’t have a basement, it's ground floor was on the street level but the sanctuary was on the second floor.”

In the end, First Baptist Institutional received “$932,824 for a property that had a

market value of $544,800.” The money the three churches received was likened to “Manna from heaven?” Pastor Thompson, at the time, stated “The money allowed his church to build a new worship hall without taking out a mortgage. So all-in-all we haven’t done too bad,” referring to the new church in terms of square footage.

Smaller churches like St. John Missionary Baptist Church, which relocated two blocks away, to Fifth Avenue South and 32nd Street, only received $28,000.

Choosing the Best Parcel of Land

The first location the church considered was on 31st Street South and about 28th Avenue. It would later become the new home of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church. First Baptist Institutional chose property off of 31st Street South and Third Avenue.

Interestingly, First Baptist Institutional lost its first church to Webb’s City. Twenty-five years later the major retailer would close. Webb’s City became outdated when new shopping centers like Central Plaza and Tyrone Mall began to open. The church's new location was one block south of Central Plaza.

The land they chose was vacant, but Thompson explains it was once a pond.

“There was nothing here. There used to be a goose pond that had been filled in. We spent about $40,000 to build this land up for infrastructure to ensure it could hold the building because it was prone to flooding. We had to build up to codes and other stuff.

The pond was before my time but that’s why they didn’t want to build here. They (leadership) knew at one time there used to be a pond here. Then they told us we had to get a soil boring to test the land to see what it could handle. They sent a white man out here to do that and he told us how we had to build it up. Deacon Brown said what can we do to bring this up more? Not just by what your specs say but what more can we do to build it up and that’s when that they decided to build up the whole piece of property.”

Weathering Storms

A tropical system hit the area about a decade ago and severely damaged the church’s roof. Aside from the beautiful stained glass windows that have followed the church with each move, it had a beautiful cross atop the steeple. The steeple fell as the tiles were pulled from the church by tropical-storm-force winds. Although I no longer attended First Baptist, I felt a sudden sadness in seeing the damage. Due to the exorbitant cost of repairs, it wasn’t until this year that the church began to repair the damage. The reflection led to my final question in this section of the interview.

Did the maintenance and upkeep of the new church increase or remain the same? Pastor Thompson admits expenses did increase but attributes it to his ministry. “When I came on board, the church was open more and we were doing more things as a church throughout the week,” he explained.

As I visited various churches that have built bigger and better sanctuaries over the past forty years, it is hard to deny that church attendance is on the decline. With declining membership comes a decline in tithes. One thing I learned working for a church is, for every faithful tithing member a church loses today, they will need three to five new members to equal that members giving.

In part three, we’ll discuss the future of the black church’s role in St. Petersburg as gentrification takes root and the Rays impending departure.

The Black Church and the Future of St. Petersburg

In spite of what has come their way, the churches in St. Petersburg have managed to survive thus far. There is no denying that more change is coming to St. Petersburg. It’s been more than 40 years since the upheaval of the Gas Plant area began. There are discussions to dismantle I-175. Major League Baseball did not produce the economic development promised to the community. The Tampa Bay Rays agreement with the City of St. Petersburg is set to expire in 2027 and the team has already expressed interest in leaving the area.

In response, the city has hired HKS Architects, a firm out of New York, to reimagine the 86 acres which are being rebranded as The Gas Plant District. Plans call for:

About 40 percent of the Gas Plant site, or 34 acres, would be set aside for public space, including parks and a pedestrian promenade, Morton said. The other 60 percent would be used for the proposed convention center and the businesses, housing, retail and entertainment that will take root there.

Planners propose taking Booker Creek, which winds through the site, and turning it into a water feature that would be surrounded by terraces, sidewalk cafes and retail, as well as creative lighting and public art. (Johnston 2018)

When asked about his feelings on the Rays' possible departure, Pastor Thompson replied, “I have no thought; it doesn’t matter to me one way or the other.”

His response has been a common theme throughout the black community. It’s a

feeling that the mayor and city officials really don’t see us. In 2013, at the start of his administration Mayor Rick Kriseman hired Nikki Gaskin-Capehart “to serve as his director of urban affairs.” She was tasked with developing an economic agenda for Midtown. There has been no economic progress in Midtown, which is home to the majority of the city’s black residents. Kriseman was reelected in a highly contested election campaign in 2017. He beat out former Mayor Rick Baker, by a small margin. Since then, his administration has had very little engagement with the black community.

Reimagining the Gas Plant District

I rephrase my question, placing emphasis on it not being so much about the Rays leaving but what will happen with the land.

“It doesn’t matter about the land, we don’t own it.” He begins. “We didn’t own it back then and what little land we owned had little impact. I told a reporter with Channel 10 (our ABC local affiliate) black folks have always been user-friendly to Mr. Bubba downtown. We’ve always been partners. Whenever they said it was going to be good we were good with that. We move out and they do what they want to do.” His annoyance with the topic is evident. Not so much that I am asking the question but more so that the Gas Plant area is once again a hot topic.

He seems incredulous to the notion that black people believe they have a right to demand the city include them in the discussions. It is neither a lack of faith nor a lack of concern. He has lived in this city for over 70 years and half of that time as a pastor and voice in the community. He releases an animated sigh. “Now we want it back?”

The memories of living through the many changes in the city are resurfacing. “In the1960s we sold all that property to be able to live elsewhere.” Areas in the city that were once white-only were being integrated as white flight took place.

“All these houses we got now, all that property is reverting back to them. The old folks who bought it, their children don’t want it. The white folks own 60% of the commercial property along 16th Street South. Gentrification is what it is now.”

On the Political Front With Gentrification

Gentrification in south St. Petersburg is a topic that can take on a life of its own. Have you been following the political campaign for District 7, I ask since First Baptist Institutional is in that district.

His response… “For what?”

Reparations are a hot topic in black communities around the country. Several of the candidates running for President on the Democratic ticket are asking about it also. How do you feel about that?

“Someone running on reparations doesn’t mean anything because we aren’t going to get anything.” I reiterate that the discussion is taking place in many social and political circles.

“But nobody is getting anything. Why waste our time talking about it. Reparations were supposed to begin in reconstruction. We were supposed to get 40 acres and a mule. No one got that. The property we did buy, we own less of it now than they did at reconstruction renaissance time. So where are the reparations?”

Eritha Akile Cainion, a young African American woman, and member of the African People’s Socialist Party were attempting to unseat incumbent Lisa Wheeler Bowman for the District 7 seat. Because no candidate received 50% of the vote in the primaries, the two highest vote-getters made it into the general election.

She ran on a platform for reparations and felt that if the Rays leave, the land should be returned back to the black community. Cainion’s passion for the black community and inspiring her generation to become politically engaged is undeniable. Her biggest hurdle has been the stigma that empowering black people is an attempt to overthrow the current white power structure. It is more about having a voice at the table than the token seat.

Pastor Thompson isn’t prepared to concede that the city as a whole is ready to hear that voice.

“First, white people are not going to let her win. This system was never designed to have us represented. The only reason we were able to finally break-thru is that we had the majority in the area (District 7). That’s how C. Bette Wimbish got on there (City Council). Enoch Davis ran before her and didn’t make it and he was a popular pastor. Louis Lampley ran and didn’t make it. She made it in part because of the timing but also because she looked like them.

They were willing to vote for people who look like her but black men, they were not going to do it. White men are threatened by black men but will do whatever they can to help black women.” It is worth noting that there have been black men elected to the city council, including the late David T. Welch who was the second African-American elected to the council following C. Bette Wimbish and served three terms; Earnest Williams who was appointed in 2000, and later reelected; and Wengay Newton who served multiple terms.

“Why does this matter? She’s running on reparations and 90% of black people don’t know about reparations so it’s beyond their peripheral view and their bandwidth to process that.” He reiterates “They are not going to give the land back. They lied the first time. I was at those meetings… I can’t participate at that level because I don’t believe in it.”

Lisa Wheeler Bowman easily won reelection. With less than 20% voter turn-out, she garnered 75% of the votes for District 7. The 5,000 plus votes Cainion gained showed a clear split along racial lines. Perhaps her campaign slogan “Make the Southside Black Again” (Taylor, 2019) was too radical. Thompson was right in his insistence that someone with her concern and passion for black people will not be elected by a system that was not designed for them to win.

I wanted to be clear on his feelings about reparations although it was steering us away from the topic at hand. Was it that he didn’t believe in the idea or if he simply didn’t believe it was possible?

“They are not going to do it because they have never done it. What makes you think one single voice in 2019 pushing for this is going to get them to elect her? In this election, we are guaranteed two seats.” In addition to District 7, District 5 also had two black candidates in the general election.

In St. Petersburg elections for City Council seats, only registered voters in the district can vote in the primaries. The general election, however, is a citywide vote. Therefore, the majority of the citywide vote determines who represents each district.

Thompson gives me a historical lesson on local Gerrymandering. “(Former Mayor) Rick Baker appointed a white man (William E. Klein) to the seat (of the Planning &

Revisioning Board) because A) he knew the population was shifting, and B) he knew that gentrification was in place already. He then took the lead on redistricting, drawing the lines for the districts. He took that thing right down the line and took Deveron out of the district so Deveron couldn’t run for office. Go look at it...Cut it around Deveron’s house and then back on the block…who does that?”

Deveron Gibbons is Pastor Thompson’s son. He is a business executive and former lobbyist. Gibbons ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2009. An election won by Rick Baker. In viewing the city council district maps, a small portion of land where Gibbons built his home, should be in District 6 or 7 but is awkwardly positioned within District 5.

Redistricting occurs every 10 years after the United States Census records are recorded. The last redistricting took place in 2013. At that time a large portion of the black voting bloc, considered to be the most educated and politically savvy, was removed from District 6, assuring that Earnest Williams would be the last African-American to hold the seat in foreseeable future.

Now that gentrification is changing the racial make-up of District 7, it will be interesting to see if the recent election of a black person to District 5 was more about the future of St. Petersburg demographics, than who was best suited for the job.

Thompson closes out our discussion on politics with these words of wisdom. “I’m saying that gentrification is motivated by race. So that’s what it is. They don’t want to do right so they ain’t never going to do right.”

The Future of the Faith Community When the Power Structure is Weakened

Getting back on topic I ask him to give his opinion on where he believes the faith community will be in 30 years. I wanted to hear his thoughts from a spiritual context.

“The faith community or the community?” he asks for clarification. I respond that I am looking for his thoughts on the faith community because there are people in the community who are non-religious?

“You can’t separate them (the faith community and the community). It’s an odd question because what you really want to know about is the black faith community? The essence is that I don’t believe our condition is based on what they do. (White people in general) The majority of the population operates on faith in God.

I don’t like the designation of a faith community because that was brought about in the Bush-era to dilute the influence of the black church, point blank, period, and a dot. That’s how he castigated Jesse Jackson when he learned he had a baby outside of marriage. That killed his hopes of running for president.

Bush was sick of black preachers coming to the White House trying to tell them what to do so they came up with new names. Faith-based, means they don’t have to deal with churches and blacks preachers. And that was because the black preachers represented the faith community and everyone would go there and everyone would listen and even the judges listened to the men of God.

The same thing happened with the man appointing us to One Church One Child. It was about influence, it was about access, and so they believed that One Church One Child, partnering with the church would lead to families in the church hearing the stories of children in need of adoption. Once we learned what was really happening, suddenly we got 3 times the number of black kids in the system; yet, black people in the population don’t represent a 4th or a 3rd.”

He begins to reflect back. “When I was ten years old there were no black children in the system. The first people to get a social worker job here were Ms. Jessie Wells, Mrs. Alma Singletary, and Ms. M. Campbell. They didn’t get those jobs until the 60s because there was no need.

We took care of ourselves. If there was dysfunction in the family, the family dealt with it. If someone died, when the family came for the funeral, they had a meeting and decided what to do with the kids. Someone would say well I’ll take one with me, another would say I’ll take one back to Alabama, and another person said I’ll take one up to New York. The State had nothing to do with us.

While we were trying to fight for black police officers the crimes we did were against us not them so there was no need to police that. We never mattered to them, we were an aside until growth came and people spread out. What we went to jail for was domestic issues, fighting, and drunks, those were the issues. They stopped bothering us about the 4 liters and selling liquor because they weren’t selling us their liquor so we had to get liquor from the bars we had…the Beer Garden. They couldn’t sell bottled whiskey; they sold beer and could sell anything in the bar but half a pint.

This used to be a dry county. Pinellas County was a dry county, the last one to sell liquor…open a liquor store on Sunday. You have to remember the church was always impacted by the morals of the day. If it wasn’t allowed we wouldn’t do it. Same with the movies, black people didn’t go to the movies they went to church so that wasn’t for us. We had the Royal Theater on 22nd Street and the Harlem Theater on 3rd Avenue across from Bethel Metropolitan and next door to the public library.

So what we did on Sunday was determined by what white folks did on Sunday. The white people shut their businesses down on Sunday and they went to church, so they expected us to go to church. That’s what we did and the community served the Lord on Sunday. So as everything began to progress there were more options.

By that time, we fast-forward through the years we get all these little league games and sports. So instead of a child being at home reading, the parent lets him be in this league and every afternoon they’re going to this league so he has no learning time, no reading time, no getting ready for school time because he’s out there chasing a ball. Now our little girls got to be out there so they let them be cheerleaders. How many of the cheerleaders are black in the NFL?” He asks me.

“Look at the base, 100s, 1000s of kids. Right now you can’t go down 31st Street South or by Campbell Park in the evenings and on weekends because of the cars, because all our children are there. The parents drop them off and go make more babies. The same thing happened with scouting. While we had the boys in scouting the mamas would go off and do whatever. So that’s the issue. We weren’t there for the kids and as soon as we started to come up, their ugliest came up.

We had 11 districts in Florida, 11 adoption units in Florida and there was nobody black but maybe a receptionist. There were no black social workers, no black adoption managers, no black nothing in those offices and the few people that worked in there they had to report to somebody and they were just there to cover the south side and we didn’t need but one of them.

By the time we got there with One Church One Child, Jacksonville and Miami hired supervisors but not managers of the unit. So we said you got all of this but your service population is 90% black. Now you have 5 black preachers that came up in the civil rights era who say you got to put an end to this and we went to work. We had them change the law. We went to Tallahassee to lobby them.

When Deveron became a lobbyist a white man walked up to him that used to be the elector general of the legislature. He said I heard you’re Rev. Thompson’s son. Deveron said, “yes Wayne Thompson is my daddy.” The man said, tell your daddy that I said hello and come to see me. That was the type of respect we had. When Frank Peterman invited me up there to be Chaplin for the Day, the guy found out I was there. He came out and said don’t let him leave. I had a plane to catch because I needed to get back home for bible study. He said I needed to see him. We hugged, laughed and talked about getting together in the near future.

That level of participation diminished. Notice now, for years Florida was a blue state it was democratic. It didn’t change until the migration of people from the north and Midwest started coming to Florida. Every governor we had was Presbyterian they were liberals and they believed in doing what’s right. Our school system was in better shape. Pinellas County was a leader in education and the superintendent from Pinellas went on to become the secretary of education...” Floyd T. Christian (Florida Commissioner of Education from 1965 to 1973).

“There was upward mobility because of the leadership here at that time. So we get all of that going together and we start to get change in political arenas. So is it better, no, because in those days even the white preachers believed we should be interacting together. We had inter-faith we had multi-cultural. When I was a little boy my pastor would send us down to United Christ Methodist to meet with their kid's youth group on Sunday. And they would come to our church on Sundays. Me and my sister we got to be little children in the Christmas pageant at the church on 5th Avenue South and Fourth Street. I didn’t want to be a shepherd, I wanted to be Joseph. My sister was so pretty they let her be Mary.

Now, we’ve had…the only other time we’ve done stuff together was when the Bart group came, a development activist group. Congregations United for Community Action. I came up with the name. I was the last black preacher to be a part of it. This man named Paul Northrop came in here and talked to all the preachers. Everyone said you got to meet Wayne. My thought was why did it take a white man to come to town to get black preachers together? I’ve been trying to get us together since 1977, as the old preachers did.

I questioned whether we needed to be a part of this. I was opposed to it but they stayed on me and I said I can’t do this without our people being involved. Then we had to give money. That’s the other thing; we had to pay a certain amount of money in order to be a part of it. They brought in some white churches that were only in St. Petersburg. We couldn’t get Clearwater or north county to participate. When it got big we were going to school board meetings every month, and they sent us to Houston to bring back teaching methods that were working in those areas to uplift our children. Sometimes they invited us to be a part of things and sometimes they weren’t invited. The idea was that we were out there we were on their case.

But as this migration took place they didn’t want to hear from preachers anymore. They diluted our access thereby yielding the dilution of our influence and then our impact. Now people are coming to black preachers and wanting us to partner with them to do stuff. I told the black preachers they could go, but I wasn’t going.”

For about 10 years, Congregations United for Community Action, or CUCA, led anti-drug marches, confronted lending institutions and challenged the School Board. The group fizzled around 2006. (Moore, 2019)

If the past behavior towards the growth of the black community is any indicator of its future, we may be on the path to distinction. When I asked where he saw the black community in 20 years, Pastor Thompson gave an honest reply.

“Where it is right now. It’s going to be smaller because there aren’t going to be many black people in St. Petersburg.

This New Housing Is Not For Any of Us

“There will be affordable housing but it won’t be affordable to the people that need it the most. The apartment’s downtown is for people moving here. Then you have students at USF whose parents buy condos for the kids to live in because there aren’t enough dorm rooms. When they graduate they sell them. So the plan is that people are going to move south. Investors look at the obituaries and they come and get the properties. Every day I get a call saying they were in my neighborhood and bought a house. They ask, can they buy my house.

I wish I can live a long time so they can’t buy my house, but the neighbors aren’t going to do that.” I understand wholeheartedly what he means. My mother lives in the Palmetto Park neighborhood and people are selling to investors, not understanding the value of the land the house is on. It is similar to the homes that were impacted in the Gas Plant area. New homes are built and being purchased in the high $500,000 to mid $600,000. My parents purchased their home in 1969 for $32,000; today it is valued at $330,000. If she sold it today she could not afford to buy a comparable property.

Pastor Thompson shares that investors have offered one church $400,000. He asked the pastor, “Where are you going to go to replace what you got now for $400,000 dollars?”

He reemphasizes that, “The black community is going to be smaller and have less impact. What businesses we have will be different. The changes from the 40s, 50s, 60s are going to shift again because business is not stand-alone anymore. You won’t be able to see a black business.

What about the church? I ask. “The church isn’t going to move anymore. People who move from St. Pete aren’t going to have to come back because there are churches where they are going. But if you’re tied to a church…Lillie McGarrah drove here from Largo for 50 years…so it wasn’t a thing for her. We have members now who live in Tampa, Clearwater, Bradenton, and Palmetto.

That’s the other migration. People are going to Manatee County to buy homes. The younger black people coming back are moving over there. You can move the house but you’re not going to move the black church.”

Where does that leave the church?

“The church will always be,” he says. “It won’t be at the level it was. If people don’t believe in a church, they will move on. For the people who remain, it will always be relevant.

The Shift in the Spiritual Realm

When I look at St. Petersburg I do not see the same excitement for the church as I see in other places. Churches like New Birth MBC (Atlanta), The Potter’s House (Dallas), and franchise ministries like All Nations Worship Assembly with locations in multiple states and Canada, I see a shift from religion to spirituality and increased community engagement. These religious leaders not only have a seat at tables of influence but also a voice. They are connected with their communities and the needs of its citizens. I do not see that in St. Petersburg or the potential for it to exist.

Pastor Thompson explains why this is a reality. “Eddie Long (former pastor of New Birth) was my friend. When I met him he didn’t pastor, he went to a small church and began to teach there.”

He points out that New Birth was a young church when Bishop Long started it. In his case, although he was young, First Baptist Institutional was an old church when he became a pastor in the early 80s. “So there were decades of ingrown stuff that I could never know. So I had to start on a different level than he had. He had younger folk that wanted to live their faith. There are people in churches in DC and Atlanta with good jobs and they want to live their faith and serve God. That’s how they did it; it’s the collection of people.”

His challenges were quite different. The people he was hired to lead were people he admired from within the community. They were educators, doctors, lawyers, and businessmen. They hired him to lead the church because of his business resume, and because he had never led a church, they believed they could control him.

Thompson admits, “I’ve been disappointed. I tell young preachers, don’t think your grand ideas and preaching is special. Every pastor before you and everyone after you had and will have grand ideas. I stand on people who went through so you don’t have to go through what you’re going through today. The issue is when we decide, if we can ever decide as a people we are going to join together there will be nothing the white people can do to us. But we haven’t gotten there yet.”

Recently he was with six pastors he mentored years ago. It is a blessing to him to know they are all doing great things in their respective ministries. They reminded him that he had gone to their churches to help them, and people had come to First Baptist Institutional to help him. The conversation took him back to the days when they were, “Young boys and First Baptist was the place to be, we had chairs in the aisles …the money never matched the crowd, but you all are in a place where the people decided to hear you.”

St. Petersburg’s future pastors and leaders took different paths. A few of Pastor Thompson’s mentees ended up leading mega-churches in Atlanta, Salt Lake City, and Chicago. Others remained in the area. The juxtaposition of the young pastors and young people with the potential to lead is parallel. Those that end up doing great things had to leave St. Petersburg to flourish. Those that remain or return after college never seem to spread their wings. The dark clouds of oppression could be at its core.

One thing that is certain, if the past is a predictor of future behavior, now is the time to break the cycle and move complacency out of the equation.

Works Referenced

Photo 1 Credit: St. Petersburg Times

Photo 2 Credit: Tampa Bay Times

Photo 3 Credit: City of St. Petersburg

Photo 4 Credit: Florida Politics

Photo 5 Credit: City of St. Petersburg

Photo 6 Credit: City of St. Petersburg

Photo 7 Credit: Realtors dot com

1987, p. 1.

Johnston, Caitlin. “Reimagining the Trop: A Riverwalk, a Convention Center, a New Name?” Tampa Bay Times, Tampa Bay Times, 8 Aug. 2018,

Moore, Waveney Ann. “FAST Finds Power in Faith and in Numbers.” Tampa Bay Times, Tampa Bay Times, 31 Aug. 2019,

Taylor, ByJanelle Irwin. “Eritha 'Akile' Cainion Raises $13,000 in One Week in Major Surge against Lisa Wheeler-Bowman.” Florida Politics - Campaigns & Elections. Lobbying & Government., 10 Aug. 2019,

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