It is said let no one judge another. If we can find the time to love as Jesus did, we would be more happy with ourselves. I AM an ally, because I truly understand that people are of God.
Ellison Bennett is a native of Pensacola and graduate of Booker T. Washington High School, noted as the historical Black high school in Pensacola. He grew up during segregation and understands the pain of discrimination and bigotry first-hand. Ellison has championed social justice issues most of his life and credits God with his unwavering commitment to equality for ALL people. He served as president of the Pensacola Chapter the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) from 1998-2004. Ellison has served in various capacities within the community including as a volunteer for the Southern Poverty Law Center, mentor with Warrington Middle School, board member with The National Movement for Civil and Human Rights, Inc., board of directors with S.L. Jones Christian Academy; feeding the homeless, and Hurricanes Ivan and Katrina efforts.
The very beginnings of the SCLC can be traced back to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which began on December 5, 1955 after Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white man on the bus. The boycott lasted for 381 days and ended on December 21, 1956, with the desegregation of the Montgomery bus system. The boycott was carried out by the newly established Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA). Martin Luther King, Jr. served as President and Ralph David Abernathy served as Program Director. It was one of history’s most dramatic and massive nonviolent protests, stunning the nation and the world. The boycott was also a signal to Black America to begin a new phase of the long struggle, a phase that came to be known as the modern civil rights movement. The SCLC is a now a nationwide organization made up of chapters and affiliates with programs that affect the lives of all Americans: north, south, east and west. Its sphere of influence and interests has become international in scope because the human rights movement transcends national boundaries.
Ellison is a Vietnam War veteran serving from 1970 – 1975. He served as a police officer in the early 1970’s and graduated from Mortuary School in Miami Dade in 1977. He was the first Black letter carrier in Haines City, Florida, and received death threats daily because of his race. From 1984-1987, Ellison served as a member of the Haines City Council. He established Pensacola Caskets in 2014 and continues this efforts as a tireless servant leader.
Among the many honors and awards Ellison has received are: 1986 Haines City, FL Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. award and the 2004 Vietnam Vet Rev. H. K. Matthews award.
Ellison met Jayda Dunham (age 8) while working on equality efforts with her family in Pensacola. We profiled Jayda and her mothers back in October. Her mothers have instilled in Jayda that, despite the world’s differences, all lives are important and matter. As a seasoned advocate, he mentors a new guard of community activists championing for the equal treatment of all people.
Tanya Powers is a Senior Vice President, Division Sales Manager for the Georgia North Florida Division. In this role, Mrs. Powers is responsible for driving sales strategy, training and sales management effectiveness for the division. She is based in Jacksonville, Florida. She believes that everyone has the right to be treated equally and fairly.
Mrs. Powers joined SunTrust in as a part time teller her last year of college in 1992. A 22-year veteran Tanya has had various positions within the bank; most recently she spent 12 years as an Area Manager managing the 25 banking centers within the market. In this role, Mrs. Powers focused on integrating the company’s business and sales strategy as well as achievement of revenue goals.
Mrs. Powers earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of North Florida. She is a member of the Board of Trustees for St. Johns Country Day School.
Born in Jacksonville, Pastor Gundy is a graduate of Troy State University with a BS Degree and hold two Masters Degrees, Masters of Arts in Pastoral Ministries and Master of Divinity.
He is a retired public school teacher, and is also retired from the US Army with two Meritorious Service Awards. He is the recipient of the Congressional Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition for outstanding and invaluable service to the community award, Jacksonville’s Florida Mayor’s Distinguish Award, Trailblazers Award, Teacher of the Year Award and many other U.S. Army Awards
He is currently the Pastor of the Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist Church and past Jacksonville Local Chapter and State President Florida Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He has 14 years of experience in working with Not-for-Profit organizations specializing in advocacy for Juvenile Justice and Civil Rights issues. He is married to Wallette, they have a son named Andrew and two grandchildren, Darrion and Savia. He is a pastor with 33 years ministerial experience and serves on the Boards of several Not-for-Profit Organizations.
Recently, Pastor Gundy has publicly changed his stance on the need to expand the HRO in Jacksonville. Once a vocal opponent of amending our city’s protections, Pastor Gundy has expressed why it is important to protect the rights of everyone in our community.
It is time for me to write the letter from the “Jacksonville Jail”. It must address the conservative evangelical and black church as a whole:
The LBGT community has a right to be heard, but also others. The voices of change must also respect the voices of resistance. We must also deal with the voices of fear. I see the plan to introduce the law that will address the fears, but that is not what many others see. It is very important that Bible base-believers be heard, along with the others. That did not happen in the first meeting and must not happen hence forth.
I have set on the new ordinance for 18-months that specifically addresses the protection of the church. You cannot blame a culture of resistance based on their Biblical beliefs. My belief is tied deeply with the Bible, as it relates to all matters of sin, and all have and all sin, and all fall short. But, thank God for Jesus, all can be saved and forgiven. Anger and mistrust, on either side, does not allow acceptance, respect, forgiveness and reconciliation.
LBGT issues have divided churches, communities and families. This should not be, there must be honest dialogue, disagreements and forgiveness. The evangelicals must be part of the long-term solutions and we all must love each other, even if we do not agree:
1. The law protects the church.
2. The law protects housing, jobs and public access.
3. The law protects people against discrimination.
The conversation is tough but it must be held. Discrimination against any human being is discrimination against all humanity.
Love should not divide, but bring all of us together.
Arnold Evans is the Central Florida Division President for SunTrust Bank, based in Orlando. In that capacity, he leads a team that provides the full range of traditional and capital markets products and advice for privately-owned companies, and not-for-profit, educational and governmental entities. Arnold was previously SunTrust’s Regional President for Jacksonville. Prior to his move to commercial banking, Mr. Evans spent 17 years as an investment banker, including nine years in the Equity Originations Group at SunTrust Robinson Humphrey in Atlanta, GA, and eight in Equity Capital Markets at J.P. Morgan in New York City.
Arnold previously served as an Air Defense Artillery Officer in the U.S. Army. During his 5+ years on active duty, he served in roles ranging from Platoon Leader to Battery, Battalion, Brigade and General’s Staff Advisor in geographic locations including the United States, Europe and South West Asia. He completed his military service at the rank of Captain. In addition to his work responsibilities, he currently serves as a Trustee for the Darden School Foundation (Charlottesville, VA) and as head of that entity’s Investment Committee. He and his wife Joyce have two daughters, Asha and Aaren.
Arnold believes in LGBT Equality because as a City, as a State, and as a Country, we don’t have the luxury to exclude anyone. “Inclusion & Diversity are not only good for business, but the way good business is conducted. We don’t have the luxury to exclude anyone. By embracing and leveraging our different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives, we become more innovative, productive and profitable.”