“If you believe God is a restorer make some noise,” Terence Lester instructed the crowd during Praise in the Park, a gospel music showcase in Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta, GA on August 8. Typically, Lester is still, quiet and modest but on this day, he was fueled by passion.
“Preach,” someone from the crowd screeched as Lester shared the vision he says God has placed on his heart to care for those living in poverty.
In 2013 Terence Lester and his wife Cecilia Lester founded Love Beyond Walls, an Atlanta based non-profit organization focused on exposing the realities of the often invisible, by sharing their stories and experiences to increase awareness.
The Lesters were at Praise in the Park to accept a $2,000 donation from Nissan South, a local car dealership, in support of his biggest endeavor to date – the August 20 #MAP16 (March Against Poverty) from Atlanta, GA to Washington, D.C.
“I want to give those we encounter on a day-to-day basis a voice,” Terence Lester told NBCBLK. “Not only am I walking to bring about awareness, but also to deconstruct the myth that poor people have character flaws or moral issues.”
For many homeless people, or those living in poverty, walking is their only means of transportation. The fact that in a day many of the people they serve could walk countless miles just to survive is part of the motivation for #MAP16.
“It takes a lot of strength to be poor,” said Terence Lester. “It takes a lot of strength to survive and these people are some of the hardest working people you will ever meet.”
While Love Beyond Walls the organization officially began just three years ago, the Lesters have been committed to making the lives of the poor more bearable for longer.
The seed for the organization was planted years ago when the Lesters met a group of people in need one evening. They went home to collect clothing and other items to share. It was a chance meeting with one woman in particular that changed everything for Cecilia.
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“I had these white Reeboks,” Cecilia Lester told NBCBLK. “This woman said, ‘I prayed for some shoes last night.’ For me that was the moment where it all came alive - standing there, holding someone who the night before prayed for this and I am now fulfilling the need.”
The idea for the walk was birthed not long after the organization’s founding, but members of their team at Love Beyond Walls felt they should do something smaller in scale, and more local, first. So instead, Terence did a smaller walk – 30 miles from Douglasville, GA to downtown Atlanta.
“Terence does these creative campaigns because in his words, he likes to grab the attention of people,” Cecilia Lester said. “He has worn the same clothes to raise awareness for kids. Terence [even] went homeless for a week around Christmas 2014 to better understand the experiences of the homeless.”
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference recently signed on to be a major supporter and sponsor. #MAP16 will depart from the main offices of the SCLC in downtown Atlanta.
In addition to the SCLC and Nissan South, others have joined in by providing socks, gift cards, and funds for food expenses, shoes and repairs for their mobile unit, which will trail Lester on the march.
One church heard of what they were doing and contacted the Lesters offering them a bus for free – they ended up paying a dollar. A local news station had the bus wrapped, tons of volunteers helped with labor of the inside of the bus, and other supplies were donated.
“Every single donation will not only help us reach Washington, but will also help us reach our ultimate goal of serving more people in our nation who are suffering with poverty,” Terence Lester said. “It is important for there to be tons of support because it takes much collaboration to address systematic issues such as poverty and homelessness. It will take everyone working together collectively to reach and help people out of the pits of poverty - whether it be generational or temporary poverty.”
What also drives Terence is knowing he won’t be here forever.
“Before I expire, I want to leverage every gift I am cognizant of to make a difference,” said Terence Lester. “I want to do something. And when I do not have many resources, I have what’s in my hand – a platform and an ability to communicate. I wanted to use my life as a bridge to the reality of what's going on really.”
Those interested will be able to track the route and steps of MAP16. There is a digital tracker built into the campaign’s website at http://lovebeyondwalls.org/map16-routes. They will also be sharing the journey via Twitter and Instagram.