Against the grain II

James and Ferguson have endured to find their calling

Vaughn Wilson

Two of the most unlikely candidates in one era of their lives have found their rhythm.  Overseer Gregory James and the Rev. Rudy Ferguson both had lives that were going down paths over three decades ago that in most cases would end up tragically.  But, by the grace of God, they are now viable assets in the Big Bend community.

James was pastoring a church in Quincy, Fla.  His popularity was skyrocketing. He was packing out churches and bringing the word. He was seen as a rising star in the faith community. His messages were electric to match his flashy attire.

During that same time, he was peddling drugs. He was using his church bus to deliver some of these illegal substances. He was moving fast in the streets at night, while praising the Lord on Sunday mornings.  He was eventually arrested and brought in and imprisoned. He was given a sentence of life plus 14 years.

Ferguson started out as a troubled youth.  By the time he was 17, he had a rap sheet longer than a Beethoven symphony.  Arrest after arrest for misdemeanor and felony charges peppered his record before he was 18 years old.  All statistics pointed to him being shot and killed in the streets or arrested and put away for most of or the rest of his life. He admitted that during that time, he fully expected to die by gunfire.

That was then.

James would be released early from his sentence and Ferguson would transition to a worker at the Tallahassee Urban League under the guidance of Rev. Ernest Ferrell. James would rebuild his ministry here in Tallahassee.  Shortly after being released from prison, he organized a 1,000 Man Rally in Tallahassee’s Southside to combat the violence growing among youth in the city.  Pastors, city officials and law enforcement joined in this successful declaration.

For the last seven years, James has along with maintaining residence at Life Church International Ministries, produced the Tallahassee Leadership Prayer Breakfast.  The event is the ultimate unifying event in our city.  Leaders from all faiths, law enforcement agencies and local and state officials flock to the annually sold out event.  James joked about the stark contrast in his life at the event just two weeks ago. 

“It’s amazing to be up here with (Sheriff) Walt McNeil.  I am sure he had a file on me back when I was in the streets,” James said.

Ferguson started the “I Am Dreams Gala” a few years ago.  He calls it a part of his Nehemiah Project from the Bible.  He awards high schoolers scholarships for their excellence in a gala as elegant as there is in Tallahassee.  He also awards local figures for their dedication to the community.  The event is an annual black-tie affair and like the prayer breakfast, is attended by the highest official ranking members of the local community. 

“I had no idea I would be alive, the way I was going as a teen.  Several of my friends had been shot and I feared that it would be my ending, too.” Ferguson said at his event.

Ironically, James and Ferguson both were candidates in the 2022 midterm election cycle.  James sought the District 8 Florida Representative seat which covers Leon and Gadsden Counties.  James dominated Gadsden County, but was unable to muster enough traction from the area of Tallahassee that he covered.  Still, he ran a very impactful campaign.

Ferguson sought election to the Leon County Commission.  He challenged incumbent Nick Maddox, who was in an at-large seat.  Ferguson got ground support and had a respectable finish.  While it was not the outcome he wanted, the experience allowed him in conversations that previously were unavailable to him.

Turning around the lives of these two can be described as nothing less than miraculous.  Two men who were headed to be statistics as young men found a faith that not only redeemed them, but imparted favor to the point that they are now able to build the very community that they had once took part in bringing down. 

Every story of success is not a fairy tale.  Some have twists and turns and no straight lines.  For the sake of Tallahassee and surrounding areas, we are blessed that the paths of Overseer Gregory L. James and Pastor Rudy Ferguson have turned for the good of the community in a big way.

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