“My husband is dope,” reads a black tee worn by Cecilia Lester in a photo on her Facebook page. With one hand on her hip and the other pointing to the words on the shirt, the picture of Cecilia standing outside of the home she shares with her husband of 11 years and their two kids, may seem like a cute gesture from a doting wife, but her husband, Terence would suggest that she is the dope one, and that much of what he has accomplished is due-in large part-to her.
The couple work together as co-founders of Love Beyond Walls (LBW), a community-based center in College Park, GA focused on improving the realities of those living in poverty. “I wouldn’t be anywhere without her walking with me and our family,” Terence professed in a Facebook post from earlier this summer, adding that his wife is his rock, his best friend and his partner in “good.” After involving themselves in ministerial efforts for much of their lives together, the Lesters launched LBW in 2013 after years of contemplating ministry and seeking to find exactly what God had called them to do.
One evening as they were driving through downtown Atlanta, they noticed a crowd of homeless men and women. Cecilia recalls it as a defining moment. “Growing up in Augusta, we did not see homelessness the way it is here in metro Atlanta,” she said. “In that moment, I wanted to give away everything I had.” That night they tried. According to the Lesters, they went home and stuffed many of their belongings into large, black plastic bags. When they returned, they popped open their trunk and began passing the items they had collected to any and everyone who was in need. Cecilia shares a story of a chance encounter she had that night, with one women specifically who was in need of a pair of shoes. “I had these white Reeboks, the exact size the woman wore,” she said. “When she told me that she had prayed the night before for a pair of shoes, I don’t know how to explain that feeling.” That night the passion was born.
“They are the least of these, the ones the Bible discusses. Through the work we have done with LBW, I want to make sure others understand that they are just people,” she said. “Television and media would have you believe that all homeless people are drug addicts or lazy or even worse, but many of them are just people without access. We try to humanize them and provide the missing links,” she says. Over the years, LBW has embarked upon a series of campaigns to bring awareness to the issues facing people living in poverty, from food scarcity, underemployment and even homelessness.
Last summer, Terence marched from Atlanta to Washington, D.C. to bring awareness to these issues, in the largest LBW campaign to date. During that time Cecilia took care of the kids, getting them to and from school, while also organizing interviews and securing media coverage for the event. “It was a lot of sacrifice. He was away for two months,” she said. “When you are use to having someone there with you every day and then they are not there, you feel like everything is ripped away. But, I never got tired. I never got exhausted. When I needed a break, someone was always available to provide me time away,” she said. This is precisely why Terrence calls her his rock. “I go above and beyond to make sure he is fully supported,” Cecilia told MsXFactor.
“Many people would say, ‘How do you let Terence do that? How do you let him walk 600 plus miles?’ But I say, ‘Why not?’”
Thanks to the generosity and support of family, friends, and LBW supporters, Cecilia was able to visit with Terence every weekend he was away. “Everything was covered. People believed in what we were doing,” she said
A year later, the Lester’s produced a film called Voiceless, to document the march. “It took us about nine months [to complete the documentary], after looking over hours and hours of footage from the two months Terence was gone,” she explains. “It was a task – probably one of the more difficult projects we have done so far because there were so many stories and enough footage for several other films; including one on racial reconciliation.” Upon its completion, the Lester’s embarked upon a tour throughout Atlanta and across the country screening the film. In September, their labor of love was unexpectedly rewarded when the Rice Awards honored them for Best in Music, Arts, and Film.
In addition to spreading awareness, and expanding the reach of their organization, Cecilia says that her greatest accomplishment, is the lessons her children are learning about service. “For them it is just something the family does,” she says. “My daughter wants to be a veterinarian and our son says he wants to be a preacher. I plan to invest everything I can into them so that they can be successful. I love the impact it is having on the kids. We are passing the baton. Everything we do is a lifestyle.” Indeed it is.
The Lester’s are a living example of the intangible benefits of giving in service to others. Check out the trailer for their documentary below:
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