Early each morning, Willie Freeman comes to his security job at the parking garage of a large office building in downtown Jacksonville, and greets the people who drive in. How he got there, and what he does when he gets off the security job in mid-afternoon, are a 30-year story.
“I moved here in the latter part of 1979, with my girlfriend, who’s now my wife.” Freeman said. “We came from Swainsboro, Georgia. I came here to be around my mother, whom I didn’t know well. I was raised by my grandparents.”
Freeman got a job with Duval County Schools. “I had relatives who worked there. They introduced me to the right people, and I got a job in the maintenance department. I worked there for more than 20 years.”
Freeman did well at his job, but he was hiding a secret. “I was a consumer of alcohol and drugs, marijuana and such. Later, I became addicted to crack cocaine for about nine years. But through all of it, I still maintained the job,” Freeman said.
In 1992, Freeman had a religious conversion, and he quit taking drugs and drinking. His wife, who stayed with him through those years, played a key part in his conversion. About 14 years ago, Freeman and his wife were called to ministry. That didn’t mean he quit his day job, though.
“We were ordained and we went out to start our own church,” he said. “We’ve been doing ministry ever since.”
He didn’t quit his day job, though.
He said, “I’ve been working here as a security guard for four years. Our church is still small, and so I work and labor to provide for my own means. I don’t depend on the ministry for that.”
You need a smartcard to drive into the garage where Freeman works, so he doesn’t have to keep people out. Instead, Freeman regards his security job as an opportunity to start his customers’ day out with a wave and a smile. And his influence in the building is substantial — all of the security, in the office tower as well as the parking garage, make it a practice to learn the names of the people they see every day and to greet them by name.
“I’m a people person. People are not my problem — they’re my purpose,” he said. “To reach out, help make someone else’s day, to give a word of encouragement, even though at times, you’ve got problems and circumstances going on in your own life. But nevertheless, we learn to put the best on the outside. Who wants to live this life if I’m gonna look mad and sad all the time? So it’s just part of the change that takes place on the inside of a person, that allows our light to shine in the midst of uncertainty, in the midst of trials. This is where we’re gonna drive others to a change, too.”