Willie Lightfoot is a Rochester City Councilmember and a former Monroe County Legislator who represented the 27th Legislative District in Monroe County, NY. Lightfoot was appointed to the Monroe County Legislature in 2006 and termed out after three consecutive terms, doing a total of 10 years of service. It is Lightfoot’s belief that the purpose of government is to serve the needs and address the concerns of the community, and not to put up barriers between the bureaucracy and the governed. That is why in his first 100 days in office, Lightfoot held community town hall meetings. These meetings served to cultivate an environment in which our community members were encouraged to share their vision for change in their neighborhoods, build a greater understanding of issues directly affecting their families and homes, and start a dialogue in which all voices are heard. Being a representative of for his community is more than sitting in an office and attending closed door meetings. It is about transparency, shared goals, and building a better Rochester for our families now, and for generations to come.
Lightfoot recently published his first book, The Intersection Between Pain and Purpose. He agreed to answer questions about the book and how he came to write it.
What led you to write The Intersection Between Pain and Purpose?
I was led to write this book out of a sermon that I preached at my church Tent revival that I have every year outside. The response from the people was so receptive to this topic that I turned it into a 5 part series that I taught for 5 weeks during Sunday services. As a result of the series, I was inspired to write the book.
One of the first things you write about is the importance of being a good listener. What advice do you have to help people become better listeners?
I believe God gave us two ears and one mouth so we would listen more and talk less. The Bible says to be swift to hear and slow to speak. (James 1:19) My advice is to be intentional about listening. So you have to work at it and make it a habit.
You make a distinction between physical and emotional pain. Now, this is a big question – what can the people of Rochester do to help one another through emotional pain?
I believe we all have to be willing to first be present with ourselves. We have to deal with our own physical and emotional pain first. Like an airplane in an emergency, we have to put our masks on first before we are able to assist others. We have to be more present with each other as well and recognize that we are a hurting community that is deeply wounded and be willing to take ownership of that truth. Then have conversations on what role can we play in healing ourselves and our community.
Throughout the book, you pose questions for readers to reflect on. I’ll ask you one, given your position as a Councilperson and a Pastor: You and your colleagues are often the targets of misinformation and anger. How do you show up every day?
I show up every day with new mercies as a Pastor because if you allow the negative narrative to take over it can consume you and turn you into a very callous person. We as elected officials and leaders are human as well and we are all deeply impacted by the decisions we and others make in these positions. We also are deeply impacted by how we are perceived by the community at large as well. The key is to stay focused on the goals of bettering the quality of life for all and making sure we fight bad (misinformation) with good (accurate information).
You also write about words having power. My work has focused on literacy, especially early literacy and I know you have done some interesting things in your shop. Can you talk a little about the impact of having books in your barber shop and any other work you’re doing to support early and family literacy?
Books in the shop was a program started under the former administration (Mayor Warren). It was an amazing program that got national attention. Allowing families to have access to free culturally appropriate books while waiting on a cut was transformative. I have seen many parents or guardians reading to their children while awaiting a haircut and it makes a difference in a child’s development. The whole experience can be life-changing.
Your book shows the progression people take from pain to purpose, and you write on page 66 “our scars are our testimony and help solidify our purpose.” Can you talk about that?
The Bible says people overcome by the words of their testimony (Revelations 12:11). We all have a story and we all have a testimony of what we have been through and made it out of. Many don’t write a book or have a chance to tell their story on a large scale as others. However, is extremely important that we find safe places to express ourselves and the journeys we have taken. These experiences become a blueprint for whom we become or not become as a result of how we have healed or not healed by the scars of challenges we have faced.
You write about overcoming addiction. What is your typical advice to someone who is struggling with addiction?
My advice for someone who had been there myself is to acknowledge and seek help. You can’t do it alone. You are not alone and others have been there and can help.
The strength of your faith in God shines through the pages of your book. Can you share how your faith drives you to do the work you do?
I would be nothing without my faith. It means everything to me. It keeps me grounded, focused as well as strengthened.
Is there another book in your future?
Yes, I would like to turn this book into a workbook.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
John Bevere and TD Jakes.
What book are you recommending to people right now?
Ryan Holiday’s Ego is the Enemy
Where can people buy your book?
Online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and my website (willelightfoot.com).
On a personal note, Mr. Lightfoot’s book came to me at a difficult time in my own life. My family has experienced significant losses in the last two years. We lost four family members in 2021, and most recently lost a beloved brother. Mr. Lightfoot’s words have brought me great comfort.