© 2024 | WUWF Public Media
11000 University Parkway
Pensacola, FL 32514
850 474-2787
NPR for Florida's Great Northwest
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Pensacola’s Equity Project Alliance fighting racism and more with first full-time executive director

Lusharon Wiley has been tapped to lead Pensacola's Equity Project Alliance as its first full-time executive director.
Sandra Averhart
WUWF Public Media
Lusharon Wiley has been tapped to lead Pensacola's Equity Project Alliance as its first full-time executive director.

The Equity Project Alliance launched in 2022 as an initiative to confront systemic racism and promote transformative thinking, unity, and equity in the Pensacola area. Now, two years later, the organization is stepping up its efforts with its first full-time executive director.

Support Local Stories. Donate Here.

“For me, it's the idea of being out in the community, just fully in the community, engaging with other amazing organizations and people who are doing things to make the community better,” said Lusharon Wiley, who was recently appointed to the post after a few years as vice president of culture for Innisfree Hotels. “It will be my focus, along with theirs to look at Northwest Florida, specifically in Escambia and Pensacola.”

With her new job, Wiley is still under the Innisfree umbrella, as EPA is an initiative of the company’s outreach program, The Hive.

This means she will continue to work closely with Innisfree’s socially conscious chairman and founder, Julian MacQueen. It was MacQueen who came up with the idea for the Equity Project Alliance after the police murder of George Floyd in May of 2020.

“As a result of that, he began to ponder, what can I do to help make America better and, indeed, to make Escambia County, Pensacola, better?” Wiley recalled.

Wiley said MacQueen wrote a “Letter to the Editor” of the Pensacola News Journal in which he described himself as a “privileged white, southerner,” who wanted to call on other business owners to join with him to “do something different to make things better in Pensacola.”

The Equity Project Alliance began with about 15 individuals who spent a year and a half holding a series of deep conversations, getting to know each other, exposing their vulnerabilities, and discussing their differences and their shared goals.

“Surprisingly, we started with dinner, and we also started with data,” she said, noting information gathered from Achieve Escambia and other sources.

RELATED: The hidden toll of gun violence on infants

Over dinner, the group took a close look at what the data revealed about Escambia County, including availability and cost of housing, income, poverty level, and graduation rates.

Not surprisingly, Wiley said much of the data was rooted in poverty and reflected racial disparities in the community, particularly among Blacks in the community.

“When we talk about health, the infant mortality rate, and low birth rates for certain segments of the population, they're stark, in contrast to other sectors,” stated Wiley. She went on to talk about income levels, how much income is spent on rent, and how that large amount affects the rest of their lives.

After consideration of the data’s real-life impacts, the focus turned to what is needed.

“One of the things that we know is that people need to be educated and we're not talking about formal education as much as we are saying, be aware of what's in your community and what's not in your community,” she began, adding that being respectful of other peoples’ experiences and being willing to help are crucial to the process.

Over the past couple of years, EPA has made an effort to expose the Pensacola community to different people and ideas. The group brought in the Henry Box Brown play about an African American man who escaped slavery by mailing himself to freedom. Also, the initiative hosted public programs featuring civil rights activist Bob Zellner and Elizabeth Eckford of the Little Rock Nine.

Next month, EPA will host a performance of the Tuskegee University Golden Voices Concert Choir. The show, set for Mar. 9 from 3–5 p.m. at the Jean and Paul Amos Performance Studio, will begin with a brief narrative on the history of African American music by storyteller and performer, Eric Dozier.

For Wiley, this job as executive director of the Equity Project Alliance seems tailor-made, continuing the kind of work she’s been doing for decades.

“My work in diversity and equity has kept me in a place where I've tried to stay, abreast of what's going on,” she said, noting her most recent job as director of culture for Innisfree and her work with the community initiative, Parent University, which was brought to Pensacola by Julian and Kim MacQueen.

RELATED: Parent University Pensacola celebrates first graduates, prepares for year two

Her vast experience also extends to her inclusion work at the University of West Florida, where she rose to the position of Senior Associate Dean of Students.

Looking ahead, Wiley’s focus will be on exploring ways to join with other people to broaden and reinforce what’s already being done in the community, particularly for entrepreneurship, startups, and small businesses, through expanded mentoring and education opportunities.

Essentially, EPA will be working with businesses to affect change, with an emphasis on making incremental differences in the community that can be maintained.

“So, not looking at a once-and-done opportunity,” she stated. “But an opportunity to see these changes be sustained over time, and then, systematically change outcomes,” she said.

Individuals interested in getting involved can find a link on the Equity Project Alliance website.



Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.