One man describes his journey from ‘Panther to Priesthood’


Ed Willis’s life began in a place literally called “The Lower Bottom.” Drugs, Alcohol, Prostitution—you name it, and it could be found in the lower bottom. Ed was always searching for something. It was this searching that led him to become a Black Panther. Ultimately, Ed can now see that the dignity he was seeking all along could be found in understanding that he is a child of God.

Read the excerpt below to learn more about Ed’s journey from Panther to Priesthood. You can also listen to the full episode by clicking here or listen in the player below. A full transcript of the episode is available by clicking here.

The following excerpt has been edited for clarity.

Morgan Jones Pearson: The progression from Panther to priesthood is something that is almost unfathomable, that someone could change that much in a lifetime. I think that’s the reason your book title will catch people’s attention, and it’s a true story. How do you both view the evolution of your lives?

Ed Willis: Well, first of all, Jesus can change you in a blink of an eye. And, actually, to His time, my time is about a blink of an eye. And so I just realized that I have been equipped with some interesting nuggets of wisdom along the way because of the trials and tribulations and bad and good decisions that I’ve been through that has prepared me to be of service. And, you know, various ways—maybe even ways I haven’t even got to yet.

I believe—there’s this saying that I have, when I first moved in with Wanda and my sister-in-law, I would say, “The Lord’s got me in high cotton.” And I use that same terminology pertaining to the Church, especially when He’s had me serve in such wonderful ways. One being in high council. But how about just the Melchizedek priesthood? You know, my goodness, “Who, me?” You know. I’ve looked for value, I couldn’t find it. As a child I couldn’t find it in the Black community, and when we moved to a predominantly white community, I couldn’t find it there.

My value came when Jesus saved me. So, you know, there’s no amount of value that a man can give me that’s equal to that. And now it matters not to me that I happen to be an American of African descent. It might to those who are considered as white or Caucasian, but I think we all come to the mercy seat with issues. All of us got issues. And all of us got a story too, you know.

And I’m hoping that Wanda and my story—it’s really miraculous—but [that] it can edify somebody. I remember when I first started reading the Bible seriously, I read about King David. I thought, “Oh, my goodness,” because I read where he was the man after God’s own heart. And after I read stories about King David I said, “Oh, man, this guy got a shot? I got a shot.”

Not to even put myself on his level but I’m just saying it gave me hope. And so I’m just praying, you know, for me, a poor guy who started off … in a place called the lower bottom. And it’s still called that today, the lower bottom and Wanda and I went back and visited that spot where I lived with my mom behind the cleaners, you know, that place doesn’t exist anymore. And there’s a bunch of yuppies moving in. But you can still see the scars of the community there with drug addiction and alcoholism and prostitution and what have you. But the fact of the matter is, the enemy had that in store for me. Well, Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ has something totally different in store for me. So it’s literally night and day.

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