Willie Dwayne Francois III

Morning Lecture

Called to empower people through transformative preaching, teaching, and organizing, Willie Dwayne Francois III serves as the Senior Pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church of Pleasantville, NJ, which is the fastest growing Black Church in Atlantic County. He is a 2009 Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Morehouse College with a Bachelor of Arts in History and Religion, named the ranking scholar in both departments. While at Morehouse, he was named the 2009 Martin Luther King Jr. Scholar. Francois received the Master of Divinity from Harvard University’s Divinity School, where he received the Hopkins Shareholders Award—the school’s highest academic recognition—and served as the class of 2012 commencement speaker. In 2020, Francois earned the Doctor of Ministry degree from Emory University, where his research met at intersection of antiracism, theology and anti-incarceration policy advocacy.

From 2013 to 2015, Francois served as the Associate Pastor of First Corinthian Baptist Church (FCBC) in Harlem, New York, where Pastor Michael A. Walrond, Jr. is the pastor. Prior to joining the FCBC team, he served as the Minister of Christian Education and Discipleship at Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, under his pastor, Rev. Dr. Marcus D. Cosby. Francois was licensed and ordained at the First Union Baptist Church of Galveston, Texas.

Francois lives at the intersection of the life of the spirit and the life of the mind. He is the coauthor of Christian Minister’s Manual: For the Pulpit and the Public Square for All Denomination—the most progressive and comprehensive clergy resource and the first interdenominational manual written for Black clergy in 56 years. He has written for The Huffington Post, Religion Dispatches, Civil Eats, The Hill and The Christian Century concerning a range of matters pivoting around race, class, and religion in America. His current book project set for summer 2022 publication is tentatively titled Silencing White Noise: Six Practices for Overcoming our Inaction on Race. In 2017, Francois was inducted into the Martin Luther King, Jr. Board of Preachers at Morehouse College.

Francois gives oversight to the Master of Professional Studies Program, which operates at Sing Sing Prison, and is Assistant Professor of Liberation Theology at New York Theological Seminary. In addition to publishing various articles and sermons, Francois previously served as a member of the Young Preachers’ Leadership Team of the Academy of Preachers, the director of the Young Ministers’ Corner of the African American Lectionary, and a Civil Rights Scholar for the imaging of the King Paper collection through the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change (in Atlanta).

Francois’ pastoral activism is organized around racial equity, economic justice and radical criminal justice and education reforms. Through the Bill Lucy Fellowship, Francois represented the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference in a global conversation on mass incarceration at the Transatlantic Roundtable on Religion and Race at the University of London-Birkbeck in London, England. He currently serves on the board of Trustees for the Proctor Conference. For 2014- 2015, Francois was named a Beatitudes Society Fellow, focusing on congregational responses to Mass Incarceration and empowering returning citizens. In 2018, Community Change named Pastor Willie an Economic Justice Fellow. In 2019, Governor Phillip Murphy appointed Willie to the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission of the New Jersey State Department.

Francois attributes his love of life and dedication to doing the so-called impossible to his closeknit family. He is a proud member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Incorporated.