Community activism leaves little time for rest

Published April 1 2015

ST. PETERSBURG

For Antwaun Wells, life is all about investing in the community and serving others.

"My personal take on your life is, if you're not doing anything good for yourself or anybody else, then you are good for nothing," he said. "I want to be known as someone who is good for something."

In a typical week, the 40-year-old St. Petersburg native is good for a lot.

On weekdays, he's up at 6 a.m. and off to his job as assistant superintendent for LEMA Construction, which is building a three-story Midtown Center for St. Petersburg College on 22nd Street S.

Since 2002, Wells has been project manager for Wells Builder LLC. He and his brother Kevin, the company's owner, have done restoration projects in Midtown — including Gallerie 909 and Chief's Creole Café — and elsewhere in the county.

Last year Wells joined Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas County as supervisor of its new Mercy-Midtown Neighborhood Preservation Partnership. The partnership works with homeowners in the 22nd Street S corridor with repairs, energy efficiency upgrades and landscaping.

On weekends and some evenings, Wells can be found at the Esquire Barber Shop in Midtown, where he is a master barber.

And on Sundays, he helps run the Deuces Live Sunday Market, which he serves as treasurer, then goes down the block about 5 p.m. for spoken-word performances at Gallerie 909.

When he's not tied up in his everyday commitments, Wells mentors and tutors students. He said he got the idea from his own former mentor, retired teacher Jim Oliver, who took note of how Wells talks to youngsters while cutting their hair, encouraging them to do well in school.

Two years ago, Wells said, he got certified to mentor students. He started at Melrose Elementary , and expanded to John Hopkins Middle and Lakewood and Gibbs high schools.

"The way he treats the kids and how they respond back to him is amazing," said Aby Figueroa, Gibbs' mentor adviser.

Wells is mentoring two 15-year-old Gibbs students — Wayne Atkins and Bill Baptiste. He meets with them for an hour each Monday to talk about building self-confidence and managing their time.

Since he began meeting with Wells, Baptiste said, he has joined the baseball team and ROTC at Gibbs and a church band.

"He has taught me how to use my time and say no to people," said Atkins, who has become a volunteer at the Campbell Park Recreation Center.

Wells said he tries to seize any opportunity to motivate children to aim high. One day at the SPC construction site, he chatted with students walking home from school. He engaged them in small talk and asked what they had learned in class.

"These kids sometimes just need someone to talk to as well as listen, and if I can I want to be that person," Wells said.

Since his own teen years, Wells said, he has been a self-motivated entrepreneur. He would go through his neighborhood and wash people's cars. Because he didn't have the supplies at home, his neighbors trusted him to drive their cars to the car wash down the street and back.

But that wasn't enough for the ambitious youngster. To help his dad save money on the price of a haircut, Wells said, he began to practice cutting his little brother's hair. It was only a matter of time before Wells had friends and neighbors waiting outside on the porch to get haircuts.

During summer vacations, Wells said, he would take free classes at Florida State University while visiting his aunt in Tallahassee. Back home, he took similar courses at Eckerd College.

After graduating from Gibbs High, he studied electronic engineering at DeVry University in Atlanta, then returned home in 2007 determined to give back to the community.

"It's time for my generation … to bring it back," he said.

A determination to inspire runs deep in Wells' family. His great-great-grandmother, Idella Barton Jones, founded the Church of God by Faith at 2850 Freemont Ter. S. His grandmother, Johnnie Lee Williams, eventually took over the church, which was renamed All Nations Church of God by Faith, and served for 35 years. This year, Williams passed the baton to Wells' mother, Rhunette Wells. The church is now at 3000 Fourth Ave. S.

On average, Wells said, he sleeps about four hours a night.

"Rest is something I haven't mastered yet."

Chanel Williams is a reporter in the Neighborhood News Bureau at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

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