Supervisor, pastor, friend: Newsom plays many leadership roles in Marion County

By TAYLOR THOMPSON & TAYLOR FIELDS,

Calvin Newsom is a well-known and respected leader in Marion County, serving the community from the pulpit and in local government.

The 56-year-old has spent more than two decades on the Marion County Board of Supervisors and pastors John the Baptist Missionary Baptist Church in Columbia.

In addition, he is vice chair of the Southern Mississippi Planning and Development District and a member of the National Association of Development Organizations. He travels across the country to preach revivals and attend conferences.

He is magnetic and charismatic and ready to tell you captivating stories or give you-life-changing advice when you need it. He has experienced the pain of violence and racism and the joy of love, family and service to others.

“There were some good days, and then some bad days, but through it all, every experience helped me to be where I am today," Newsom said. "And I thank God for the good and the bad that made me who I am.”

“Born and reared in Marion County, Mississippi,” he said. “In my early years, the public schools were being integrated, and it was some tough times. Even in those years, my sisters and brothers, we had dogs sent on us walking to school,” he said.

In this same county, “the Lord blessed me,” he said.

He speaks thoughtfully, slowly, weighing his words.

“I graduated in the top 10 in the class, and we were separated by decimal points,” he said of his graduation from East Marion High School in 1981.

He answered the call to the ministry his senior year in high school and began seminary in 1982 at the Mississippi Baptist Theological Seminary. Eventually, he graduated from Hopper’s Baptist Theological Seminary with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in theology. He received an honorary Doctorate of Divinity degree in 1998.

Newsom pastored his first church from 1989 to 1992 before becoming the minister at John the Baptist. In 1995 Newsom was working for a wholesale company, in addition to being a pastor, when several residents and friends encouraged him to run for a seat on the Board of Supervisors.

Even though he had been praying for a change in employment, at first he rejected the idea. Then, one evening, Newsom said, “I was praying, ‘Lord, you hear my prayer, and you know I need a different job.’”

He wanted to be sure this is what God wanted him to do.

Newsom said, “It was as if he stated, ‘I offered it to you, and you wouldn’t take it.’ But I don’t want to just want to win with a few votes, I want to win in a landslide.”

And that is exactly what happened. Out of the six candidates, Newsom won with 62 percent of the vote.

No runoff.

And on Nov. 5, he’s guaranteed to be elected to his seventh four-year term as District 5 supervisor.

No opponent.

It’s not all been easy; Newsom has seen many changes to the local, state and federal government, many of them not beneficial to rural counties like Marion County.

He has had to deal with people who are enraged at him and calling him horrible names.  He has experienced budget cuts in state aid for roads and stalling economic development.

Both of his jobs are demanding and time consuming. Most days, he said he works 17 to 18 hours, and he spends most of his nights studying and preparing messages, and yet he still sees everything in his life as a blessing.

His positivity radiates into others’ lives.

Frenchie Johnson grew up with Newsom. Their mothers were best friends, and she always looked up to him. Now, she works as a Marion County receiving clerk in the same office as Newsom.

“He’s always involved in what goes on, especially with families. He’s very supportive,” she said.

In addition to his many roles, including raising a 6-year-old son, he finds time to be present in the community.

“He attends all of the football games. He’s always there. Anything that goes on where there’s a need to help people, he’s always on the front line willing to help reach out,” Johnson said.

She says there would not be as much unity in the community without Newsom, the only African-American on the Marion County Board of Supervisors, and she believes that serving people one-on-one as a pastor and more holistically as a political figure enables him to unify people.

Billy Stewart is a deacon in Newsom’s church and has known him since 1993.

“He’s had as much of an impact as a person can have on another person’s life,” he said, “First of all, he’s my friend, my pastor. He’s my brother, my teacher, my leader, everything.”

Newsom has been a rock in Stewart’s life through unimaginably hard times.

“One thing he did … I went through a divorce, and it was a hard thing to do. My daughter took her own life, and he helped me to understand those two things about living a Christian life,” Stewart said. “There are things that you have to endure that you don’t understand.”

Stewart and Johnson both said that for Newsom everything in his life is to make the lives of others better. And Newsom himself summarizes the purpose of his life this way: “Being born is to serve.”

Taylor Thompson and Taylor Fields are students in the University of Mississippi School of Journalism. Reach them at tpthomps@go.olemiss.edu and tnfields@go.olemiss.edu.