Black men take to streets with message of peace
on February 28, 2010
Richmond’s black religious community vowed action in response to ongoing violence, punctuated by a Feb. 14 outburst of gunfire inside a local church.
On Saturday, their message met the streets.
More than 300 black men simultaneously fanned out in small teams, canvassing 23 of the city’s poorest and most violent neighborhoods. They delivered bundles of Bibles along with health, education and public resource literature door-to-door at apartments and homes. Rev. Andre Shumake, one of the event’s organizers, estimated that volunteers made contact with about 3,500 households.
The event began with a prayer breakfast and organizing meeting at Dejean Middle School on the 3400 block of McDonald Avenue.
The impetus for the anti-violence campaign, which culminates next Saturday with an afternoon community fair at the Civic Center, was the Feb. 14 shooting at New Gethsemane Church of God in Christ. Three men walked in during a service, sought out targets, and opened fire, according to police. A 14-year-old boy and a 19-year-old man were wounded.
The City Council last week unanimously adopted an emergency measure freeing up to $10,000 to provide fliers and logistical support for the actions.
Bishop J.W. Macklin, a leader within the Pentecostal system that includes the local church where the Feb. 14 shooting occurred, implored the crowd of more than 300 to impose their will for peace on their streets.
“To see you all here today tells me that we’re in the right place, at the right time, and we’re doing the right thing,” Macklin said, drawing strong applause.
Macklin later introduced a guest speaker, Rev. Michael Hill, who traveled to Saturday’s march from his church in Dearborn, MI. Hill spoke for more than 10 minutes on topics ranging from dietary habits to what he characterized as a desperate need in communities for grassroots action.
The series of events planned over the next two weeks represent a critical juncture, Hill said.
“We must leave from here today and be successful, because if we’re not successful, all of this is in vain,” Hill said.
Councilman Nat Bates attended the event, as did Councilwoman Maria Viramontes. Bates said he was pleased to see the black churches in the area play an assertive public role.
“The crisis that we’re facing right now can’t be solved by just law enforcement,” Bates said of violence that has claimed 54 lives in Richmond since Jan. 1, 2009. “It requires community involvement and support, and it’s just beautiful that we’ve got so many individuals here willing to step up and support.”
Some of the attendees Saturday expressed frustration with what they called the inaction of various government agencies and disproportionately negative and violence-centered coverage of Richmond by area media.
“I think it’s a great turnout, I think it’s a necessary turnout, but I’m wondering, where’s the press?” said Bishop Frank Pinkard of Evergreen Church in Oakland. “If something negative had happened, the press would be here. But when there is an effort on the part of the community to pull itself together … the press doesn’t seem to be interested.”
Shumake said the 23 targeted neighborhoods were selected with a purpose.
“We wanted to go into the neighborhoods, let these men make an appearance, because we didn’t want the women to have to do what the men haven’t done,” Shumake said. “Young men need to see other men reaching out to them in a positive way.”
Once out on the streets, the teams of men passed out paperback Bibles and other literature and joined people who agreed in hands-clasped prayer.
Pastor Raymond Landry of Independent Community Church led his team through the St. Johns Apartments on the 100 block of McDonald Avenue.
Residents at the complex, ringed with a black iron gate and sitting just East of Chevron Corp.’s refinery facility, were consistently receptive to the outreach.
Landry said the complex and the larger downtown neighborhood were particularly important places to visit.
“Since 1980, there’s been hundreds of murders in the city of Richmond,” Landry said. “Many of them took place right here.”
For further information about the anti-violence events and the upcoming schedule, visit www.operationrichmond.org
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