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Churches unite as a community mourns

Erick Johnson | 7/17/2014, 9 a.m.
Pastor Vincent Spann held a vigil outside City Market in Liberty City.

The shooting of a popular Liberty City pastor last week has spurred Miami’s Black churches into the fight against crime as religious leaders urge residents to take action against random shootings that have gripped their neighborhoods with fear.

Hundreds are expected to march through the streets of Liberty City this weekend to help strengthen a grassroots anti-crime

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An usher comforts Tangela Charmagne Jackson, the mother of Nakeri Jackson, during his funeral last Saturday at Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church.

movement that has been brewing in the past several months following the deaths of innocent victims of gun-violence.

Residents will join ministers and their congregations, leaving the tranquil settings of their churches and pulpits, marching through tough neighborhoods to protest the unsolved shooting deaths of Kimouria Gardens, 17, Marquis Sams, 20, Linda Ann Grant, 62 and Shalaundra Williams, 22, and the many others whose lives have been cut short by senseless killings.

A CALL TO ACTION

The march will begin Saturday at 8:30 a.m. at Miami Northwestern Senior High School at NW 71st Street and 12th Ave. With police escorts, demonstrators will walk through several areas where shootings have occurred. Those areas include the apartment complex where last month two people were killed and seven were injured in mass shootings. The march is also expected to pass through the infamous Liberty Square housing complex, better known as the Pork and Beans projects where several young residents have died from gang-related shootings.

On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, pastors from 12 churches will take a spiritual approach to crime by walking the streets of Brownsville and sharing with residents their messages of finding peace, strength and salvation. They also plan to walk through Liberty City and other communities at a later date.

The campaign was organized by Reverend Dr. Anthony Tate of New Resurrection Community Church and Reverend Richard Dunn II of Faith Community Baptist Church.

“In communities where there is crime, people are not coming to church,” Tate said. “Their value system is weak.”

“It’s going to take all of us,” Dunn said. “If you care about the people, you will give them support.”

CHURCH MEMBERS GALVANIZED

Pastor Billy Strange Jr. of the Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church has been mobilizing his members for the march during rousing Sunday sermons and funerals of young victims. On Saturday, Strange presided over the funeral of Nakeri Jackson, 26, a father of three who was killed during the mass shooting in the early morning hours of June 23.

At the service, mourners expressed outrage and grief over Jackson’s death.

“He was loving and caring,” said Barbara West, Jackson’s godmother. “He was like a son to me.”

Overwhelmed with grief, West was unable to proceed with her testimony. She wailed before ushers consoled her and helped her sit down.

Strange urged mourners to turn their grief into action.

“We are going to join this movement,” he said. “We need to stop returning evil with evil and pray for one another.”

A BELOVED PASTOR SILENCED

The calls come as residents and church members prepare to bury Kenneth Johnson, assistant pastor at Power Faith and Deliverance Ministries, located just one block south from where he was gunned down by two men during a violent robbery attempt. Police arrested Larry Flowers, 21, and Tyreke Desire after they shot Johnson while trying to take his gold-plated necklace and money as he was leaving the City Market convenience store at NW 62nd Street and 13th Avenue. Johnson later died from his injuries at Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital.

Pastor Vincent Spann, who ministers at the same church as Johnson, held a vigil outside the convenience store last Friday amid numerous media representatives and residents. Spann said he plans to hold several anti-crime events in the coming weeks.

Spann said Johnson’s tragic death has awakened the community to the realities of gun-violence.

“We feel that his (Johnson’s) death is a new beginning,” he said. “His death will be a new birth in the community.”

“He was a great man,” said Johnson’s wife, Latoya. “He was very loving and devoted.”

The latest shooting comes amid criticism that Black churches have become detached and uninvolved in the fight against crime.

“There was a need for the church to come out from behind the walls,” said Tate. “Pastors are giving all types of advice from the pulpit but are not getting out to the community.