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Pastors lead march against crime in Liberty City

Erick Johnson | 7/24/2014, 12:03 p.m.

Dozens of religious leaders walked arm in arm and sang spiritual hymns as they led a chorus of weary residents through tough streets of Liberty City last Saturday.

Rally organizers marched to the tune of renewed calls against gun violence, a modern-day societal ill that is spiraling out of control in Black communities all over Miami-Dade County. The hardest hit of these communities is Liberty City, where at least 20 Blacks have been killed by gun violence this year. Many of these cases are unsolved as residents remain reluctant to report crimes to law enforcement in fear of retribution.

But on a humid morning lately reserved for funerals in the area, about 15 pastors left their pulpits to lead nearly 150 demonstrators through the Liberty Square Housing Projects, known as Pork and Beans. One by one, pastors preached sermons and prayed out loud as grieving relatives and frustrated residents followed closely behind. Their unified message was directed at residents fearful of speaking out against gun violence.

“It’s time to go back to our roots,” said Pastor Billy Strange Jr, of Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church in Liberty City. “We are conquerors, not victims.”

The rally also brought out Lori Davis, owner of Hadley-Davis Funeral Home, which has coordinated many services of young victims of gun violence. Her funeral home loaned a limousine with two posters of young victims on the windows.

“I’m tired of burying our young,” she said. “I’m a mortician and that’s my business, but it [money] should not come from our young ones.”

The participation of Black churches sparked new life in a movement that had been struggling to gain importance. Last Saturday’s demonstration turned out to be an impressive gathering of religious and political dignitaries, whose strong presence in tough neighborhoods gave comfort to demonstrators.

Strange’s church provided a Greyhound bus that shuttled demonstrators to the rally’s starting point at Miami Northwestern Senior High School. There were also members from the NAACP, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle and the Nation of Islam.

“The more people we can get, the better,” said Sean Howard, from Liberty City. “The strength is in the numbers.”

Many demonstrators criticized some political leaders who handed out campaign flyers during the march and at a forum that was held at Mt. Calvary after the rally.

“I am all for the help and support, but they can overshadow the cause,” said Regina Gardner, godmother of Kimouria Gardner who was gunned down while sitting on a park bench in March. The shooting led Regina to establish Mothers for Hurting Hearts, a support group from the relatives of the gun violence.

Nevertheless, the turnout was a welcomed boost from Black churches, historically a bedrock in the community who have thrown their support behind Gardner’s group that has participated in three other rallies in along with Strange and Charles Jackson’s Heart of a Champion.

“A church not only prepares the soul for heaven but also challenges problems that damage the soul,” said James Bush, associate minister of Antioch Baptist Church in Brownsville.

A new string of shootings left many demonstrators weary in their protests against crime.

Following the death of Kenneth Johnson, a popular Liberty City pastor who was gunned down outside City Market on NW 62nd Street and 7th Avenue, Black churches got involved in local outreach to communities overwhelmed by recent violence and senseless deaths of Kijuan Byrd, 29, Kimouria Gardner, 17, Marquis Sams, 20, Linda Ann Grant, 62, and Shalaundra Williams, 22, and many others.

“We have to get more involved in the community,” said Reverend Dr. Anthony Tate of New Resurrection Community Church. “Our people are suffering.”