When community activist Rae Whitely and Apostle Tommy Brown decided to host a prayer-vigil-at-city-halls against gun violence Monday, they included concern about the mass shootings at El Paso and Dayton earlier this month, of course, but their focus was here: the 47 deaths due to guns that occurred in Palm Beach County (PBC) this year alone, between January and the end of June.
Their purpose? Essentially to re-connect church and state.
Heal Our Country—Heal our Neighborhood Prayer Vigil was to be held at city halls in nearly 10 PBC cities, including Riviera Beach, West Palm Beach and the Glades area.
“This has got to stop,” said Mr. Whitely, a resident of Boynton Beach and founder of Black Votes Matter. “The Clergy can no longer sit on the sidelines and watch our neighborhoods deteriorate. We will respond in the spirit of Nehemiah and we will do it with the people making decisions that affect our neighborhoods: city officials.”
Mr. Whitely is also a pastor. He said he and some members of his church, Healing Hands Ministry in Boynton Beach, were at Boynton Beach City Hall, praying, with City Commissioner Ty Penserga, City Manager Lori LaVerriere, Deputy Fire Chief LaTosha Clemons and other city employees.
The Rev. Dr. J.R. Thicklin, for one, is also on the team. He is president of the PBC Clergy Alliance, and led the prayer Monday at Riviera Beach City Hall. He was joined by City Councilwoman Julia Botel, political activist Maria Cole and Deandre Poole, who has filed to run for Supervisor of Elections. Watch them below.
Interestingly, newly elected Mayor Ronnie L. Felder had hosted weekly prayers at City Hall for months last year as pastor of Riviera Beach-based Transformation Church of the Palm Beaches. He was unable to attend Monday.
“I do think there’s a need sometimes to combine the spiritual with public service, to ensure we have the strength we need to make change,” said Mayor Felder, who is also CEO of JAY Outreach Ministries, a spiritually based recovery program for men located in the city. “The question is how do you do that? A good start to me has always been prayer at city hall.”
Indeed, that’s just part of what Mr. Whitely and Apostle Brown, who leads New Disciples Worship Center in Boynton Beach, intend: to use the power of the church and government, together, to make change. Going forward, they plan to research, implement and push gun violence prevention strategies, partnering with public and private sector agencies in affected communities. Read an article about their motivation and plans here.
“Today was just to sound the alarm,” Mr. Whitely said Monday. “Our approach looks to increase black communities’ capacity to speak for themselves and solve their own problems. This approach has been successful for us in the past, and it is our prayer that it will be successful moving forward.”
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