07/26/09 — Annual unity prayer walk held

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Annual unity prayer walk held

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on July 26, 2009 2:00 AM

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Residents of Lincoln Homes watch as marchers in the Stop the Funeral Unity Prayer Walk pass by early Saturday morning. An estimated 150 participated in the third annual event, which orignated at First African Baptist Church and traveled through the neighborhood to raise awareness about the need to eradicate drugs and gangs in the city.

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The Rev. Dr. William Barber, center, co-convener of Stop the Funeral and state NAACP president, holds a banner during the Unity Prayer Walk. A hearse provided by McIntyre Funeral Home went ahead of the walkers.

The crowd may have been smaller than anticipated Saturday, but voices were proud and strong at the third annual Unity Prayer Walk on Saturday designed to "change the atmosphere" of gangs and violence in the city.

The Rev. Dr. William Barber, co-convener of Stop the Funeral and state president of the NAACP, led the charge at the early morning walk to Lincoln Homes, which originated at First African Baptist Church.

A sharp contrast to the guns and drugs they protested, the estimated crowd of 150 carried signs and water bottles.

Barber summoned young people between the ages of 13 and 18 from the crowd, handing out placards bearing messages for the walk -- "Empty Caskets, Full Lives" and "Down with Dope, Up With Hope."

Bishop Anthony Slater of Tehillah Church Ministries and coordinator of this year's walk, called it a "coming together to a community to bring support and love." Showing up at 7:30 a.m. on Saturday was an act of love in itself, he said.

Even more of a gesture was banding together to let residents in that area know they are not alone, a message that extends beyond the surrounding neighborhood, Slater said.

"What we're doing is affecting more than just the people in this community because crime goes out of the community as well," he said. "It could be just innocent bystanders."

This is the third year for the march, with ongoing events planned to continue the movement that was originally spurred by two murders in the city.

Raheim Kornegay, 23, was slain on April 22, 2007 followed by a believed retaliatory shooting of his girlfriend Sharon Sheppard, 28, four days later outside McIntyre Funeral Home, where she was attending Kornegay's funeral.

The first march sponsored by Stop the Funeral Initiative began at city hall and concluded on the steps of the courthouse.

"It was important to begin there because we really felt we wanted to make a statement that this is a problem that's not just in our community and it involves all of us and we all have to work together," said Francine Smith, who now serves as administrator for the group.

Progress has been made each year, although it is admittedly slow, she said.

"It's not easy to find people to come out and tell their story because people don't want to tell their story," she said. "But we do know people have definitely been touched by everything that we have done."

While attendance may have dropped from the first year, when an estimated crowd of 700 people took part, Ms. Smith said the purpose remains the same --- to reach the community at large.

"When we walk through the neighborhood, people come out -- some have walked out and joined in with us," she said. "They know that we're there, they see and the message is definitely being made. It's early in the morning but it's necessary."

Evangelist Esther Perara said the response has been phenomenal, from across the nation and even as far away as Africa.

"The bottom line is that we're committed to reaching (young people) on the front side before the courts, prisons or the grave have to deal with them on the back side," she said.

It was the first time Pastor Rachel Barrette of Center of Love Free Will Baptist Church attended one of the marches. But the cause was worth the effort, she said.

"I have a concern for our young people," she said. "We're just asking God to do something to save them because this is an age that they're just being destroyed. I just want to be part of helping to do something."

Bishop William Phillips of Word Faith Center said he was encouraged by the effort.

"The people are getting involved and the age range, that's marvelous," he said. "You have got little ones, fathers bringing their kids, teenagers. I thank God. I believe they're seeing the importance of dealing with the crime and the drugs, the gang banging, which really attacks their future.

"With the economy the way it is, you need to have some safe streets so you can go to the job, you can go to school. I believe they're getting the vision that this initiative will help change things, especially for the next generation coming."

It was the third time Adrienne Greene has taken part. She was there with son Rictaveon Greene, 15.

"It's very emotional," she said, referring to the mix of races and churches represented. "They all have one purpose -- sending the message that it's not about the killing but it's about the love and the concern about your neighbor, that God is first."

For her son, who will be in 10th grade next year, it's about having a safer future.

"I want the future to be a better place, to stop racism and all the things that we're fighting for, and have them to be better in the future," he said. "I feel happy and satisfied I'm actually doing something like this."

While the event gave some visibility to the cause, it was also purposely structured with a spiritual, hopeful bent, said Rev. Richard Weikel of Goldsboro, pastor of Armenia Christian Church in Kinston and one of the Covenant Partners for Stop the Funeral. A hearse from McIntyre Funeral Home might have been positioned in front of the walkers, but there were also elements of music and praise.

"It's important to remember the funeral but we're looking at the salvation and hope for the living," Weikel explained. "We're helping people to understand that the basis of the movement has to be spiritual and prayerful. It's something we can do on our own. Today is just to show that we're in the community."

In addition to representatives from other neighborhoods and churches, several local and county officials also attended, including Sheriff Carey Winders, County Commissioner Steve Keen, Judge Arnold Jones and Don Chatman and Michael Headen from the city council.