Religious leaders cry out, ‘Stop the violence

By Linda Cook – Quad City Times, Sept. 27, 2010

Praise in word and song Sunday afternoon focused on the concept that violence is not the answer.

Culminating in a stirring sermon by the Rev. Dr. Melvin Grimes, of Tabernacle Baptist Church, Moline, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People of Rock Island County’s Religious Affairs Committee held its annual gathering Sunday afternoon.

About 80 people attended the two-hour event at the Church of Peace that included prayer, solo songs, choir performances and heartfelt stories from those whose lives have been affected by violence.

Evangelist Cynthia Green and Sister Lynda Sargent led a devotion, followed by the congregation singing “The Church’s One Foundation.”

The Rev. Dr. Michael Swartz, of the Church of Peace, served as host pastor, and Berlinda Tyler-Jamison served as emcee for the event.

The church, Swartz said, began in 1895, and has been in its current location for 97 years. “In 1975, the church took a new direction,” he said, as a good neighbor in the Longview area. Among the congregations represented Sunday were the House of Fire Praise Team, Tabernacle Baptist, Greater Antioch, Broadway Presbyterian and the Truth Temple.

“We’ve come this far by faith, but we ain’t there yet!” Swartz said.

Jamison then introduced the House of Fire Praise Team of Jereen Johnson of Davenport and Rob Davis of Rock Island, who got people off their seats and clapping with their boisterous, joyous performance. “It’s important that we unify as one. After all, we have one Master. Amen!” Davis said.

After their rousing delivery, Jamison took the microphone again and said, “OK, I’m a Catholic. And we don’t get that at Mass!”

Among the other speakers was Markia Dothard, representing the NAACP youth; and Rock Island Alderman Terry Brooks, who discussed being involved in the “Violence is Not the Answer” billboard campaign. Brooks discussed his own family members who have been killed by violence, including a cousin, an uncle and his grandson’s father. “Our hope is not to make the statistics lower,” Brooks said. “Our charge is to stop it completely.”

He mentioned that 30-35 homicides have occurred in the area in the last five years, and “I bet at least 28 of them have been black men.”

Brooks then introduced Dina Wright, whose daughter was killed in January 2007 as a result of domestic violence, and Francesca Wilcox, whose brother, Samuel Rush, was shot and killed March 30.

“She was so cheerful,” Wright said of her daughter, who left behind two children. “It happened so quickly. There was nothing I could do.

“He hit her one time. He killed her the next,” Wright said.

Wilcox said her family never had time to say goodbye to her brother, as family members would if someone were dying of a terminal illness or old age.

“We have to take our streets back,” she said. “We have to start talking to the youth, and not about them.”

Jamison asked everyone to “wrap these women in your hearts.”

The Truth Temple Church Choir then performed “United We Stand,” and the Tabernacle Mass Choir also performed a selection. Gerry Sumrall’s powerful a capella vocals drew applause throughout her singing and a huge round of applause at its conclusion.

Sister Valencia McShan read the NAACP Religious Affairs mission statement.

The Rev. Dr. Rot Stewart, of Broadway Presbyterian Church, introduced Grimes, his longtime friend, as the keynote speaker, saying Grimes “wants you to be honest with him just as he is honest with you. These are the kinds of leaders that we need in our community and our congregations,” he said, adding that Grimes is “committed to justice and equality for all.”

Grimes took the pulpit and said he had been “listening with very much interest to the call to action about what we must do in order to bring an end to the violence that plagues our community.”

He said that political institutions will not change, and schools will not change, so churches must unite. “Until we stand up and make a stand … all we’re going to do is talk,” he said.

“Let’s reason together. Let’s walk together,” he said. “God did not create me to be a doormat. Children don’t deserve to hear cussing and fussing and fighting all the time. That’s not a ‘B.’ That’s your mother!” he said.

In addition to Brooks, other community leaders at the event included Rock Island Police Chief Scott Harris and East Moline Alderman Gary Westbrook.

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