Local pastors came together to urge the community to reach out to youth and to make opinions known in a peaceful manner during a meeting at Macedonia Baptist attended by law enforcement heads and community members on Wednesday following the Ferguson grand jury decision and protests in Missouri and Atlanta.
"We came up with four statements the pastors of Rockdale County wanted to make concerning the situation. We've been working over the weeks and days trying to assure we would have a peaceful situation here in Rockdale County and in Newton County," said the Rev. Al Sadler, Sr. at the opening of the event. Local law enforcement, clergy and education leaders had been reaching out to one another and meeting over the last several weeks in preparation for situations that might arise from the grand jury decision.
The four statements, described in a letter submitted last week to The News, were:
• "We support the constitutional right to peaceful protests and condemn violence against ALL people, property and first responders (EMS, fire dept., police, deputies, highway patrol, etc)."
• "We call on clergy to minister and champion the needs of the community. We urge clergy to mentor and monitor youth in their efforts to promote constructive, redemptive change."
• "We support civic involvement through the expansion of voter registration. We urge every registered voter to make your voice heard in each election, especially for local political offices."
• "We call on the business community and philanthropists to support economic empowerment by creating more jobs and career opportunities for underprivileged youth."
Sadler spoke to the first point. "I know we have people around the nation who want to protest. All we're saying is do it in a peaceful way... We have people who will not be shut up. They are going to express their views. I think it's more important than ever people be heard. We just don't want the violence."
He continued, "One of the things I was concerned about, if something was to break out in this area, probably the people that would be causing the disturbance would not be people associated with our churches. It would be people that I didn't know. I didn't have a relationship with them. So my question became, ‘What can I do, since I may not know the people?'"
He said he asked around and one of the profound pieces of advice he received was, "The people in your congregation represent different communities. What you have to do in your church is tell your congregation to go back to the community they came from and promote nonviolence and peace. Because they do have a relationship with the people in that area."
Pastor Christopher Shipp of Bald Rock Baptist urged people to mentor and guide one another. "Watch what we do in the presence of our youth. They are like sponges, they're like tape recorders.... Our youth need coaching. Our parents, coworkers, colleagues need coaching. They're doing the best they can with what they know."
Pastor Billie Cox of Macedonia Baptist urged first, spoke of the leadership example of Mathias in the Bible's book of Acts, who filled Judas' vacancy among the Apostles. "We need to look for emerging leaders... Now we stand today, a little torn, a little confused, a little disgruntled. Are you the next person who will provide direction?"
Pastor Eric Lee of Springfield Baptist urged businesses and philanthropists to create jobs in the community, especially for young people.
"You cannot win a fight against someone who has nothing to lose," said Lee. The poverty that creates a cycle of violence, "This is causing people to live lives that are undervalued and are stamped out" before they have a chance to flourish, he said.
"I am frustrated with the courts. The courts didn't work well for Trayvon, for Jordan Davis," said Lee. "When you are frustrated with the courts, you don't turn to violence... You turn to the cross."
Bishop Johnathan Alvarado of Grace Church International thanked law enforcement and public safety personnel and said the pastors wanted to "affirm the presence of law enforcement, for putting it on the line every day for us every single day."
"I know we want to talk about a post-racial society, but ... We do not live in a post-racial society. People recognize race. God created different races... We ought to celebrate the diversity among us and the potential of unity that exists."
He said while there have been many advancements in civil rights and race relations - pointing to that meeting as an example - there are still large challenges.
"We have to speak to the malevolent nature of our own societies... we have to point out the challenges of the blatant disregard and devaluation of black and brown life."
A community forum, called the Redemption Forum for youth and young adults, will be held Wednesday, Dec. 3, 7 p.m., at Springfield Baptist Church. The public is invited.
(Nov. 24, 9:39 p.m.) IN BRIEF: A pastoral response to the decision of the grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri will be held at Macedonia Baptist Church, 1052 Barton Street, Conyers, on Wednesday, Nov. 26, noon - 2 p.m. The public is invited.
A community-wide Redemption Forum for youth and young adults will be held the following week Wednesday, Dec. 3, 7 p.m. at Springfield Baptist Church. The public is invited.
On Monday evening, Missouri officials announced the grand jury's decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson, who was accused of killing unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown.
Community leaders, law enforcement, clergy and school system leaders across the country and in Rockdale, Newton, DeKalb and metro Atlanta areas have been meeting in the weeks leading up to the anticipated grand jury decision in an effort to proactively communicate and talk about how to deal with any possible reactions to any decision.
Churches had been discussed as being a safe place to express frustration.
Local pastors that attended a meeting last Thursday with law enforcement and school systems from around metro Atlanta included Pastor Eric Lee of Springfield Baptist and Pastor Aldren Sadler of the Church of New Beginnings.
Pastor Sadler, a chaplain with the RCSO, said dialogue with local law enforcement started back in September. "I had raised some questions to the (police) chief, what if something like this happened (in Conyers)? Would we be ready for it?"
He described last Thursday's meeting as a way to have everyone on the same page. The church would offer a safe place for people to vent and clergy would encourage their congregations to remain peaceful and calm.
Pastor Eric W. Lee, head of Springfield Baptist, said in a previous interview about the meeting, "There was a unanimous feeling that we need to protect the Constitutional right to protest, but at the same time we need to acknowledge the role of public safety."
"We want people to have a voice but we don't want people to be arrested or injured" or lash out in a way that is not constructive, Lee said. "We want people to channel the frustration into something more transformative."
He continued, "What gets lost in a lot of this is... there's a dead young man in the street. That loss of life was traumatic. His life mattered... The lives of young people matter... The only thing we can do is be better."