In Alabama, Church Members Hit the Streets to End Gun Violence in Black Neighborhoods

by Roy S. Johnson

We had to get here.

One Monday in January, a small group of ministers and laypeople, donning bright yellow vests, gathered on a corner in 15th Way SW, in Birmingham’s west end, and began walking, knocking on doors. They had seen enough, heard enough and buried too many.

They’d seen enough homicides–116 reported in the city in 2017, 101 by gunfire. Sixty-one of those occurred in the West Precinct.

What are the churches doing about it? They’d also heard enough of that, too.

Older black churches, once been the bedrock of African-American communities, had long been disconnected from a generation that eschewed typical (read: boring) services for new churches with younger pastors, no dress code and less pomp and tradition–if they attend church regularly at all.

So, gathered by Rev. Dr. Gregory L. Clarke of 126-year-old New Hope Baptist Church, other faith leaders, and with the support of beleaguered neighborhood presidents, they decided to do something: walk, knock on doors and listen to–not confront–people in the west end who had been shot and survived, people who had pulled triggers.

They called themselves Peacemakers–one of the newest branches of the national Peacemakers partnership between the Community Justice Reform Coalition and the PICO Live Free Campaign, which was launched to reduce gun violence in communities of color, decrease mass incarceration and “end gun violence in America”.”

“If the streets were not coming to us we’d go to streets,” Clarke says.

They were tired, too, of burying so many of their neighbors, their sons and daughters, nephews and nieces, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers–and their children.

“We want to work with our neighbors to restore communities,” says Clarke.

We had to get here.

Not surprisingly, residents were initially skeptical of these people walking down their street, knocking on their doors for eight blocks. So, the group walked for months telling hardly a soul. No cameras. No light.

Being stealth was needed to build trust and to hear truth.

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