In an effort to curtail teenage violence, a group of pastors gathered outside the Minnesota Avenue Metro station this week to reach out to students heading home from school.
“We want to make sure that these kids are safe. This is our potential and this is our future,” said Rev. Charles McNeil, pastor of the Unity Baptist Church in Northeast Washington. “The young folks are not coming into our churches so we have to make the churches relevant to them.”
The effort by the clergy comes as they city has seen several daytime shootings. It also is two months after two killings at the Deanwood Metro station along Metro’s Orange line. In March, 17-year old Maurice Bellamy allegedly gunned down 15-year-old Davonte Washington. And in April, Jovante Hall was charged with murder for the fatal stabbing of 15-year-old John Rufus Evans III.
On Wednesday afternoon, McNeil was among nearly a dozen pastors and church leaders who showed up for the effort. In addition to stopping young people and asking them about sports and their various interests, they also took some by the hand and prayed. Former Mayor Vincent Gray, who is running against Yvette Alexander (D) for the Ward 7 DC Council seat, also came out for the event.
“This event exceeded our expectations because many of the young people were happy to know that pastors were concerned about their lives and not just drove Mercedes and big cars,” McNeil said.
Markel Brown, 19, was among the young people at the Metro station. He said fights are common because there are few police officers.
“When one fight happens the whole station gets hyped,” Brown said. “I do think if the preachers come out here it will make a difference because they are God’s representatives.”
Rev. Nathaniel Thomas, whose church is in Forestville, came to the event because his ministry used to be in Northeast D.C. “ I’m back out here because much of what we see is the same stuff that happened 30 years ago.”
Mahlik Hargroves, 17, a junior at Eastern High School, welcomed the pastors but said he was skeptical if the community would see real change. “Everytime some happens the pastors come out but nothing seems to change. Everybody just needs to come together.”
But the religious leaders said they were hopeful.
“It is about building relationships, getting out of the pews and offer the resources that we have,” said Anthony L. Minter, Pastor of the First Rock Baptist Church in Southeast Washington. “Too often there is a disconnect between the faith community and the community at-large and it should not be.”
The Sacred Heart Spiritual Church is located near the Minnesota Avenue Metro Station, Rev. Andrea Harris said she and her members must do more to engage with young people.
“My philosophy is that if your church is in the community and the community has not changed then what is going on with you,” Harris said. “I believe it we need to be out in the community before things happen. There was a time when they said here comes a pastor and everybody stopped.”