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Megaphone in hand, the reverend led the crowd down 108th Place in Chicago’s Roseland neighborhood shouting, “Stop Killing Our Kids!”
Local news crews captured footage of the march following the shooting of 16-year-old Andre Taylor and posted photos alongside the story on their websites.
Comments posted underneath the articles followed the two-sided script:
“Get rid of the GUNS and there would be no more unnecessary KILLINGS!”
“Guns don’t kill people, PEOPLE kill people!!!”
When the march finished and the camera crews pulled off to their next story; when the online debaters pulled up stakes and clicked on the next tragedy; a community remained. This is a story about communities that live in unimaginable suffering and yet find power and comfort in the presence of each other; it’s a story about the Spirit drawing us closer to Christ, and one another in that suffering.
When the marchers and media moved on, Andre Taylor’s grandmother, Ms. Betty Johnson, sat on her front stoop all alone. A few minutes later Deacon Sabrina Beecham of Roseland Christian Reformed Church (RCRC) walked to Ms. Johnson’s house and sat next to her on the stoop. The two women held hands, cried, and prayed together. Deacon Evelyn Watts and her daughter Tracey would come next with greens and hot-water cornbread. Church members and community residents would stop by throughout the day with whatever they had to offer, most often it was the gift of time.
In the last ten years, RCRC has officiated the funerals of nine community members killed in gun violence, including Marqwell Seabron, William Zeigler, Darnell Mitchell Sr., Darnell Mitchell Jr., Larry Brown, Andre Taylor, and Rodney Braswell. Tangled in a knotted story of institutional racism, poverty, easy access to guns, inadequate mental health systems, drug addiction, homelessness, and crime, there is beauty, joy, and hope found throughout the community, most often in African American churches.
These churches, including RCRC, have a long and rich commitment in community organizing efforts that aim to change legislation, policy, and bring about justice (RCRC was one of the first member churches of the Developing Communities Project, a church-based community organizing effort led by a young community organizer named Barack Obama). But the power and capacity of these congregations to be present with each other in suffering is nothing short of a miracle. Willie James Jennings writes, “We who follow Jesus are working in wounds, working with wounds, and working through wounds.” Members of RCRC have followed Jesus into some deep wounds.
Moord Velden is a project from a few summers ago, documenting the violence in our community, featuring stunning black and white photography by Michael VanDerAa and beautiful words by Keri Wyatt Kent. It offers poignant portraits of a community that carries both the deep wounds of gun violence and the even deeper presence of God. It is a portrait of a community that follows Jesus into those wounds together.
On this Memorial Day, I invite you to read and consider these stories, which may be accessed here.