Friday, May 24, 2024

Abundant Life Church youth members lead the crowd at a Friday peace vigil in “dapping up” as a demonstration of how each person supports others. (Photos: Marc Levy)

A crowd gathers at 34-36 Willow St. — the site of a fatal June 3 drive-by shooting — for a H.O.P.E. in the Street vigil, organized by Cambridge Churches United to encourage healing, order, prayer and peace and empowerment.

Declaring Willow Street “holy ground” since the killing there of a teen in a drive-by shooting, a gathering of clergy spoke Friday evening to neighbors, citizens and police of the need for peace in the neighborhood and throughout the city.

While the organizing group, Cambridge Churches United, described the event as being about stopping Cambridge violence in general, the June 3 drive-by shooting that killed Charlene Holmes, 16, and injured Thanialee Cotto, 17, cast a long shadow. “We know what happened here weeks ago,” said Bishop Brian C. Greene of Pentecostal Tabernacle, who served as emcee, in making the declaration of holy ground.

The porch and steps of 34-36 Willow St. began to feel holy as a string of clergy from around the city spoke and prayed, with four in turn taking on the topics of healing, order, prayer and peace and empowerment, which formed the acronym that gave the vigil and its planned follow-ups their name: H.O.P.E. in the Street. The diverse crowd of several dozen people gave heartfelt “amens,” sang and prayed along and went silent with fervent awe as a subdued, then soaring, cello and keyboard duet played a song written specifically for the event and speaking directly to its theme: “Hope in the Streets.”

The musicians also played quietly behind the clergy as they spoke, and there was the occasional strain of a woman singing that helped transform the corner into an open-air cathedral.

“In the wake of tragedy, the churches came together to make it clear we shared in the grief and the anger for what happened here, but also shared in a commitment that [it] would not be just for a moment, but that we would be united … we’re not going anywhere,” said the Rev. Paul Robeson Ford, senior pastor of Union Baptist Church. “Where there has been aimlessness and hopelessness, we now bear witness to God’s love.”

The girls were not considered to be the targets for the drive-by. Witnesses and police have said Charlene was walking past the building, and Thanialee was there braiding a man’s hair.

Police Commissioner Robert Haas lingered near the back of the Friday event, but didn’t speak. Police were thanked repeatedly by the speakers, with Haas praised by Greene as “that wonderful man who has been just so cooperative. We’re so grateful for Commissioner Haas.” Also thanked for their presence was Brian Corr, director of the city’s Peace Commission, and Dr. Carolyn L. Turk, deputy superintendent of the school district.

After the Rev. Dr. Lynda Jordan of A Place to Heal Ministries spoke on healing, Dan Szatkowski, pastor at Cambridgeport Baptist Church, spoke on the topic of order, saying “Oh, God, our hearts are grieved by this taking of innocent life … we’re here today because there was disorder, because people went their own way. They didn’t go God’s way. We’re so very sorry, Father, for allowing disorder.” Referring to the police, Szatkowski urged God to “work through them, father.”

A call to speak out

There were also repeated calls for people to speak out against crime and injustice.

The Rev. Virginia Ward, youth pastor at the Abundant Life Church, called forward children, teen and the people who worked with them to lead the crowd in “dapping up,” or putting right fists over the left fists of neighbors as a demonstration of how each person supported someone else. “If you see something, you need to say something,” Ward said, praying the children “will not be afraid, that they will speak out for justice.” (After Ward spoke on peace, the Rev. Thomas Keith Dickerson of Rush Memorial AME Zion Church spoke on the final theme in the acronym, empowerment.)

The Rev. Lorraine A. Thornhill of First Holiness Church picked up Ward’s theme, saying that “when tragedy happens, you’ve got to speak out. We’re here to make a difference [and] won’t be intimidated, cowardly or unsettled.”

When she led the crowd in responsive prayer, she asked it to be loud enough to be heard by the “people who stayed in their house and didn’t come out.”

The Rev. Henry Johnson Jr. of First Baptist Church also returned to the theme in his benediction for the evening, saying to God not only that “I declare in your name that [the perpetrators] have no peace, that their days are long and nights restless,” but also that “those that know and have been silent have no peace, that their days are long and nights restless.”

It sounded at times like a complement to the pleadings at a June 4 vigil by Charlene’s father, aunt and a family friend, Cheryl Hall, for mourners to talk to police and help arrest a suspect. “If you guys really loved her you would tell the people in the blue what really happened,” Hall was quoted as saying in The Cambridge Chronicle.