Transformers: Moving Beyond The Church's Walls

Pastor Zachary E. Carey, of True Vine Ministries, leads a march against violence and believes the faith community is critical in the fight to rebuild urban communities and helping to solve the issue of homicide, claiming the lives of mostly young black men.  
By John W. Fountain
OAKLAND, Calif.—At a busy intersection, here in East Oakland, horns blare in the Saturday morning air as a band of faithful soldiers stand and chant.
“Some-bo-dy di--i-ied here,” intones a woman.
“Some-bo-dy di-i-i-ied here,” the group yells back.
Nearby, a mourning mother whose two teenage sons were murdered in separate incidents—less than a month apart—carries poster portraits.
“Honk for Guns Down,” reads a sign. “Honk for Peace,” reads another. In response, motorists sound their horns, smile and wave as they pass.
Among those marching this warm winter’s day are children and also the elderly, black and white, men and women, Baptists and Episcopalians. Some finger the “peace” sign. Others wave colorful placards. Their mission—begun three years ago—remains incomplete.
"The faith community can win where government policies and even laws fail. 
The church can reach hearts and souls and help transform lives."

Paula Hawthorn holds up the peace sign while toting a sign 
Saturday (Feb. 15, 2014) at a rally in East Oakland, Calif., to 
bring awareness and a stop to murder and gun violence.
So they march. Relentlessly, they march—whether the media shows up or not. Whether there are only a handful or many. They march—and stand—for peace.
            “I said, ‘somebody died here.’ Der-rick died here. La-mar died here…” the leader continues, her half-sung chorus blasting over a bullhorn.
“I am outraged,” she chants. “I am irritated…”
The battle cry of several dozen protestors resounds far beyond this intersection at 98th and Bancroft Avenues. Their presence alone speaks volumes.
The group is mostly True Vine Ministries, a non-denominational congregation, whose pastor, Reverend Zachary E. Carey, fed up with gun violence in his city, founded SAVE, or Soldiers Against Violence Everywhere. Their mantra: “Gun violence isn’t just a public health concern, it’s the number-one concern.”
Since 2011, the group has held hour-long, weekly “stand-ins,” assembling at a street where someone was slain. So they stood this past Saturday—fighting, hoping, praying for change, casting light on this darkness, and in recent years have seen a notable decline in violent crime here, Carey said, but not enough.
“You can hear mothers wailing in the streets all over America,” Carey told the group.
I am moved by their plight, by the commitment and vision of their pastor whom I met about seven years ago on a trip to South Africa. Like me, Carey, 53, believes in the power of the church to impact society in ways government cannot. That the church has a critical role to play in the creation and also the healing of community.
That the faith community can win where government policies and even laws fail. That the church can reach hearts and souls and help transform lives.
And like Carey, I believe that some enemies and issues must be confronted not only in the natural sense but also spiritually. That the murder and gun violence that plague black and brown communities across this nation are among these.
And that there is no more critical an issue of our time than the scourge called homicide. This is a human rights issue and no greater injustice than the unjustified taking of human life.
I stood with Carey and True Vine last Saturday in Oakland. But it could have been a street corner on Chicago’s West or South Side, or a corner in many other urban American cities plagued by gun violence and murder.
And while I am aware that there are others in the faith community who also have taken up this cause, it would hardly be a stretch to say that most haven’t.

And why not? Especially since so many of them can also say about their neighborhood streets: “Some-bo-dy di-i-i-ied here.”
Editor's Note: This story originally ran as a column in the Chicago Sun-Times Feb. 20, 2014.

Email: Author@John W.

A member of True Vine Ministries in Oakland, Calif., hoists the portraits of two murdered young men
Saturday (Feb. 15, 2014) at a rally against gun violence in East Oakland.