A group of faith leaders gathered Thursday morning to pray over systemic issues, including racism and poverty, affecting both the city of Winston-Salem and the country.

Faith Leaders for Equality held the event at 10 a.m. Thursday in Bailey Park. On a stage stood 18 faith leaders representing different Christian denominations, Judaism and Islam.

One by one, faith leaders such as Bishop Sir Walter Mack of Union Baptist Church, Rabbi Mark Cohn of Temple Emmanuel and Imam Joel A.R. Saahir of Masjid Al-Muminun offered prayers on a whole host of topics such as educational disparities, peace, safety and security and healing.

The Rev. Mike and Darla Rakes of Winston-Salem First prayed about racial reconciliation.

“I recognize it is pointless to pray for reconciliation because it implies we have something to go back to,” the Rev. Mike Rakes said in his prayer. “In this prayer Lord, I am acknowledging the broken and sinful history of race relations in our nation. Reconcile us first to the suffering Jesus — the Black Jesus — who carried our sorrows, bore our oppression and deep pain on the cross of Calvary.”

He said he prayed for justice and equality to “break out like a spirit-empowered pandemic.”

Pastor J.B. Whitfield of Agape Faith Church said that the idea for the prayer gathering came amid the protests that broke out over the death of George Floyd in May. Floyd, a black man, died after a white Minneapolis police officer placed his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes while Floyd lay on his stomach, handcuffed, on the street beside a police car.

“I called the sheriff (Bobby Kimbrough Jr.) and asked him to come to our church and ask what we could do to help,” Whitfield said.

Kimbrough challenged attendees to that meeting to organize a large “pray for the city” gathering, he said. And that’s what Whitfield said he did, calling some other faith leaders.

Those meetings led to what happened on Thursday.

A large cross-section of faith leaders came in support of the gathering, including Pastor Tembila Covington, the president of the Ministers Conference of Winston-Salem and Vicinity.

Brittany Battle, one of the lead organizers of occupy-like protests over the death of John Neville, recorded the event live and asked the faith leaders to offer prayers to the Neville family. The protests have been happening in Bailey Park every day since mid-July. Neville, 56, died from injuries he received while at the Forsyth County Jail in December. Five detention officers and a nurse have been charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Saahir responded to her that they did pray for the Neville family, even though the faith leaders did not mention Neville’s name.

Afterward, when asked to respond to what Battle said, Whitfield declined to comment.




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