One week after a white gunman killed nine people at a black church in South Carolina, hundreds of people gathered in Grand Rapids to show solidarity.
“I want you to take somebody by the hand,” the Rev. Gerry Moore motioned to the crowd before bowing his head in prayer. “Take somebody by the hand.”
Moore, who heads First Community African Methodist Episcopal Church in Grand Rapids, was passionate leading the group, but practical too. He compared the country’s problems with race to medical issues.
“In order to cure those things there has to be research done. There has to be dialogue,” he said.
He asked those who came, from different faiths and backgrounds, to reach out to one another.
“We need to talk earnestly and openly about what our feelings are and why we feel the way we feel. That hatred is embedded. And until we begin talking about it earnestly and openly then it’ll never cease and our country will suffer as a result of it,” he said.
Moore hopes to organize another gathering soon.
The Rev. Chico Daniels told the crowd they're not immune to racial strife.
“So many of us are burnt out on reconciliation. We don’t even want to hear the word anymore. But God, we’re praying that you’ll give us strength, God, to fight another day,” Daniels said.
When Daniels first came to Grand Rapids more than a decade ago, people told him the city was “the Mississippi of the North.”
“Our preachers, they try but so many of them have been bought by corporate America,” Daniels said. “So many of them are afraid to teach the truth from the pulpits and they’re quiet and they’re silenced about what’s going on.”
Erin Smith moved to Grand Rapids from North Carolina four years ago to attend Calvin College. She says she was shocked by the segregation and people’s perception of the South.
“I came up here and everyone was white unless I went to certain areas of town where it was like a ghetto,” Smith said.
“I see so much more segregation and ignorance up here because you’re not mixing or interacting or there’s no presence, do you know what I mean?” she said.
Smith says it was important for her to come and show solidarity with the black community. She hopes more people will join future efforts.