Hundreds of women take their presence, their prayers to violent street corners

Vigil meant to save a city

September 04, 2007|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,Sun reporter

There are times when drug dealers seem to own these city street corners. There are times when the corners are ringed with yellow crime scene tape after a shooting.

Not yesterday. For two hours, the corners belonged to mothers and sisters who held hands and prayed for an end to the violence in Baltimore. Like the 20 corners they occupied, many of these women had been touched by crime.

"We have got to get the prayer back in our lives," organizer Kathryn Cooper-Nicholas shouted to the 100 people gathered at Saratoga and Eutaw streets.

In April, on this corner, Cooper-Nicholas' 21-year-old son was stabbed 15 times. She told the crowd that God helped him drag himself to the doctors at Maryland General Hospital. She said God gave her a vision of yesterday's vigil as a way to heal the spiritual wounds that she and other mothers carry.

This year, 210 people have been killed in Baltimore and hundreds more, like Cooper- Nicholas' son, have been seriously wounded in stabbings and shootings.

At times it can seem that whole communities have become apathetic, that there's no outrage left in Baltimore.

But after the attack on her son, Cooper- Nicholas formed a group called Sisters Saving the City. Within weeks, 100 women were showing up for its meetings at Douglas Memorial Community Church in the 1300 block of E. Madison Street.

Mostly through word of mouth and forwarded e-mail, the group promoted the prayer vigil. Cooper-Nicholas wanted to put 10,000 people on street corners in high-crime areas. That goal went unmet, but she said she was far from disappointed.

Hundreds of activists and church members, mostly women, stood on corners in places such as Upton and Lafayette Square and Oliver. They sang hymns, they prayed, they shared stories. In some neighborhoods, residents joined them.

At McCulloh Street and Lafayette Avenue, Marion Griner talked about the 15-year-old member of her church who was shot to death nearby, at Linden and North avenues, in June.

She joined with Grace Presbyterian Church members to pray, pleading, "To be Christians, you have to get out of your churches and get onto the streets. God put us all here for a purpose."

At Saratoga and Eutaw, Denise Reid talked about her 23-year-old son, who was shot in the neck last October as he sat in a car at Reisterstown Road and Cold Spring Lane. He is paralyzed from the waist down.

She read Bible verses and told the women surrounding her: "We can no longer sit by and allow our brothers and sisters to fall by the wayside. We are taking our city back in the name of Jesus."

A stage set up at Saratoga and Eutaw served as the nucleus of the citywide vigils, attracting politicians and community leaders. Children's choirs sang inspirational songs.

Ryan Jackson, all of 13 years old, led the Maryland Children's Choir in the song "Everything."

Afterward, Ryan, who lives in Catonsville, told a reporter, "Better things can come out of this city than are coming out of it now." He said he wanted to do his part to help.

Cooper-Nicholas smiled as she introduced the children's choirs.

"Young people can move you," she told the crowd. "We needed our young people to be here with us."

Later, ministers took to the stage to lead forceful prayers.

"We remember them name by name, face by face," preached the Rev. Andre Johnson of Seeds for the Harvest Ministries in East Baltimore. Women, some with tears trickling down, clasped their hands under their chins.

"Let them not just be another statistic, oh God," he continued. "We're crying out to you today. We're tired. In the name of Jesus, we pray for this city."

The Rev. Catherine Luckett, a minister at Douglas Memorial, also led prayers. Douglas members, including Cooper-Nicholas, flooded the street corners yesterday.

"There are some things that only divine power can handle," Luckett said. "Prayer moves us from hopelessness. Prayer changes people, and people change the city."

julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

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