Bishop Dexter Johnson, senior pastor at Higher Ground Empowerment Center in Vine City, ended his prayer with a simple message: “Our mission is to teach one another to love one another.”
A vigil was held Friday night on the 17th Street Bridge near Atlantic Station to address the recent violent deaths of a pair of teenagers, 12-year-old Zyion Charles and 15-year-old Cameron Jackson of guns and gun violence in Atlanta in general. Seeing all the media on hand and the attention the two unfortunate deaths have attracted, Johnson joked, “This isn’t just a lights, cameras, action show tonight.”
The deaths of Charles and Jackson really lead the local news and make the front pages of local papers (including this one) because of the tragedy of lives lost too soon. In addition to the media double parking lot on the sidewalk between the Microsoft campus and the I-75 exit ramp, celebrities Dr. Bernice King and rapper Young Dro showed up to show their support. So in a way Pastor Johnson is incorrect, it was a show but a very necessary one to shine a positive light on a very negative situation.
Reverend Wendy Torres prayed for the youth of Atlanta. “Speak to them in their dreams, Lord, speak to them in their visions, Lord, show them that they are worthy.”
Also in attendance Friday night were supporters of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), 10,000 Fearless, a local organization, and individual youth advocates such as author and public speaker Kenyata Martin and Dr. Omar Howard. Both of the latter have been incarcerated at some point in their lives and know where the young men who used guns to end the lives of Charles and Jackson are headed because of the choices they made that night.
Martin was sentenced to 10 years in prison when he was 13. “If those guys who pulled the trigger knew the law, they would have thought twice,” he said. “I try to tell these kids when I go to speak at schools that the shooter gets the mandatory 10 years.”
Howard also spent time in prison and now works as a life coach and mentor at his company, Freedom is a Choice, Inc. He was on hand to offer his support but also to see how many members of the community were going. to participate. More than two dozen people made their way to the spot on the bridge where the vigil was being held. “We have to get out here and mentor these kids,” he said. “It’s sad and unfortunate that the community doesn’t come together more often because we’re going to see these issues more often.”
When the small white candles were first lit, the wind would sometimes blow them out. Everything stopped when the prayers began. “Give us wisdom, Lord God, to show them love, give us guidance, Lord God, to show them grace,” Torres prayed. “In the matchless name of Jesus Christ would you do this for us. Amen.”
The candles in the shape of “CJ” and “ZC” remained lit for a long time after her prayers were said.
What’s next: Tuesday night at the Higher Ground Empowerment Center, Pastor Johnson and others will hold what he described as a “strategy meeting” to discuss next steps to slow and ultimately stop the gun deaths of young black people in Atlanta.