APTOPIX Baltimore Police Death

Parishioners holds hands during a moment of prayer at a service at Southern Baptist Church Sunday, May 3, 2015, in Baltimore. A nearby senior center being built by the church was burned during the riots following Freddie Gray’s funeral. Gov. Larry Hogan has called for a statewide “Day Of Prayer And Peace” on Sunday after civil unrest rocked Baltimore. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

On the eve of the first trial for Baltimore police officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray, Baltimoreans United in Leadership is hosting a prayer service on Nov. 29 at the Blessed Sacrament Church on the 4100 block of Old York Road beginning at 4 p.m.

The service, billed as “Outrage and Hope,” is expected to draw people from BUILD congregations and others around the city to pray for the outcome of the Gray trials, for an end to the violence plaguing the city, for police officers and their families and for social concerns such as job and justice. BUILD is a coalition that comprises about 40 churches, one synagogue and four community organizations in Baltimore.

“It’s a prayer service for the city as a whole but also a way to engage people to do things to work together to make the city better,” said Gwen Brown, a BUILD organizer. “Prayer changes things, but we also need to take some action steps behind it.”

The community activist said the event arose out of discussions among parishioners of St. Matthew’s Catholic Church in East Baltimore who wanted to pray for the city ahead of the imminent trial. Following Gray’s death in April while in police custody, the city erupted in violent unrest, reflecting residents’ simmering frustrations over persistent joblessness, poor schools, a partial justice system and other ills.

“The city is traumatized right now; people are hurting and they’re internalizing it but they don’t know how to act on ,” Brown said. “People need a sense of healing and way to express that grief before they can begin to work on bettering their communities.”

The situation is worsened by a spate of violence that has left people feeling unsafe in their own homes, she added.

“The city needs to feel safe. Before we do anything in communities we usually ask residents what they would like changed. They almost always say – before anything else – that they want safety and security,” Brown said. “There needs to be a sense of safety before we can move on to other things.”

On a recent Saturday, for example, BUILD set out to do voter registration in the Sandtown-Winchester neighbourhood—efforts which were halted by gunshots.

Given the plethora of problems, BUILD decided to make the prayer service about more than just prayer. Following the service, there will be a discussion to air out some of the community’s issues and also seek commitments from residents to devote their time and talents to solutions.

Brown told the AFRO, “I’m hoping this can be a place where people can, not only grieve, but also get a sense of hope and then think about ways to make things better.”