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Prayer vigil brings beaches community together

Vigil focused on healing divisions in the country

JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. – The beaches community came together Wednesday evening for a prayer vigil designed to help heal divides across the nation over police brutality.

Faith leaders joined with police and city leaders to participate in the vigil, which aimed to promote unity in light of nationwide protests and unrest.

“We’re not going for the huge, huge crowd. But those persons that are sincere, those persons that really want to see unity, peace, those persons that want to reconcile our differences. That’s the audience that we’re trying to engage tonight,” organizer Lillie Sullivan told News4Jax ahead of the service. “We want something positive, positive results to come out of this. I think you will see a wonderful cross section of black and white tonight. The beaches is unique in that some things other places experience, typically we don’t.”

The vigil was held at the Rhoda L. Martin Cultural Heritage Center on Fourth Street in Jacksonville Beach.

“Rhoda Martin, of course, (was) a former slave who started the first school for black children out of her kitchen, so it really brings together all these elements of fighting for opportunity and access for those that have been denied it for way too long,” said University of North Florida Center for Urban Education and Policy Director Chris Janson.

With masks over many faces and police officers at their side, dozens gathered with a fervent belief: Prayer is needed in the country.

“There’s power in prayer, and we as believers need to know we can call on God, that he’ll make a difference,” said Pastor Kennetta Carter, with Roberts Mount Pisgah AME Church.

Carter, who hosted the event, spoke alongside Jacksonville Beach Police Chief Gene Paul Smith, who said the past week has not been easy for the department.

“My officers and a lot of law enforcement are tired. We had the hurricane last year, had COVID last month and now dealing with this,” he said. “It’s challenging, and I have never been more proud to be a member of this profession than now.”

Some locals, such as Sam Thomas, told News4Jax it’s critical for the country to heal from the wounds of racial inequality that Thomas said have been going on for decades.

“I’ve lived here all my life, and what’s going on in the world is something that’s been going on for a while. We’ve seen the situation with Rodney King. It goes all the way back then. All it did was push it to the side. Nothing really came out of it,” said Thomas, a Jacksonville Beach resident. “So we need a solution to this problem now.”

The event was spearheaded by the Cultural Heritage Center, along with multiple beaches churches.

In Jacksonville’s San Marco neighborhood, demonstrators took part in walk Wednesday night in response to the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis.


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