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Ministers agree racial calm, co-existence needed

During the meeting, the Rev. Andy Gartman talked about a book he recently read that was an eye-opener for him concerning race relations.

News Staff Writer

The group of more than a dozen ministers who met last Thursday, June 4, with elected city officials and local law enforcement officials apparently know what needs to be done to bring Atmore residents of different races together. All wanted assurance that a serious attempt to bridge the racial gap would be made soon.
The invocation, delivered by Grace Fellowship Church Lead Pastor Gene King, included a similar hope.
“I thank You that we could be in this place together,” King began. “Our hearts are heavy, but we’re here together. I pray that today we would work in unity, we would work for peace, we would work for justice. I pray that it will not be just talking, but it will be actions in the coming weeks and months.”
With Atmore Police Chief Chuck Brooks serving as mediator, the ministers talked about the problems that exist between people of different color and race. In the end, though, only the outline of a plan to fix those problems was formulated.
“Let’s face reality, not cover up what’s really going on,” said Pastor Darryl North of Empowerment Tabernacle. “Let’s talk about it, deal with it, be transparent with it so that we can move forward. We’ll never move forward until we face reality.”
After nearly two hours of discussion, including assurances by Brooks that his officers are trained to “treat people like they want to be treated themselves,” the meeting broke up with little in the way of a concrete plan.
“What do I tell these young people?” asked Senior Pastor Shawn Williams of Jones Street True Pentecostal Holiness Church. “Do I tell them we went and met down at city hall? What do we reasonably want to come out of this? It’s not going to go away; we have to talk about it.
“My point is, when I go back and my young people ask me what came out of the meeting, what am I going to say? That you (Brooks) told us how the PD works? That a couple of people got up and said what they said? We’ve got to have some person-to-person talk, and it’s not going to happen overnight.”
Williams added that empty dialogue is not what is needed.
“We can’t stop it tomorrow,” he said of the racial divide. “We can get a reasonable expectation that we’re going to put some things in place, going to sit down at the table and talk. But if we don’t get some answers to some people, we’re going to let this division keep us from living comfortable together.
“Somewhere down the line we’ve got to stop doing committees, sit down face-to-face and have some meetings between our young people and the leaders in our community. Until these conversations happen, we’re just going to keep meeting until something happens and everybody riots.”
Brooks reminded the gathering that the best laid plans often go awry.
“Everybody wants something to happen,” he said. “Then a day becomes a week, a week becomes a month, and a month becomes a year. It’s easy to let it get away.”
Escambia County Sheriff Heath Jackson agreed.
“I’m going to just call it like it is,” Jackson said. “Something bad happens in America every couple of years, and law enforcement is somehow involved. Then everybody gets together and is going to fix the problem. They have a meeting, then it never happens again. We get busy, or something else pops up, or we lose interest.
“This (racial animosity) is something that should have been over after all those tragedies of the 1960s. We have got to get where we have got to get. We’ve got people in this community who care. Y’all give me a plan, and I’ll execute it. Y’all tell me to get a plan together, what direction you want to go, and I’ll execute it.”