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Small but enthusiastic crowd turns out for anti-violence program

Pastor Levy dressed in a hospital gown and carried an automatic rifle during one part of the program.

News Staff Writer

A thunderstorm that dumped rain on Atmore for about half an hour prior to the scheduled start of the community-wide anti-violence program, held Saturday, June 29, forced an hour’s delay in the program’s start and its relocation to a drier setting.
The rain and relocation were also at least partly responsible for a turnout of fewer than 40 people in a city where shootings, lethal and non-lethal, have become almost commonplace, especially among black teens and young adults.
Atmore native Michael Arnold, one of the sponsors of the anti-violence rally, was busy prior to the extended 5 p.m. start, trying to stir up a crowd through a live Facebook stream. He encouraged adults to bring their children, especially teenagers, and their neighbors to Escambia County High School’s Cornell Torrence Gymnasium, into which the event (originally scheduled for the school’s football field) was moved.
Arnold said the rally was badly needed, especially in the wake of the May Day shootings that left three people dead and 15 others wounded in a Stockton field, and the other shooting incidents that have occurred within Atmore and the surrounding area in recent months.
“The rain kind of got us,” he said of the late start and new location. “With this Stockton situation — and of course we’ve been having problems in our town — we thought this would be pretty good if we could reach our kids and let them see that what’s going on is real.”
Yellow Hats Society of Atmore was also a local sponsor, and President Lillie Johnson and six other members of the organization were there. The Escambia County Commission was the other sponsor, and District 5’s Karean Reynolds stopped by for a brief chat with Arnold and Louisiana Pastor Lawrence Levy III, who created and presented the program.
Those who did attend Levy’s “HEAL (Mr. The Funeral Is Canceled),” program heard a sobering sermon — delivered in a style that fluctuated between evangelic shouts and soft-spoken whispers — focused on the costs of violence.
Levy presented most of his remarks as he walked around a square, cordoned off with yellow “crime scene” tape. Inside the square were the tools he used to accent his points, including an orange jumpsuit, a body bag, several automatic weapons, evidence markers and even two Ku Klux Klan robes that were draped over chairs. Accenting the displayed tragedy was a small pile of wrapped Christmas presents.
At one point he climbed into the ring, donned a hospital gown and delivered his message from inside, pointing out the various items and their meaning. Twice he brought the crowd to the edge of the ring for a closer look.
Although the sound system had been set up for a full gym, and Levy’s words echoed off the walls until adjustments were made, the small crowd seemed to appreciate and understand his words. Several shouts of “amen” and other phrases rang out, and several of his remarks drew applause.
In his prayer of invocation, the Louisiana pastor made brief mention of the small crowd, but pointed out that, as the Bible says about gatherings of two or more.
“Thank you for allowing us to be here in Atmore, Alabama,” he prayed. “You will be glorifying, whether it’s only one or two people who will be moved, because I don’t care about numbers, I care about you getting the glory.”
The heart of his message was the ongoing problems in the black community, many of which he said have been handed down from generation to generation.
“This is our reality right now, whether we accept it or not,” he said, ticking off the reasons he feels the problems exist. “The reason why our children are dying, the reason why they don’t desire to succeed, why they don’t believe in themselves, why our children are attracted to murder music, the reason why they don’t believe in picking their pants up, and the reason they don’t believe in staying sober, is because there is a sickness upon us.
“Our children have been given a dysfunctional lifestyle filled with the sickness of the family that came before them, the family that made them. The root comes from the sick parents — the father that sold dope because his father sold dope, and we accept it when a mama turns to a crackhead and starts hustling.
“That’s what’s destroying the black community. The sickness of the children came from adults who made the children, and the lies that [they] covered up. Tell them the truth. We seek the sore, but we don’t seek the infection that brought the sore on.”
One of his closing remarks brought the whole message home.
“If you don’t understand that something is wrong in your community, your community can never heal,” he said to a round of applause and several shouts of approval before conducting an altar call that moved several teens and adults to seek prayer and brief counsel.
Two Baldwin County residents who traveled to Atmore for the program said they thought the message Levy presented was a good one.
“I thought it was a pretty strong message,” said James Grant of Foley. “It gave me a lot of things to think about.”
Evelyn Thames of Bay Minette agreed that the problem of violence, even in small communities, is a critical one that needs to be addressed by more people who can bring about a change.
“He made a lot of sense,” Thames said of Levy. “It’s gotten to where a person is scared to go outside. Something has got to be done, but I don’t know what or who will do it.”