The activist spirit of two fallen civil rights icons reigned heavily on the heart of the Rev. Michael E. Bell, Sr. and members of Allen AME Church as they lead a peace march through their Southeast community on Saturday, July 18.
Bell organized other faith leaders to help lead the community to bring attention to gun violence, voter registration and inspire hope amid a coronavirus pandemic and civil unrest regarding police brutality and other forms of racism.
Longtime pillars within Black America, Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia) and the Rev. CT Vivian, who both died Friday, July 17, fought for decades under the banner of the Civil Rights Movement with each also marching and working alongside the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Bell, who serves as the pastor of Allen AME Church in Southeast, explained the purpose of the march.
“We [have] lost two giants of the Civil Rights Movement,” Bell said. “One of the things that we are doing is registering people to vote because John Lewis was beaten and brutalized for us to have the right to vote.”
Lewis, 80, died after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. Funeral arrangements have not been released but news reports suggest that he could receive public memorials in the District, Atlanta and his birthplace of Troy, Alabama.
Vivian, 95, died at his home in Atlanta and served as national director of affiliates for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. According to various reports, Vivian’s funeral service will take place Thursday, July 23 at Providence Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta.
Vivian and Lewis confronted racist law enforcement and lawmakers, segregated institutions and often faced violent confrontations. Because of their history using nonviolent methods to encourage racial equality, organizers of last weekend’s event sought to encourage a halt in the District’s recent surge in Black-on-Black crime.
“Last year an 11-year-old lost his life to gun violence and [July 17] Devon McNeal was buried,” said Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White, Jr. “We just keep going and going until we put God back into our community.”
Those who joined the march included Assistant D.C. Police Chief Chanel Dickerson.
“It is important for the churches to join in with the community to end this ongoing violence,” she said. “We have lost a lot of loves. This is the one-year anniversary of Karon Brown who lost his life to gun violence.”
As the marchers walked through Ainger Place Apartments in Southeast, Ward 8 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Paul Trantham expressed frustration that things are not changing quick enough.
“Before we deal with injustice and police brutality all over the world we must deal with the brutality in our community,” Trantham said. “We must deal with the issues that trouble our community day after day. How can we say that we love our brother when we take a life over things that remain immaterial?”
The parking lot of Allen AME became filled with church auxiliaries and community groups.
The Rev. Claritha Stewart, pastor of the Independent Church of God in Southeast, said even though Lewis and Vivian are gone, “we have a new generation raising up and that is what we need. The younger soldiers.”
The Rev. Ronnie Fisher, also a member of Independent church, said Black men must help to inspire and raise the younger generation.
“Too often young people are living in hopeless situations and we have to be that beacon of light for them,” he said. “So often they don’t have any Black men. So often they are being raised in homes with single Black mothers and no fathers and we have to be that bridge for them.”