Coalition of pastors draws huge turnout for unity service
More than 2,000 people packed Fairfield Baptist Church in Lithonia as pastors from across metro Atlanta united for a Friday night worship service. The coalition of pastors came together to celebrate their Right Choice after-school mentoring program, which was formed last September in collaboration with the DeKalb County School System and the DeKalb Police Department. The catalyst for Right Choice: Cedric Alexander, DeKalb’s Deputy Chief Operating Officer of Public Safety.
“The unity service was historic, epic, really and we must give credit to Chief Alexander. He cared enough about this community to bring us together to take back DeKalb,” said Bishop Quincy Carswell, pastor of Covenant Ministries Christian Center in Decatur. “I have been pastoring since 1975 and never before have I seen such a coming together like the one experienced that Friday night.”
That Friday night was March 28. A crowd filled the sanctuary, balcony and overflow room on the lower level of Fairfield Baptist. The well-attended service follows months of work. The religious leaders joined forces after Alexander encouraged them to start afterschool programs at their churches for at-risk boys. Alexander, who had only been on the job three or four months as DeKalb’s new police chief, came up with the idea after youths committed a string of crimes in the metro Atlanta area including the death of 46-year-old Jerrick Jackson, who was shot during a robbery at his Atlanta home. Jerrick Jackson is the brother of DeKalb megachurch Pastor Wiley Jackson. Four teens ages 17 to 19 were charged with his murder.
In addition to Covenant Christian Ministries Center and Fairfield Baptist, 11 other churches united to launch Right Choice programs and take on the expense of operating them: Fairfield Baptist; Greater Piney Grove; Green Pastures Christian Ministries; Clarkston First Baptist; Rainbow Park Baptist; New Life Church; New Birth Missionary Baptist; Berean Christian Church; St. Philip AME; Stronghold Christian Church; Cross Culture Church and Ray of Hope.
Carswell said the churches have been working with schools that are located near them. Principals make referrals of students they believe will benefit from the program.
“These clergy men and women have gotten together to be a voice of one,” said Alexander. “They have agreed to stand together to say ‘We want to take back our county.’ They have not only been praying together every month, they’ve taken on active role in the community. It’s what we need right now.”
Some, like Pastor Micheal Benton of Fairfield Baptist Church, have gotten involved in mentoring on a one-on-one basis. Benton picks up youths on Thursdays and brings them to his church for the afterschool Right Choice program. He feeds them, too, before their parents pick them up in the evening.
“We’re trying to create an environment for them to have something constructive to do after school,” Benton said. “Right Choice is the right thing to do.”
Benton said he was very pleased with the turnout for the unity service and the response from the congregation when asked to contribute to the program.
“The response from the public was overwhelming. It’s a new program, the first of its kind, and people who attended an had never heard of it, pitched in to help out,” said Benton.