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Oakhurst Baptist Church Helps to Create Community

by Leslie Withers

Oakhurst Baptist Church Helps to Create Community

Photo of a child from a demonstration in December 2014.

Click here to see more photos.

In December of 2014, our neighbor church, Oakhurst Presbyterian Church, invited us to help plan a demonstration in our neighborhood in response to the police killings of young Black men across the nation. After a brief frenzy of planning and promoting, members of the two churches plus the nearby Atlanta Friends Meeting marched from their Sunday services, joining up at the appropriately named Harmony Park in the Oakhurst neighborhood of Decatur, GA. About 100 people showed up, including some neighborhood residents who saw us gather and joined us. We were carrying signs and banners, and clergy wore their liturgical stoles.

We invited participants to follow up by attending a community organizing meeting, which was held at Oakhurst Baptist Church in January, and we’ve been meeting monthly ever since. Each meeting has a program lasting 45 minutes to an hour, with the rest of the time devoted to planning. We’ve decided on a name and focus for our work – see below. We’ve agreed that we are people of faith, that our focus is racial justice in Decatur, and that we will not duplicate the work others are already doing. Instead, we’re building alliances to learn from and support each others’ work. We’ve spent some time at each meeting in frank, small group discussions about racisms in our own lives. 

We’ve heard Elisabeth Wilson, former (and so far only) African American mayor of Decatur recount the changes she’s seen over her lifetime. As a young woman, she was displaced from downtown Decatur when her community was demolished in the name of urban renewal. Today, as a retired elder, she risks being displaced from the Oakhurst neighborhood by gentrification and rising taxes. Spurred by her talk, we feel an urgency to address the problems of gentrification. At our next meeting we will hear officials from the Decatur Housing Authority talk about their efforts to preserve and increase the stock of affordable housing in Decatur.

In addition to monthly meetings we plan to hold public events about once a quarter. In April we joined with Rise Up Georgia to hold a Memorial Service for Black Lives at Oakhurst Baptist Church. Following a funeral procession across town, approximately 400 people gathered at the church to hear from family members of those killed and rededicate ourselves to the work for fairness in the criminal justice system.

Following the shooting of nine worshipers at Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, we held a candlelight vigil in the public square of Decatur. Nine young people dressed in black held pictures of those killed as the names were read and a bell tolled. Reflecting our dedication to being interfaith, inter-racial and multicultural, the speakers were Black and white Christian ministers, a Muslim Imam, and a Jewish cantor – two women and three men.

Create Community 4 Decatur: Black Lives Matter

What we are for: Equality in the justice system, neighborhoods, housing, and education,
– because Black lives matter

Who we are: People from multiple faiths, multiple cultures, and multiple paths
– because Black lives matter

What we do: Challenge structural supremacy
– because Black lives matter
Build authentic community
– because Black lives matter
Transform institutional injustices in housing, education, and criminal justice
– because Black lives matter

Leslie Withers is a member of Oakhurst Baptist Church who has been active in the church's involvement in the Black Lives Matter movement. For more information about this story, contact Leslie at [email protected]

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