Lexington churches organize prayer walks against community violence

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comAugust 20, 2013 

This is a photograph from the first prayer walk that Lexington's Imani Baptist Church held on Aug. 11 on Georgetown Road and Georgetown Street to illuminate the recent crime in the city, including shootings. The walks will continue at 5 p.m. each Sunday through Sept. 22 with the goal of drawing 25,000 walkers throughout the city. Photo Provided


    People with questions about the prayer walks can call Polk at Imani Baptist Church at (859) 231-1555

A faith-based movement against recent violence in Lexington includes seven Sunday community prayer walks with the goal of 25,000 people walking in the city on Sept. 22.

Imani Baptist Church on Georgetown Road has organized a community prayer walk for the last two Sundays with representatives from as many as a dozen churches, Imani's pastor Willis Polk said Tuesday. He said as many as 200 people participated in the Aug. 18 walk.

Polk said the walks were prompted not just by recent shootings in the Georgetown Street area, but also by shootings and stabbings across Lexington that he called "random acts of craziness."

"It is a concern we have for the city," said Polk. "Our aim is to let the city know that the church is aware and in prayer and seeking to devise ways of addressing some of these problems."

Polk said citizens want concrete action that will thwart criminal activity, including incidents of violence among young people.

For the past two Sundays, some neighbors have joined in as the walk passed their homes, he said. Others provided water, he said, and praised the walkers "for taking a stand fearlessly."

People meet at 5 p.m. Sunday in the parking lot of the Imani Church at 1555 Georgetown Road. They walk a 3.4-mile stretch that consists of both Georgetown Street and Georgetown Road.

The walks are a separate but similar effort to that initiated by people who live around Lexington's Douglass and Duncan parks and who have been taking action after a recent spate of shootings and other crimes.

Some of those neighbors are visiting the parks more with their families, hoping that their presence will ward off criminal activity. They've successfully asked police to step up patrols and have also been meeting with Mayor Jim Gray and other city officials.

Polk is inviting citizens to join in the prayer walks on Aug. 25 and Sept. 1, 8, 15 and 22. The goal is to have 25,000 people in Lexington on Sept. 22 participating in the prayer walk, he said.

People do not have to come to Imani to be part of a Sunday prayer walk, said Polk. They could walk near their own churches or homes.

"It would be nice if we could present a united front, and on the seventh Sunday they could walk the block that they are on," he said.

Polk said he has contacted Fayette school district officials, Gray and police department representatives and wants to have further talks with city officials about programs for youth who are at risk of becoming involved in crime.

Polk said he had some ideas for early childhood education and for physical activities for youth.

"I want it to be a community discussion. I want us to look at the resources we have. People want concrete action of some sort, " he said.

The prayer walks began abruptly, said Polk, "but it's taken off pretty quickly. To see people respond and come along with you as quickly as they have, that was one surprise."

Several churches have sent representatives to the first two walks, Polk said.

Gray said he would join the walk set for Sept. 1. He said he shares neighbors' concerns about public safety and said he had begun working with neighbors and councilmembers, and had identified short-term solutions including stepping up public safety and code enforcement.

"We've already started, for example on Roosevelt Street, mowing and cleaning up yards at two abandoned houses, clearing out overgrowth where criminals might be hiding. We are continuing to meet on longer term needs," he said.

Don Reed is the executive director of the Elkhorn Baptist Association, whose membership includes 44 Baptist churches in Lexington and 42 Baptist churches in surrounding counties. Reed said he had notified the association's member churches about the prayer walks.

Incidents of violence, said Reed, "touch everybody."

"All these young people out there are so precious and so important to us."

Robert Edison of Lexington said he has joined the community Sunday walks in hopes that it would lead to change.

"We as Christians sometimes are passive," said Edison. "We have to make a statement and make a bold one. We've got to get ahead of this thing."

To learn more

People with questions about the prayer walks can call Polk at Imani Baptist Church at (859) 231-1555

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: (859) 231-3409. Twitter:@vhspears

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