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Faith in prayer power drives ‘Hands Around 201 Poplar’

    Bloomfield Baptist Church will conduct a prayer vigil at the Criminal Justice Center, 201 Poplar, from 10:30 a.m. until noon on Saturday (Feb. 2).

    "Hands Around 201 Poplar" – year two – is to send the message inside and outside of the city's lockup that a wholistic approach must be included, if American society is to stem the plague of violence dominating the news daily.

    "We are doing this to declare a moratorium on crime for the month of February," the church's pastor, the Rev. Ralph White, said. "As people of faith, we are asking others who believe that prayer can make great changes to come join us to pray for the inmates, law enforcement personnel and the innocent throughout this city."

    Bloomfield's commitment is part of a self-described movement led by the church under the title "God So Loved Memphis." With that declaration emblazoned on red T-shirts, the community-based unit stage a Gas For Guns event last year that city leaders termed a big success.

    White said such events are not about trumpeting his or Bloomfield's name. They have to be done to bring home the message that we can all fight crime through the singular method of personal concern, he said.

    "This is not just a one time effort. We're going to be doing this every week of the month in high crime areas," White vowed. "Black, white, all denominations, it's a pro-active effort for people who believe that prayer is a force in their lives and can be a force to help others."

    Today's problems are spiritual and have to be addressed in a manner that will heal people's spirits, White said. "The government and leaders of politics can address the issues in their way, but speaking as a man of faith, for myself and others, we have to work on taking the hate out of the hearts."

    Pointing out the work of the God So Loved initiative, the Stop The Killing campaign and the dedication of others such as "Uncle" Joe Hunter in Frayser, White said those who call such efforts naïve can visit Bloomfield or many other churches to written and walking testimony that faith-based methods help reform criminal mindsets.

    "We've seen the impact here and in other counties where we've saturated the message by putting out yard signs," said white. "But we're not just using signs, we're going out and using bodies to go out witnessing and praying in high-crime areas. This is not just an event, it's a movement."

    And it's an everyday thing for him, White said.

    "Right after the 2011 new year, an attorney called and asked me did I know this certain guy. I asked him, 'Do I need to know him?' He said, 'Well, he knows you.' (Eventually) I served as a character witness for him and he's moved to Chicago and has done great things," said white.

    "I often take street guys, even gang members and gang leaders, to lunch just to talk to them. Not trying to get them to come to church, just to talk to them. You have to work with them, be involved. A lot of them feel divorced from society and we make it very difficult for them to get back in the mainstream.

    'They can't get jobs so they turn to other elements,' said White. "We know that the camaraderie they find in gangs is not real, it's superficial, but we have to show them that we have their back.'

    White said some members of fraternities and sororities differ with him when he relates the camaraderie that Greek-based organizations experience with that shared by gang members.

    "We do things for our frat brothers and sisters and the gangs give kids who feel dispossessed the same type of connection. Most members of gangs, male and female, are simply searching for a connection to something."

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