Several hundred people gathered in Munn Park this evening for spirited messages of unity and an end to racism from 10 pastors and a congressman.

Some wondered beforehand whether 10 usually loquacious preachers and a politician could keep the One Heart Community & Faith Rally to the one hour it was scheduled for. They came close. LkldNow’s live stream below, which started a few seconds into the rally, shows the event wrapped up in under 68 minutes.

The microphone was shared by a multi-ethnic array of Protestant ministers. Moderator Anthony Brown of Macedonia Primitive Baptist Church read a list of dozens of religious leaders attending from around Polk County and Plant City. The only non-Christian spiritual leader announced was a rabbi from Lakeland.

Unlike the larger Black Lives Matter protest held in the same park Sunday, uniformed law enforcement officers mixed among the crowd. Polk Sheriff Grady Judd stood near the front, as did Lakeland Police Chief Ruben Garcia and the assistant police chiefs. While police observed Sunday’s protest, any officers who might have been inside the park that day wore street clothes.

Elected officials were also more prominent at today’s rally, most of them standing near the front. In addition to Sheriff Judd, they included state Rep. Colleen Burton, R-Lakeland, Polk County Commissioner George Lindsey, and City Commissioners Scott Franklin, Chad McLeod and Phillip Walker.

Police estimated attendance at today’s prayer rally at 300 to 400 and Sunday’s protest at 800 to 1,000.

The speakers, in order, were:

Pastor Anthony J. Brown of Macedonia Primitive Baptist Church, served as emcee and opened the rally saying, “Tonight is a gathering of community leaders to express our desire for justice, unity, healing and hope. Amen. This is not a partisan event. We’re coming together as Lakelanders to bless our city, to love on our community and to let the devil know we are together.”

Click any photo to see a larger image.
Photos by Joni Bing

U.S. Rep. Ross Spano, R-Dover, sounded more like a preacher than a politician, his voice cracking with emotion as he spoke of being saved at age 14, declared, “I don’t want to have any partiality. None!” and asked the crowd to pray for him to be guided by courage and wisdom in Congress.

Pastor Alex Harper of the First Baptist Institutional Church gave a message of disappointment that the church did not take the lead in calling for social justice in the wake of recent events.

Pastor Waleska Orellana of Iglesia Casa de Amor y Fe spoke in Spanish, and her words were translated by her soon, Isaac. She praised local police agencies and said she wants to “tell future generations and the community that we will … eliminate injustice, racism and discrimination.”

Pastor David McEntire of First United Methodist Church talked of growing up in Atlanta and Augusta, Ga., in the 1950s and 1960s and admiring his parents for refusing to participate in the racism he saw around him.

Pastor Eddie Lake of New Bethel AME Church was the only religious leader who spoke at both today’s rally and Sunday’s protest. At the end of tonight’s rally, organizer Scott Thomas of Free Life Chapel thanked him for his help in coordinating it. Lake implored the audience to look deep inside their hearts and to be the change they want to see.

Pastor Scott Thomas of Free Life Chapel opened his talk by decrying the role of the church in justifying slavery in early America. He said he’s glad that churches now fight racism, declaring, “Only Jesus can fix a sin-sick heart” and “Racism breaks the heart of God. Racism should break our hearts, too.”

Pastor Andrew Gard of Grace City Church mentioned the 27-foot monument to fallen Confederate soldiers that stood at the center of Munn Park from 1910 until last year, when it was moved to Veterans Park. “In the same way it came down, we hope oppression will come down,” he said.

Pastor Jason Burns of Access Church said, “We declare in the name of Jesus that racism will die in our cities and in our hearts.”

Pastor Arthur L. Johnson of St. Luke Ministries talked of the significance of the broken shackles at the foot of the Statue of Liberty and likened George Floyd’s cries for his mother in his final moments to yearning for freedom from opression.

Pastor Rhonda Edwards of El Shaddai Full Gospel Church also spoke of shackles, saying, “Jesus is the only one that can break every chain that bounds us up.”

At the end of the rally, boxes of food were handed out by Believers’ Fellowship Church. Thomas told those who didn’t need it to give a box to somebody they knew who did need one.

MORE COVERAGE: 10 Tampa Bay | News Channel 8 | Ledger photo gallery

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Barry Friedman founded in 2015 as the culmination of a career in print and digital journalism. Since 1982, he has used the tools of reporting, editing and content curation to help people in Lakeland understand their community better.

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