Prayer gathering ends events promoting 72-hour citywide ceasefire

Jackie Burrell-McDonald was there to honor her late brother and his fiancé who were killed in April. Jane West said she has lost at least six family members due to gun violence — most recently her 23-year-old nephew in 2013.

The two women were among just under 100 who gathered at a bus stop on the 4500 block of Edmondson Ave. in West Baltimore Sunday afternoon as part of a series of events calling for a weekend ceasefire in the city.

“My heart is saddened every time I hear about another murder,” West said. “It’s a daily thing. If we join together then we can make a difference and can make a change. ”

The Rev. Msgr Richard J. Bozzelli, pastor of St. Bernadine Catholic Church, led the gatherers in prayer.

“I think it’s really important for churches to give witness to what’s going on in our neighborhood,” said Bozzelli, whose church has been a fixture in West Baltimore for the past 90 years. “It’s important for us to walk the walk that all neighborhoods are walking.”

Bozzelli said his church comes to the same bus stop on Edmondson Avenue each Wednesday at 12:10 p.m. for weekly prayer service.

Erricka Bridgeford, one of the main organizers of the Baltimore Ceasefire weekend, said she’s extremely proud of her city.

“This weekend, watching all of the events and all of the people that came out has been beautiful,” she said. “A year later doing this movement that people said was stupid and wouldn’t work, I’m proud of Baltimore. People had to show up. People had to decide that they wanted something different. Thousands of people have done this. I had to believe in Baltimore, but they joined me.”

As of Sunday, two people had been fatally shot in the city during the Ceasefire event. A 27-year-old man was killed after being shot multiple times in Southwest Baltimore. Another man died after being shot near Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Ceasefire organizers shared plans on twitter to visit sites of both shootings “to pour love into those neighborhoods.”

“They absolutely are helping to heal our city,” Bridgeford said of the Ceasefire events. “We’re helping families heal. Families get involved. People all over the city who are feeling hopeless and defeated, they get involved and they don’t feel hopeless. … It’s changing the narrative of Baltimore.”

Earlier in the day, Bridgeford spoke to 200 people at Kingdom Life Church in West Baltimore.

She said she delivered a message of hope and perseverance.

Bridgeford, who works as the training director for Community Mediation Maryland, said she’s currently recruiting and working to train youth to become leaders in the ceasefire movement.

She’ll also work with three city schools this fall — Belmont Elementary, Digital Harbor High School, and Creative City Public Charter School — to provide those students with conflict resolution training.

Rayner Wharton, Sr., senior pastor of Connexion Point Church in the 3800 block of Edmondson Ave., also led the group in afternoon prayer.

“Let there be a ceasing of gun violence that will last beyond this weekend,” Wharton said.

The afternoon was filled with a series of prayers, uplifting songs and church hymns. At certain points, the crowd was encouraged to shake hands, hug, and sing. Religious leaders such as Wharton and Bozzelli read the names of the 28 people killed in the past 30 days.

Burrell-McDonald called out the name of her late brother, Clyde Burrell, Jr., 66, and his fiancé, Rona Brand, 54.

Brand’s 30-year-old nephew, who had been living in the basement of her home, has been charged in the killing.

“It’s been difficult for the entire family. It’s been devastating. We’re trying to heal,” said Burrell-McDonald, a member of Olive Baptist Church. “I wanted to come out and worship and fellowship with others. I wanted to send up a prayer. The Lord will heal our city. God’s blessings will heal our city.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Christina Tkacik contributed to this article.

john-john.williams@baltsun.com

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