Grief, hope for Baltimore on eve of first Freddie Gray trial

BUILD members shared their grief and their hope for Baltimore on the eve of the first #FreddieGray trial.

A din of voices replaced the beautiful songs and prayer readings that had filled the North Baltimore church on Sunday, as members of the congregation solemnly read aloud the names of those killed in Baltimore this year.

On the eve of the first of six officers' trials in the Freddie Gray case, Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development pledged to step up their efforts to remedy the city's woes at an "Outrage & Hope" service at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church Sunday.

The Rev. Glenna Huber, the co-chairwoman of the coalition of religious, community and business leaders, invited members "to grieve together publicly, to acknowledge in a holy place that our hearts are hurting for our city."

"We are not alone in our anger, we are not alone in our despair, we are not alone in our pain," Huber said.

Gray, 25, died in April from a severe spinal cord injury in police custody, which set off protests and riots that preceded a nearly unprecedented spike in homicides. Forty-three people were killed in May and 45 were killed in July, and the city has surpassed 300 homicides for the year.

After the group lit candles and prayed for the victims in Baltimore's most deadly year per capita on record, they sang "A Change is Gonna Come" and "Lift Every Voice and Sing," and the service took on a decidedly inspirational tone.

The Rev. Ronald Covington, pastor of Hope Community Church and director of a youth initiative called "High Expectations," said working with some of the city's most impoverished kids has had a profound effect on him.

"They represent the hope that is very much a part of our faith, the endless possibilities of what can and what will be," he said. "Yet, for far too many of our young people, that hope has been replaced with apathy and despair."

Covington said he led a weekly outreach program at the Gilmor Homes that provided basketball games, meals, music and prayer for six weeks over the summer.

"There's a joy in being able to sit there and listen to what was going on in that community just for three hours on a Monday night," he said. "It showed me the hope that in the midst of despair, in the midst of everything ... there could be a new way."

Leonard Spain, who told the group he served years in prison following a murder conviction, drew a standing ovation after telling them he had since turned his life around, earning a bachelor's degree and pursuing a master's in conflict management.

Spain said pulling people out of the culture of drugs and violence requires finding the "thinkers" among them and planting the seeds of a better life.

"We as a community have to find a way to teach them to stop themselves," Spain said. "They follow each other. We can't give up on hope."

Bishop Douglas Miles, of Koinonia Baptist Church, and Father Joe Muth, of Blessed Sacrament, lamented the indifference to the violence and called the group to fight it.

"I have never seen Baltimore so quiet," Miles said. "My outrage is that nobody has named what we face today a crisis. ... We talk about 300 murders as though it was [Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe] Flacco's passing percentage."

Grace Byerly, a member of St. Matthew's Catholic Church, held up a "HOPE" sign, one of several she made for the service.

The 72-year-old Ramblewood woman said she'd been stopped at a red light when she witnessed a murder 10 years ago.

Byerly keeps a picture of the victim, a kid, in her Bible, and she said it still drives her to help build a safer city.

"I keep thinking about the two Baltimores and what we need to do," she said.

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

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