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Church service offers East Baltimore residents hope

A message of hope was delivered by Baltimore elected officials and clergy at Southern Baptist Church Sunday afternoon, nearly a week after the Mary Harvin Transformation Center (a project of the church) and senior apartments were destroyed by a fire nearby during riots last Monday.

Rep. Elijah Cummings told parishioners that the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old who died of a spine injury while in police custody, sparked a movement for change. He and other officials said they are not only dedicated to rebuilding what was destroyed by looting and fires when peaceful protests turned violent, but to improving Baltimore neighbors and offering more opportunities for residents.

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"Now we have to rebuild — we have to be the man in the mirror and the woman in the mirror... our children are our future," Cummings said to the crowd, who responded with an outcry of applause.

The project, being built by low-income housing developer The Woda Group, had been discussed since 2006. It would have brought roughly 60 senior-citizen units to the community.

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East Baltimore resident Lisa Sutton, 32, called the service "inspiring after a successful week." She said she was "hurt, frustrated and angry" when she heard about Gray's death, who died of a spine injury while in police custody.

"There's a lot more that needs to be done, but I think if everybody comes together we'll be better off," Sutton said.

Rev. Dante Hickman, pastor of the congregation, told those in attendance that he will be making an announcement tomorrow about rebuilding the community center and the entire block.

"We are elated that these rebuild efforts are moving from a state in the abstract to a very real and material reality that will restore not only a building but the hopes and dreams of a community that has experienced so much," Hickman told reporters during a press conference after the service.

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Baltimore Sun reporters Mark Puente, Yvonne Wenger and Colin Campbell contributed to this story.

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