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Baltimore pastors plan solutions for city violence

Walks on weekend nights. Basketball tourneys. A new community center. Baltimore pastors seek to stem violence:

Pastors and other community organizers plan to walk some of Baltimore's most violent blocks on weekend nights from 8 p.m. until 1 a.m. this summer.

Midnight basketball tournaments and a new community center for children named for Freddie Gray not far from Gilmor Homes, where he was arrested, are aimed at uniting the city. Gray, 25, died from an injury sustained in police custody prompting protests and rioting.

On Father's Day, the Rev. Jamal H. Bryant wants to lead a rally through the streets — clergy, gang members and children alike — bearing coffins, a solemn "visual reminder" of the violence. Baltimore recorded 43 homicides in May, the worst month Baltimore has seen in 40 years.

Bryant and the Rev. Cornell Showell of the First Apostolic Faith Church announced the anti-crime proposals Tuesday night to a gathering of other religious leaders at the Empowerment Temple, where Bryant is pastor.

The weekend night walks are set to begin on June 18, Bryant said. The Freddie Gray Youth Empowerment Center is under development in Bolton Hill, he said. The temple has raised $27,000 and is seeking volunteers to serve food and teachers to instruct children on reading and computer coding this summer, he said.

Details on the basketball tournaments and the Father's Day march are to be announced later.

Clergy invited to Baltimore on Tuesday the Rev. Jeffrey Brown, who led the Boston TenPoint Coalition, a faith-based crime-fighting effort that helped drop that city's homicides from 152 in 1990 to 31 in 1999, in what many called the "Boston Miracle." Brown led a "street training" in Baltimore on how to best engage young people.

Brown said clergy must take their roles in the community to heart to change the culture on the streets.

"If we're going to find healing in our city, it has to begin with those stalwart institutions," Brown said. "We can end the era of violence in our cities, but we have to rise up and draw on the strength of our churches."

For Showell, the initiative hits home particularly hard. His 47-year-old brother, Byron Showell, was one of the 43 people killed in Baltimore last month during the violence that Showell called "May-hem." He's also quick to point out that many community members know someone who has been lost to the violence.

"It's personal to everyone," he said. "We're not doing this out of sympathy; we're doing it out of empathy."

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