Baltimore church sends prayers for homicide victims, honoring — and pushing for change — with ribbons for each

The names of Baltimore’s homicide victims echoed through a cavernous Mount Vernon sanctuary Sunday morning: Dwayne Cheeks. Brandi Featherstone. Rashard Queen. Christian White.

And then congregants strung one purple ribbon for each name from a wire along the brownstone facade of First and Franklin Presbyterian Church that faces Park Avenue.

As part of the congregation’s service to mark All Saints’ Day, the Rev. Robert Hoch told worshippers, “Today, we felt it was important to recognize the saints of our city.”

The service came on a weekend when the group Baltimore Ceasefire called for violence to stop, but it did not. A woman was found shot to death in Penn North early Sunday morning.

The group gathered in an alley Sunday afternoon to perform a healing ritual and to remember the woman, whom police did not immediately identify. Erricka Bridgeford, one of the Ceasefire organizers, said in a Facebook video that regardless of the woman’s name, her age, or her race, “she matters.”

“We are extremely sorry for your loss,” Bridgeford said to the woman’s family. “We did everything in our power for you not to have to go through what you gotta go through right now.”

First and Franklin began what it calls its Purple Ribbon Project last year with a similar mission — to remember homicide victims, and to show their families and the world that someone is praying for them.

As each congregant held one of the long ribbons Sunday, Hoch reminded them of that.

“These ribbons are not simply to decorate the church,” he said. “They are in a sense a stain on our conscience, so we do not get used to the idea that people just die from violence in our city.”

He said the ribbons would not remain tied to the side of the church permanently: They would be brought to City Hall and the Maryland State House as part of a campaign emphasizing that Baltimore’s violence “is unacceptable.”

“We need solutions that are creative, and that create opportunities for young people in our city,” he said.

The church regularly recognizes the members it lost over the year to mark All Saints’ Day, on Nov. 1. But this year church leaders decided to also hand out names of the more than 260 homicide victims in the city so far this year, so worshippers could read them all in unison, in prayer.

“Read in strong voice,” Hoch told the congregation. “Read because you remember there’s a brother, there’s a sister, there’s a mother, there’s a father, there’s a cousin, there’s a friend who weeps for this person.”

After the service, congregant Gwen Brown hung her purple ribbon as she thought of Cheeks, who was killed June 9 in Darley Park. Brown works with Cheeks’ mother as part of the group Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development.

She said she hopes the ribbons bring comfort: “It’s great for people in the city who have lost someone to know people are praying for them.”

But she said she also hopes they bring change.

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