Sunday, September 03, 2000

Taking prayer to the streets


Walkers aim to improve neighborhood

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        COVINGTON — Everyone has ideas for improving east Covington. The problem is perseverance. Big plans come and go. People get excited, then discouraged.

        Enter the prayer walkers, who have broken the pattern.

        Once a month for two years, these determined optimists have traced an eight-block route through the heart of Covington's African-American community. Along the way, they pray, sing hymns and distribute hugs.

[photo] Ministers and lay people stop to pray and sing on one of the lanes in the Jacob Price Housing Project in east Covington during their monthly walk through the neighborhood.
(Tony Jones photo)
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        Sometimes only four people show up. Sometimes it's 20, 30, even 100 — young and old, black and white, ministers and lay people. Regardless of who comes or what the weather does, the walk goes on.

        And east Covington is looking better. A park at 11th and Greenup streets has been cleared of drunks and planted with flowers. A problem liquor store across the street has shut down.

        Police have taken key troublemakers off the street. Eight members of the Bloods gang, for instance, recently pleaded guilty in connection with a double shooting. They're facing two to 13 years in prison.

        The area is still troubled by poverty and crime, but residents are feeling safer. Skeptics would credit the efforts of people, not God.

        The prayer walkers would have it both ways.

        “God blessed our police force. That's the way I look at it,” says Fred Wilson, 29, who lives on Greenup and has participated in nearly every walk.

        Two Saturdays ago, he and 35 others gathered at St. Paul AME Church and then wound through the neighborhood, clapping and singing.

        A weepy young woman hugged the participants.

        “I pray so hard for me not to do drugs, not to drink,” she said, tears streaming down her cheeks.

        The walkers took her hands and formed a circle on the sidewalk. Tanya Garrett led a prayer: “We intercede that you will forgive her for her sins, have mercy on her....”

        “God bless you all,” the young woman said. “I needed that one.”

        Walks always begin at 4:30 p.m. on the last Saturday of each month. The meeting place rotates among east side churches, with each location announced on WCVG, 1320 AM, a gospel radio station in Latonia.

        The idea for the walks came from station manager Tracie Hunter, who was inspired after two shootings occurred in Covington on the same day.

        Allen Wilkinson, an Elsmere resident, coordinates with the local churches.

        Thirteenth Street is nearly walkable now. At one time, drug dealers and gang members scared people away.

        On Aug. 26, the prayer group stopped within sight of an illegal dice game in a back yard along 13th. People began to sing. The gamblers kept glancing toward the music. Then they ended their game.

        I asked one of the players why.

        “Respect,” he said. “They're singing about God.”

        His words were overheard by one of the walkers.

        “It's a start,” she murmured.

       Karen Samples is Kentucky columnist for the Enquirer. She can be reached at 578-5584 or ksamples@enquirer.com.



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