Many area African-Americans seek ‘a healing place’

Congregants at the Community of Hope AME Church, in Hillcrest Heights, Md., worship on Sunday, the day after the George Zimmerman verdict. (WTOP/Paula Wolfson)

HILLCREST HEIGHTS, Md. – The not-guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman trial touched a raw nerve for many in the African-American community. The morning after the acquittal, they sought solace at church.

At Community of Hope AME Church, Rev. Tony Lee, the senior pastor, wore a grey hoodie for part of the 10 a.m. Sunday service – a sign of solidarity with young African-American shooting victim Trayvon Martin.

Lee scrapped his original sermon for this morning and instead tried to address the concerns of his community “to help the congregation move past the pain.”

He says his first reaction to the verdict was anger.

“Then there was a great sense of sorrow, a great sense of challenge and angst in my heart,” he says. “But then as I felt what I was feeling, I knew that there was a need for us to shift what we were going to share with the congregation today.”

Lee says his goal at the three Sunday-morning services – held in the lower level of a largely vacant mall – was “to turn hurt into hope.” He wanted to get across the message that this is not a time to give up or get even, but a time to redouble efforts to address inequities and move forward.

His message resonated with Linda Williamson, of Washington, D.C.


Rev. Tony Lee, senior pastor of the Community of Hope church, wore a grey hoodie for part of the 10 a.m. service. (WTOP/Paula Wolfson)

“I was angry this morning, but I came to church and got a whole different perspective on it now,” she says.

Krishnan Nateson, of Upper Marlboro, minister for men at Community of Hope, says the verdict “sat heavily on people’s hearts.”

He says it’s tough for many not to see the trial and the verdict in racial terms, and adds, “They just really believe if you switched the races around, there would probably be a different result.”

Nateson says he is not surprised to see the church take the lead in redirecting people’s anger and angst to positive ends. He says it has traditionally been “a healing place for folks at the most trying times of their lives.”

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