By Eelisa Jones
On Saturday May 16, over 80 members of Greater New Birth Church (GNB) and the surrounding community participated in a prayer walk from 82nd and Silver Spring Drive to 60th and Silver Spring Drive. They prayed over residences, a school, and the District 4 Police Station. Their goal: to reach out to their community from beyond their church walls and to promote peace throughout Milwaukee.
Walk participants gathered in front of GNB’s Silver Spring Drive location around noon, trickling onto the walkway as individuals, in pairs, and small groups.
The concrete corridor outside of Greater New Birth Church buzzed with activity.
Pastor Jessie Griffin, the man who spearheaded the day’s walk, floated throughout the crowd. To those familiar with him, he is “Pastor Jessie.”
Debra Broughton, 53, said she learned of the prayer walk from a church announcement. She’s lived on Milwaukee’s North Side for about 20 years.
“I came to support my church and community,” she said.
A young boy wearing blue jeans, a black vest, and bright purple headphones bounced a miniature basketball, face set in concentration. Next to him, a young girl sporadically skipped over a scarlet jump rope. Their activities contributed a sense of innocence to the atmosphere. Scattered throughout the crowd, over a dozen individuals wore bright red t-shirts with the GNB logo. A number of others wore shirts of similar color.
After several minutes, Pastor Griffin addressed the crowd. He described the walk’s route – from the church location to about 60th St. and Silver Spring Dr. He said that a prayer walk differs from a march in that participants would select individual residences and buildings to pray over. He said that this walk was a preemptive measure against the violence that had spread throughout their community – a way to ask for God’s protection. He spoke about the regularly occurring vigils.
“I’m tired of seeing balloons and teddy bears,” he announced. The crowd broke out in applause.
After an opening prayer, the mass of participants filed onto the main road. On each block, they broke into smaller groups to focus their prayers on selected locations. Each group selected one person to lead. After about five minutes of reverie, they closed each session with applause.
The sky was clear and filled with sunlight. On the 7300 block, several walkers waved at a woman in the front window of one the housing units. One of the participants said that her sister lived in the unit. On the 6900 block, the entire group paused and prayed outside the District 4 Police Station. On the 6500 block, four young men joined hands with half a dozen participants in group prayer.
When Karen Davis, 54, saw walk participants praying over the new Westlawn housing units near 64th and Silver Spring Drive, she quickly joined the group. She said that when she saw church members donning their red GNB shirts, their hands stretched forward, she knew what was happening. Davis said that she was happy to see church members and walk participants praying for her community. She spoke about the general disregard for civility and the proliferation of aggression in her neighborhood. Davis has lost two cousins to violence within the past several years.
“I live in this building,” Davis said, referring to her Westlawn unit. “I can’t do this alone.”
Prayer walkers returned to Greater New Birth Church around 3:30 p.m.
Earlier this week, Pastor Griffin said he was pleased with how the walk turned out. He plans to continue efforts to further integrate GNB into the Milwaukee community. The church regularly seeks out and donates food to Milwaukee’s homeless. From June to August, GNB will host several “Evangeblock” events in which the church will hold a prayer service on selected neighborhood blocks. GNB will also hold its annual carnival at its Silver Spring Drive location from August 27-29.
Pastor Griffin said that he wishes to see all area churches joining together to improve the inner-city Milwaukee experience.
“We can really encourage outreach in the urban community,” he said. “That would be the prayer.”