Mayor Thomas Masters conducted a whirlwind tour of churches in his city and in West Palm Beach today, recruiting the faithful to join him for 30 days of prayer to end street violence.
Starting before 8 a.m. and continuing until an evening meeting with Haitian clergy, the visits were conducted at a breakneck pace, barely 10 minutes at one church before he sprinted off to his car and the next church. But the message was solemn.
“Pray that young men will stop turning on one another and start turning to one another,” Masters told the congregation, after a roof-raising welcome by the church choir and a band with a guitar player, two keyboardists and two drummers at the 11 a.m. service at Hilltop Missionary Baptist Church.
“We’re not going to do anything without the power of prayer. We are going to get some peace in this city,” he said to the group, which clapped and shouted its agreement.
He told them he plans to meet in a few days with gang leaders to help find solutions.
Few mayors are as at home in a pulpit as Masters, the longtime pastor of New Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church on West Ninth Street. He started his mini-sermon at Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church by singing along with the choir and joking that he might not make it back to his own church in time to preach that day. In the second row, an infant girl slept peacefully through the singing and clapping.
“We need grandparents,” Masters told the Mount Olive congregation. “They won’t listen to their parents, but they will listen to Grandma and Grandpa. With thousands of people, we will overcome it.”
The all-day effort was part of Masters’ fight-back plan in neighborhoods where shootings recently occurred. Fortunately for his efforts, those same neighborhoods have small and large churches so closely packed together that as he left one, it was possible to hear the choir of another, across the street.
Masters had hit seven churches by 5 p.m. when he met with about 40 Haitian-Americans and several clergy at Riviera Beach First Haitian Baptist Church on West 12th Street.
Masters talked about his charity trips to Haiti and gave out his office phone number, urging church members to tell him who in the community is carrying a gun.
“I’m going to that person and that family and we’re going to get to the bottom of this,” Masters said. “I’m not afraid of anything or anybody.”
Besides 30 days of prayer, the mayor’s initiative includes establishing neighborhood crime watch groups and door-to-door canvassing seeking resident support and ideas.
First Haitian Baptist Church member Mirto Alexis, of Lake Worth, said she’s never heard of knocking on doors to root out gang members, but believes it could work. She said her own son was once in a gang in Boynton Beach, but got help through the now-closed Eagle Academy.
“I never stopped praying,” Alexis said. “He was in a bad crowd. I thought he was in school but I didn’t know what he was doing.”
Other ideas on the table include a possible gun buyback program and metal detectors in schools. Masters wants to involve ex-offenders in brokering peace with gang members.
On Wednesday, Riviera Beach recorded its third homicide within the past two weeks. Police found Steven Quinn, 27, of Riviera Beach, shot to death in a car on Avenue J.
On Aug. 15, Jeremy Taylor, 19, was killed during an exchange of gunfire in the 1200 block of West 26th Street. De’Onte Jean-Baptiste, 22, was found shot to death Aug. 10 at North Congress Avenue and West 23rd Street.