Thousands of black men marching as “one” Sunday through North St. Louis in protest of black-on-black violence cast glorious rays of hope, but less than five hours later fatal gunfire had recast hopelessness for some.
About two miles from Tandy Park in the Ville, where a Call to Oneness march starting from the Victor Roberts Building culminated (and organizers spoke of reconciliation), a black man allegedly killed a black girl.
Shirlene R. Williams was fatally shot in the forehead and left leg at a BP Service Station at Grand and Natural Bridge in North St. Louis. A 21-year-old unidentified woman with her was shot in the back of the head and is listed in critical/unstable condition.
Police said a black male wearing a bandana fired shot shots over a fence in the innocent female bystanders’ direction. No arrests have been made.
The following day (Monday) a 19-year-old-man was shot to death in the 5200 block of N. Euclid in North St. Louis. William Michael Rayford was shot numerous times, sustaining bullet wounds to the head, neck, face, back, hands, buttocks and legs.
His mother wailed the familiar cry of a woman losing a child to a shooting death. That prevalent grief was one of the reasons throngs of black women lined the streets on Sunday, cheering proudly in support of the marching black men as “one” - instead of trigger-quick foes.
“Go’on, brothers!” yelled a female onlooker and participant of the Sister Circle of Support arm of the Call to Oneness.
“It’s a must, with the way that the world is,” said 52-year-old Yvette Atkins sitting in a chair on the corner of Newstead and Evans along the parade route.
“The harder the times are, the more we need to come together as one to make it right,” she said, noting that she wanted to see how many black men would show up.
More than 20,000 black men yelling “one” marched, according to Call to Oneness officials. Other estimates were lower, at 12,000.
The “work” component of the Call to Oneness started on Monday. Part of the work on Monday included Call to Oneness members gathering at Grand and Natural Bridge where two women were shot - one fatally - on the day of the march.
“It was a great weekend, but the real work of the Call to Oneness actually started today,” said Frank Foster, a spokesman.
“When situations like these occur, we need to show a strong response that we are standing up against violence and standing as one and do everything in our power to stop this violence in our neighborhood.”
Members of the Call to Oneness will also turn out Saturday for a vigil for Rayford, the second shooting fatality since the march.
Members also will march along with Theda Thomas, the aunt of Rayford and mother of missing boy Christian Ferguson, who has been missing since June 11, 2003. The march starts at noon Saturday, June 7 at Mark Twain Elementary School, ending at 4500 Ruskin and Bircher.
Thomas attended the Call to Oneness march.
“This shows the power of the church and makes you wonder why they hadn’t done something like this before,” Thomas said.
“I am grateful and amazed to see the outpouring of black people in our community, especially the men.”
Several churches and organizations, including the local Moslem mosque, came together to organize the Call to Oneness. From the stage at Tandy Park, Muslims and Christians joined together in the mission.
“Isn’t this wonderful?” said co-organizer Bishop C. Allan Jones.
“For the first time in the city, the Christian and Muslim community came together as one.”
Jones admitted that many churches didn’t join the movement and many pastors didn’t support the effort.
The Rev. Dr. Freddie James Clark, the visionary behind the Call to Oneness and its executive director, said many churches look like morgues and think they are safe behind their stained-glass windows.
“But kids are dying in the streets. Stop caring about yourself and look out for the people you serve,” Clark said.
Clark said he isn’t worried about sagging pants, ear rings and tattoos.
“It’s your heart - I want a future for you and you to do so much in the future,” he said.
National entertainment mogul Eric Rhone also helped to organize the movement. He admitted to some fault in his industry.
“We need to hold the entertainment business responsible, because they helped to mess it up. So they have to help clean it up,” Rhone said.
“This is serious business - our kids are killing each other and we know who they are (doing the killing), so we got to go and snatch them up, we got to stop it,” Rhone said.
“We want our senior citizens to be able to sit on the porch and our kids to play without a gang reality.”
4th Ward Alderman Sam Moore said another march will take place and be called “Togetherness.”
“Because the march ended in the 4th Ward doesn’t mean that it’s all about the 4th Ward - we need all 28 wards,” Moore said.
Jacque Land, Platinum Group president and president of local chapter of 100 Black Men, another co-organizer, called for each black man to mentor at least one black boy.
Other ideas offered at Tandy Park were the creation of block units (state Rep. Jamilah Nasheed), physically cleaning up the neighborhood (former Mayor Freeman Bosley Jr.) and spending money with black businesses (Clark).
“We are starting move and there will be a presence in the community,” Clark said.
“We are back, and we hold each of you accountable.”