BRADENTON -- The Rev. Larry Johnson of New Hope Holiness Church in Palmetto said Sunday it will take changing the hearts of men to drastically reduce gun violence in Manatee County and will not happen overnight.
"It's going to take work," Johnson said prior to a 4 p.m. Sunday church service attended by nearly 200 people at the 13 AV Dream Center, 922 24th St. E., Bradenton.
The service, led by St. Petersburg's powerful preaching pastor, the Rev. Louis Murphy Sr., was titled: "We Want To Preach the Hell Out Of This City."
"The problem is inside the hearts of men," Johnson said just before Murphy rose to preach. "Shooting a gun is the climax of what's been missing inside. My father always told me never to take a gun to a fight because it makes you feel invincible and fearless. Drugs can do that, too."
Sunday marked nearly two months since an Aug. 1 fatal shooting at the Dream Center. The homicide ignited a plan by Dream Center Director Patrick Carnegie to mentor young people on avoiding street violence and making sound choices.
Carnegie's plan to mentor youth began with church services to uplift the spirit. He called on his own pastor, Murphy, to come to Bradenton to preach. He called on Bradenton men to step forward to offer mentoring services.
The Murphy link is a good
one for Bradenton youth interested in football. Murphy's son, former University of Florida receiver Louis Murphy Jr., now a wide receiver for the New York Giants in the National Football League, will run a football camp in St. Petersburg in June or July next year. Bradenton youth will be invited to participate, said Sharon Williams, Mt. Zion media director.
It hasn't always been smooth sailing since the fatal shooting, which remains a mystery with no arrests despite the attendance of more than 300 potential witnesses at the practice.
Another gun was fired Sept. 21 at a pedestrian at the Palmetto Youth Center, also during a football practice. No one was seriously injured as three young men were arrested and charged with attempted murder.
Johnson said one of the three young men arrested for the Palmetto Youth Center shooting had been approached by his church about playing football.
"Had he said yes, it may have been different for him," Johnson said. "But I believe as long as there is breath in a body, there is hope for redemption."
The next step comes at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday when a Mentoring and Evangelism Out-Reach Against Crime meeting headed by Johnson will be held at the Dream Center in hopes of adding to the nearly 30 men who have already signed up to mentor youth, Carnegie said.
Johnson, a 1975 Palmetto High School graduate, believes church involvement is a big part of the solution.
"Video games, the lack of involved fathers, prayer out of school, children having children, it has all contributed to a point where some of our children have lost their love for mankind," Johnson said.
"This is we are today. Our morals are lost. Respect is gone."
Murphy, known for his tell-it-like-it-is approach, did not disappoint Sunday. He had worshippers on their feet clapping when he talked about bewitched earthly possessions.
"Bling is bewitched," Murphy said, speaking of jewelry, tattoos and bejeweled braces in the front teeth, also known as grills. "How many folks are riding around showing off their bling, their tattoos and grills? It isn't the real thing. It provides nothing for the inside. It just fades away. I am tired of young people killing themselves. The truth be told, we need Jesus."
That was illustrated one more time when four SUR 13 gang members were arrested on Dream Center property Saturday after Bradenton police got a tip someone was armed on the property. Four arrests were made, including one person charged with possession of a gun and drugs.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072. He can be contacted on Twitter @RichardDymond.