When 15-year old Myquarios Kelly was killed crossing U.S. 41 in March, the spiritual leaders of Manatee’s black community stepped into action.
Dexter McDonald, the pastor at Community Outreach Word of Deliverance Ministries Inc. in Bradenton, coordinated food collection for the family. Anthony Thomas, a pastor with Carter Temple Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in Bradenton met and prayed with the family. And Lawrence Livingston, a minister at Eternity Temple First Born Church of The Living God in Palmetto, drove to the intersection to be on scene with Myquarios’ body.
The pastors all work with different congregations, but they are unified in their efforts to respond to crisis in the community.
“We don’t compete,” Thomas said. “We are all servants of the most high.”
And they want to extend that collaboration. The Manatee County Community Pastors Fellowship has begun monthly crisis-response trainings for pastors. The trainings, appropriately called “First Responder Training,” have been running on the first Saturday of the month for about six months.
The training sessions review strategies for handling crisis situations, working together and leveraging other community agencies.
“As pastors we need to be outfront when there is a critical situation that happens in our community. We need to be one of the first to respond,” McDonald said. “Whether it is an act of violence, an accident, any of those incidents that take place, the pastors, we come with a spiritual component and we are able to counsel people and we can best address the people in the community.”
The goal of the training sessions is also to help pastors be ready to speak for their community.
“We want to be the face of the community. When there are shootings in the community, the pastors are the ones to step in and say, ‘Let’s calm it down so it’s not a riot,’ ” Thomas said. “We’ve had issues before where people who shouldn’t be the face of the black community are doing things we should have done.”
Thomas said he saw the need for coordination after Hurricane Charley hit Lake Wales, where he was serving at a church in 2004.
“FEMA came out and had a meeting, but the black community wasn’t aware of it. We didn’t have power, so the announcement about assistance from government didn’t get out,” Thomas said. “We want to make sure we are available and can render assistance for the parish and community during that initial disaster when there is a need for clothing, housing and food.”
McDonald said the pastors are building partnerships with other community agencies in order to meet a variety of needs. He said they have met with Jewish Community Services, the Salvation Army, Big Brothers Big Sisters and Turning Points.
“We realize we can only do certain things from a pastoral standpoint,” McDonald said.
Thomas said the more pastors that are connected through the training, the better equipped the community will be to handle the next crisis. He said churches often are not prepared to partner with one another.
“Sometimes, nobody really coordinates with one another. That’s usually what could happen,” he said. “The program that we are establishing, we want to work with every pastor in the community.”
For more information and future training locations, contact McDonald at 941-228-4978.