By Dedra Cordle
Having lived on the coasts and everywhere in between, Janis Tullis says there is a common thread linking all of the states together: the prevalence of racism.
“It is everywhere you go,” said the Grove City resident.
She said she has heard some of the vilest remarks directed at people of color and witnessed their targeting in hate crimes. It is, she added, as soul crushing to see as it is infuriating when nothing changes.
“People need to wake up to what is happening around the country, around the world,” she said
As a white woman, she has not been subjected to racism or oppression based on the color of her skin, but says as a white person it is her duty to speak out against it.
“We can’t sit on the sidelines anymore.”
With a number of large-scale protests under her belt – she protested against wars, marched for women’s equality, for the environment, for Black Lives and police reform – she said she was compelled to attend the smaller, more localized demonstrations as well.
“That’s why I’m out here this evening,” she said. “These are causes of importance, even in smaller towns.”
The cause of importance she was referring to was the Unity Rally for Racial Reconciliation that took place in downtown Grove City on June 17. It was the third demonstration that has moved through the city in under a month; the first was a teacher’s march for justice and the second a Black Lives Matter protest that took place the week prior.
This event was referred to by its organizers as a call for peace and tolerance, a call for prayer and an urging to use ones voice to put an end to systemic racism.
Jeff Broadnax, an elder at the CenterPointe Church in Grove City, initiated the unity rally with the assistance of Ed Akers, a pastor at the Victorious Living Church. He said he was compelled to share their idea with fellow church leaders at a recent Grove City Pastors Association meeting and get their feedback.
“We often address things that affect our community,” he said, “and this was an issue that started coming up and kept coming up.”
The “this” he was referencing were global protests, some resulting in violent confrontations with law enforcement, that were sparked once a cell phone video was released showing the death of a black Minneapolis man named George Floyd while his neck was being knelt on by a white police officer for more than eight minutes.
Broadnax said seeing that footage – which coincided with the release of a video that showed two armed white men using their vehicles to follow, box in and ultimately kill a young, unarmed black man named Ahmaud Arbery who they believed matched the description of a neighborhood burglar – and then the following confrontations between protesters and police brought a tumult of emotions.
As a man of faith (he has been in the pastoral ministries for more than 30 years), these events brought forth a desire for peace, for people to sit down and discuss their differences and find commonalty and love for their fellow man; as the second chaplain at the Grove City Division of Police, these events brought forth a need to comfort his friends as he has done so often before, all the while sharing in their horror at what they saw Derek Chauvin do to George Floyd and advocating for police reform; and as a black man, these events brought forth that old feeling of a barely scabbed over wound being ripped apart as once again another person of color was felled to racial violence.
“It has been emotionally draining,” he said. “And on top of that, I am so torn apart by how much division there is in our country.”
He said when he mentioned the unity rally for racial reconciliation his fellow pastors were all for it.
“We didn’t want to go there as separate churches, separate entities,” said Broadnax. “We wanted to be one voice, one church.”
Approximately a dozen churches in the Grove City area committed to the rally, and more than 150 congregants and members of the public showed up to march and pray; pray for black lives, pray for the police, pray for tolerance, and pray to find the courage to speak up in the face of racial injustice.
For more than an hour, church leaders spoke what was in their hearts.
Tom Pauquette, a senior pastor at Vineyard Christian Fellowship, said he was there to “repent for not speaking up.”
“I am not a racist,” he said, “but that is not enough.”
He said he was repenting for being a part of the “silent white majority” who do not hold racists views in their heart but cannot find the ability to speak up when witnessing acts of racism.
He prayed to do better, to be better, and gave strength to those who have remained quiet.
Akers, the pastor at Victorious Living, also called on attendees to do their part to bring racial injustice to an end.
“We need to bring an end to racism in this country once and for all and in every place that it exists,” he said. “No excuses, no tolerance policies.”
He went on to say that for too long, people have allowed racism to exist “in our country, and even in our churches.”
“We have allowed a separation to exist along the lines of race,” he said. “But tonight, we stand together to call for an end to racial division and bigotry.”
Akers challenged the attendees through a prayer to live with the message behind the rally and take it with them always.
Broadnax, who also addressed the crowd, said he was in awe of the candor of his fellow pastors.
“Everyone needs a chance to learn, a chance to grow.”
He said that racial reconciliation cannot be achieved without honesty and without making attempts at understanding. He added he hopes that the events at the rally were a starting point towards reaching that goal.
“We have to, have to,” he emphasized, “love each other.”