* Correction appended. Rev. Truss' name was misspelled. We apologize for the error.
Rev. Earlene Coleman of Bethlehem Baptist Church charges up participants prior to a prayer walk Friday in Downtown McKeesport. (Vickie Babyak photo special to Tube City Almanac.)
Participants in a prayer walk through Downtown McKeesport on Friday carried with them a message of hope.
"We will not see our city destroyed," said the Rev. Earlene Coleman, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, before about 80 walkers set off from the McKees Point Marina. "We will not see McKeesport die, but it will live again."
The event was organized by the McKeesport Unit of the NAACP. Brenda Sawyer, unit president, said the walk --- up Fifth Avenue to UPMC McKeesport hospital, then back down Lysle Boulevard to the marina --- was "beautiful."
Participants included members of McKeesport city council and McKeesport Area school board, McKeesport Area School Superintendent Mark Holtzman Jr., state Rep. Austin Davis and state Sen. Jim Brewster.
Sawyer was inspired to lead the prayer walk by the protests taking place throughout the county following the death of Antwon Rose II during a police traffic stop in East Pittsburgh.
"I thought, we don't need a protest here, we need a prayer walk," she said.
In fact, several McKeesport police officers --- some in uniform, others in plainclothes --- participated in the prayer walk, along with Mayor Michael Cherepko.
"I'm proud to be part of this," Cherepko said. "Our police aren't here to police the event --- they're here to take part. We're all here to say enough of the violence, let's pray for peace and come together to minimize the acts of violence."
The only one protesting, said the Rev. Richard Truss* of Zion Baptist Church, "is the devil himself."
"The forces of evil are keeping this city trapped," Truss said. "Pray a prayer of peace over the city. We’re not here in protest."
Other participating clergy included Rev. Peter Giacalone of the Rainbow Temple Assembly of God, Rev. Jim Leuenberger of McKeesport Presbyterian Church and the Rev. Stephen M. Palsa of Corpus Christi Roman Catholic Church.
They stopped the procession at several key intersections, including at Sinclair, Huey and Evans streets, and at Kennedy Park on Lysle Boulevard, to pray and rally the walkers.
"I would love to do it again, if we can spread the word and get more people involved," Sawyer said. "It was a nice turnout, and I'm happy for all of the people who came out."
All photos: Vickie Babyak, special to Tube City Almanac. For reprints, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published July 09, 2018.