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Hundreds gather on May's Island in Cedar Rapids, praying to heal nation's racial divide

Both prayer and protest have role in changing the nation, one man says

Rod Dooley, co-pastor at New City Church, leads a prayer during a prayer service on May's Island in Cedar Rapids on Thur
Rod Dooley, co-pastor at New City Church, leads a prayer during a prayer service on May’s Island in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, June 4, 2020. Pastors Dooley and Daniel Winn of New City Church led a group in prayers calling for people and communities to work harder at ending systemic racism. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Pastor Rod Dooley at New City Church in Cedar Rapids said he is traumatized by the murder of George Floyd, a black man who died as a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes.

Dooley prayed for comfort for Floyd’s family, healing and revival during a Thursday evening prayer gathering on May’s Island organized by his church.

“I pray each one of us would lean in to get to know each other, to understand the differences and learn to respect and love each other,” Dooley prayed on his knees, asking the crowd of about 400 to take a knee with him.

Dooley, a black man, sees himself in Floyd — “a grown man like me being murdered like that” — and worries for his two sons, who are 26 and 23 years old.

“Personally, I am hurt, I am traumatized, frustrated, angry, the emotional gamut,” he said. “A year ago, my mom passed, and this felt equal to that, a grown man crying as I have.”

The prayer gathering began with music and included faith leaders from around the city reading Bible passages and praying.

Lightning and rain disrupted the gathering halfway through, causing leaders to put away sound equipment. A few people left, but most stayed, moving in closer to hear the shouted prayers.

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Pastor Anthony Smith, with the Johnson County Interfaith Coalition. prayed that “righteous anger” would uplift and transform the community and make it a better place to live.

“God, we’re angry, but we’re angry with a purpose, we’re angry with a passion,” Smith said.

Leoma Leigh-Williams, pastor at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Cedar Rapids, said she hopes the prayer gathering brings about awareness of systemic racism and offers guidance on how to move forward.

She prayed for the changing of hearts and minds, saying there’s a undercurrent of racism in Cedar Rapids that she wishes white Christians would recognize and work to change.

Daniel Winn, co-pastor at New City Church, said the church is launching a community conversations series at The ROC (Renewing Our City) Center, 1202 10th St. SE.

“As white Christians, we have to bring awareness to systemic racism. Whether we want to agree with it or not, it’s real.” Winn said

Josh White, 34, a member of the worship team at New City, attended the prayer gathering with his four children, ages 5 to 15. White, who is black, said prayer and protests both have their place.

“Martin Luther King Jr. was in the church and the streets,” White said.

The Black Lives Matter protests sweeping the nation are going to make history, he said. He brought his children to the prayer gathering to set an example of how to protest peacefully and not act out in violence.

“We can never let this die out,” White said.

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Austin Hoffon, 25, from North Liberty, said the church needs to transcend above “left or right.”

Hoffon, who is white, said people need to challenge the “subtle fear that exists in the heart of people and results in a man dying unjustly.”

White Christians are blinded by their bias, lack of knowledge about racism and lack of empathy, Hoffon said.

“It’s time to listen,” he said.

Comments: (319) 398-8411; grace.king@thegazette.com

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