About 50 people gathered at Grant African Methodist Episcopal Church in Long Beach Thursday evening, united in prayer for those affected by the fatal shooting of nine people in a Charleston, South Carolina church Wednesday night.
Among those in attendance were Long Beach Unified School District board member Megan Kerr and former Long Beach Councilman Steve Neal, as well as about a dozen religious leaders.
The Long Beach Ministers Alliance (LBMA) hosted the event to pray for the families of those killed and the community of Charleston.
“This intrusive act of violence reminds us of the deeper, un-sutured wounds caused by acts of racism in America,” a release by the LBMA stated.
Ron Nelson, a member of Christ Lutheran Church and Long Beach resident, attended the event because of his belief to stand together with others.
“The whole thing just moved me today,” Nelson said in reference to the reports of the shooting.
The evening included religious songs and prayers by various pastors asking for unity, forgiveness, peace, healing and strength.
The Rev. Leon Wood recounted childhood memories in the 40s of magazines displaying black men lynched from trees and white men having picnics under their hanging bodies.
“It bothered me as a little boy," Wood said. "I didn't know what went on."
“Now I'm 75 and not a lot has changed, and so, I’m wondering what continues this? What is it about our nation? It says it’s for freedom, for people, but how did we become so mean to each other?” Wood continued.
He said the gathering was important and should continue. “We need to reach out more, we need to learn how to forgive and to understand.”
Outside the church, a patrol car was present—but not for security reasons, according to the LBMA president. The patrol car was participating in the prayer meeting.
Gregory Sanders, president of the LBMA, said they are not afraid and so do not intend to ask for police security.
“I think that would be a point of almost surrender,” Sanders said. “Why else does the church exist if sick people can’t come in the door and have a hope for healing?”
In a statement, the Long Beach Police Department (LBPD) said that it monitors activities around the country and invests efforts into community partnerships, working together to put an end to violent crime.
"On behalf of the Long Beach Police Department, our condolences go out to the victims, their families and all who have been affected by this very tragic and senseless act."