With the shrouded Vance Monument as a backdrop, leaders from several African American churches gathered at Pack Square on Aug. 24 to declare their support for local leadership, as well as the Asheville Police Department.
The Rev. John H. Grant, pastor of Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church, delivered the opening remarks. “Since its inception the Black church has historically provided the social, economic, political and cultural base for Black communities throughout the United States of America,” he proclaimed. “We are here to lead the way to truthful, respectful and compassionate dialogue without name-calling, without trying to make people look bad [or] to make ourselves look good. We are here to help support tangible solutions so that resources can be put into our community-led and community-based organizations.”
Grant was joined by the Rev. Gary McDaniel, president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Asheville & Vicinity; the Rev. L.C. Ray, president of the Baptist Ministerial Union of Asheville & Vicinity; and the Rev. Spencer Jones, moderator of the Mud Creek Missionary Baptist Association of Western North Carolina. Together, the four speakers represented an estimated 80 churches in Asheville and Buncombe County.
In attendance were several local officials, including Mayor Esther Manheimer, City Manager Debra Campbell and Buncombe County Commissioner Al Whitesides, as well as Asheville Police Department Deputy Chief James Baumstark and Capt. Michael Yelton.
During his address, Grant urged caution in relation to ongoing calls to defund the police. “We don’t endorse police brutality,” he said. “But we believe we need our police department and we want to support it, and hopefully our elected officials will do the right thing for all the citizens of our community.”
Manheimer briefly spoke during the event’s Q&A session, noting her conversation with the religious leaders and acknowledging their call for improved community policing.
In addition to meeting with city and county officials, Ray promoted the group’s ongoing efforts to collaborate with the area’s youths. “We definitely want to work with our young folks,” he said. “I’m excited how whites, Blacks and Hispanics — all people — are coming together.”