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Louisville faith leaders hope this moment of unity is an opportunity to stop gun violence

A large group of people, many in red shirts, are sitting on rows of seating. A father and two young children look directly into the camera. They're at a vigil for the five people who were shot and killed Monday at Old National Bank.
Ryan Van Velzer
Lavel White at a vigil for the five people shot and killed Monday at Old National Bank.

Louisville held a citywide "night of resilience" at places of worship Wednesday evening. Communities of faith honored all 40 of the victims of gun violence this year.

Lavel White lost his sister earlier this month in a shooting at a gas station, and that shared grief compelled him to attend the vigil Wednesday for five people killed in the mass shooting at Old National Bank.

“And it just never stops. It keeps going. Today I brought my kids with me because I want them to be a part of this,” White said.

His kids are 5 and 3 years old. Kilen Gray, interim pastor at the First Baptist Church of Jeffersontown, sat a few seats away.

“This vigil has been put together because of the roles that the people who have been impacted in this community have played within the local power structure of this city, but every single day in the neighborhoods that we live in, the sound of gunfire happens everyday,” Gray said.

Five people were shot and killed Monday at Old National Bank: Joshua Barrick; Deana Eckert; Tommy Elliott; Juliana Farmer; and Jim Tutt Jr. And they weren’t the only victims of gun violence that day in Louisville. Chea’von Moore, 24, was shot and killed outside Jefferson Community and Technical College hours after the bank shooting.

They are among the 40 people this year who have died because of gun violence in Louisville. Wednesday night, at least 16 places of worship across the city held a simultaneous moment of silence to honor all of those victims.

 Moore Temple Church of God and Christ in Russell.
Ryan Van Velzer
The Moore Temple Church of God and Christ in Russell.

At the Moore Temple Church of God and Christ in Russell, congregants sat in the pews, bathed in the light of the stained glass. They fanned themselves and listened to Ravon Churchill with the Office for Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods.

“And so it looked a little bit different though because the gun violence that we typically see was not the gun violence we saw on Monday,” Churchill said to the congregation.

Churchill is a crisis coordinator with the city. He’s from the West End and helps victims of gun violence in communities like his. It’s not lost on this community, that there is only now a citywide vigil for victims of gun violence.

“The circle kind of completes, because it doesn't just happen west of 9th Street, or in Newburg. It happens to a lot of people, and until we come up with some kind of way to fix this gun law then the numbers will continue to spike,” he said.

Loni White, who also works with the city, said the “night of resilience” is a way to grieve and show solidarity.

“It doesn't matter how a person meets violence in the end. What matters is they were human beings. They were here and they matter,” White said.

At the Temple Shalom near St. Matthews, former temple president John Silletto talked about how his faith compels him to find solutions.

“Here within our culture, what we call ‘tikkun olam’ which is ‘repair of the world’ we are trying to make things better, we are hopeful of making things better, we want to participate,” Silletto said.

At the Baháʼí Center in Buechel, congregants contemplated the source of hate and violence, and how to overcome it.

“As a Baháʼí, Bahá’u’lláh has given us an internal police, by that I mean the best reward for a good act is performing that act,” said Jahangir Cyrus, one member of the local spiritual assembly.

 Pastor Curtis Guyton Sr. at the Moore Temple Church in Russell on Wednesday, April 13, 2023.
Ryan Van Velzer
Pastor Curtis Guyton Sr. at the Moore Temple Church in Russell on Wednesday, April 13, 2023.

Pastor Curtis Guyton Sr., at the Moore Temple Church in Russell, sees the effects of gun violence in his neighborhood every day. For him, Wednesday’s vigil was an opportunity to complete the circle. No one person has all the answers, but it helps when everyone’s paying attention.

“I just want to be instrumental in not causing a problem but trying to be a solution to a problem. And I think if more of us become a solution to a problem then I think we can help each other better,” Guyton said.

This story has been updated.
Jacob Munoz contribute to this reporting.

Ryan Van Velzer is the Kentucky Public Radio Managing Editor. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.

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