It’s time. Three years after he held his last anti-violence rally, a local pastor is again calling for peace and an end to the prevalence of gang violence in Oklahoma City metro-area neighborhoods.
The Rev. Theodis Manning, senior pastor of Divine Wisdom Worship Center in Midwest City, said it’s time to put down the guns, knives, weapons and fists.
Time to break down the gang rivalries and the senseless crime that comes with them.
Time to stop the violence.
“All we have to do is watch the news. We are seeing sporadic killings,” Manning said recently.
“It takes a piece out of me every time I have to bury a kid. There’s not anything you can say to make the situation better.”
Manning said his church is hosting the 2014 “Stop the Violence Rally” from 4 to 7:30 p.m. Aug. 24 at Edwards Park, near NE 10 and Bryant Avenue.
He said the church has hosted similar rallies almost every year since 2007.
The first rally, also at Edwards Park, was born out of the church’s Teaching And Saving Kids outreach, widely known as T.A.S.K., for children who are at risk.
The ministry is led by people who formerly were immersed in the gang lifestyle but now peddle faith and hope instead of drugs and violence.
Manning said that’s why the rallies, hosted by T.A.S.K. leaders, seemed to capture the community’s attention, particularly the youths who so often are influenced to join gangs.
Manning said other rallies were held in 2009 and 2010 at Edwards Park, and in 2011, rallies were held at a south Oklahoma City park and at Edwards Park.
The goal of the rallies is to stop the gang violence that creates terror zones in the streets.
“We can come together and stall out a lot of the violence,” Manning said.
“It’s time to get back to that.”
‘Investing’ in children
Manning said he sometimes thinks his church has been stigmatized as one that only reaches out to gang members.
But the church is made up of a diverse group of people from all walks of life and offers many types of outreach ministries, including a popular after-school program and summer camp for youths, he said.
His wife, Lisa, said she understands why the church is primarily known for its outreach to gangs. She said it is because her husband and the church’s leaders started the gang prevention programs and related ministries and have kept them going, even in difficult circumstances.
“They see us doing outreach, not just talking about it,” Lisa Manning said of the community at large.
“We’re not just here having church and then going to our separate homes. They see us investing in the children.”
John Parker, 45, Theodis Manning’s assistant and vice president of T.A.S.K., said the pastor’s good reputation in the community has brought the church respect and other community partners.
“The streets know when you’re real and when you’re counterfeit. Pastor Manning gets right out there with us,” Parker said. “He gets that respect from the streets because of his sincerity.”
Winning the streets
Parker said he speaks from experience.
He said he was a gang member and went to prison at age 19. He said he was released from prison when he was 31 and has been away from gang activity for at least 10 years. He said he was drawn to Manning and Divine Wisdom because he sensed the sincerity behind their efforts to win back the streets for Christ.
Like Parker, Will Sheppard, 39, said he was drawn to Manning and his church because of their message of inclusion and their efforts to help former gang members rebuild their lives.
Sheppard said he was in prison when he read a newspaper article about Manning, the T.A.S.K. outreach and the Stop the Violence rallies. He said he desperately wanted to believe it was possible to get out of the gang lifestyle that he’d been immersed in since he was 14.
“I kept that article, and I found him (Manning) when I got out of prison in December 2012,” Sheppard said.
“You’re fighting your demons from the past. You can’t get an apartment in a nice area with your (prison) record and bad credit. It’s difficult to do, so I needed to see people doing it.”
Sheppard said Manning and T.A.S.K. helped him make a new, crime-free life for himself. He said that’s why he’s committed to the church’s efforts to stop the gang violence through prevention programs, the Stop the Violence rallies and other activities.
“It takes faith to do this,” he said.
IF YOU GO
Stop the Violence Rally