PLEASANTVILLE — Beyonce Jerkins watched the demonstrations, protests and rallies across the country and saw an opportunity.
The 21-year-old granddaughter of a local bishop wanted to lend her voice and heart to the chorus of Americans calling for an end to police brutality and systemic racism. For Jerkins, the best way to be heard was through her faith.
“True change comes from God,” she said. “True change comes from prayer.”
On Sunday afternoon, Jerkins was joined by more than 50 others in a “Prayer for Change” outside the Evangelical Fellowship Church.
Jerkins, of Mays Landing, said she organized the multi-generational prayer event because she wanted “everybody to come together in unity” and find ways to make their communities better.
Most parishioners stayed in their vehicles while listening to scripture and prayers played over loudspeakers. For every “Amen,” they honked their horns in unison.
“This is a pep rally for believers,” said Christian Ragland, one of the nearly dozen speakers Sunday afternoon. “This is not a protest: This is a pep rally to get us back in place.”
Bishop Frederick Jerkins said when his granddaughter approached him about the “Prayer for Change,” he told her “whatever God leads you to do, let’s do it.”
He proudly acknowledged the participation of many younger members of his congregation Sunday, adding, “We need change in this world.”
“I believe God is using young people,” he said. “I believe God wants to use these young people and the old people gotta get in line, get in step and let these young people go free.”
Sunday’s event in Pleasantville was one of several in Atlantic County that have taken place in response to the May 25 death of George Floyd. The 46-year-old black man died while a white police officer in Minneapolis pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck and back for more than eight minutes.
Four police officers have been charged in connection to Floyd’s death, but the incident has sparked widespread civil unrest across the United States with citizens demanding immediate criminal justice reform.
Several of the speakers at Sunday’s event expressed support for the protests and rallies, many of which are being lead by the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I think it’s great that we’re having this conversation with the church involved within the whole Black Lives Matter movement,” said Chelsea Lucas. “All lives won’t matter until black lives do matter.”