Pastors, members rally near Georgia Capitol for better race relations

Several hundred people gathered for a rally on Monday, June 1, 2020 at Liberty Plaza in Atlanta organized by the OneRace Movement, a Christian organization created in 2017 to improve race relations. ERIC STIRGUS / ESTIRGUS@AJC.COM.

Several hundred Christian pastors, church leaders and members gathered across the street from the Georgia state Capitol on Monday afternoon to demand changes through state lawmakers and other churches that will improve race relations and stop the racially-charged killings of African Americans.

The organizers, the OneRace Movement, want lawmakers to enact policies that reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system. Some spoke in interviews before and after the rally about repealing Georgia’s “Stand Your Ground” law. Many attendees worship at some of the region’s largest, multicultural churches.

“This is a moment for the church ... to say enough is enough,” OneRace co-director Josh Clemons, who is African American, told the crowd at Liberty Plaza. “It’s time for the church to lead the way.”

OneRace began in August 2017 after a self-described white supremacist drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia killing a woman.

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One of the movement’s goals is to encourage more white church leaders to communicate more directly with non-whites, get them involved in their ministries and join the front lines of social justice causes. One speaker noted the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr’s remarks more than 50 years ago about Sunday mornings being the most segregated time of the week. That hasn’t changed much, OneRace supporters lamented.

Monday’s crowd was multi-racial and mostly young. They prayed, sang and discussed plans for a June 19 rally in the city.

OneRace Movement co-founder Billy Humphrey (left) and co-executive director, Bishop Garland Hunt (right), pray during a 90-minute rally at Liberty Plaza on Monday, June 1, 2020.

Several members said they attended Sunday’s demonstrations in downtown Atlanta and believe their prayers and songs positively impacted other protesters.

Monday’s attendees included the Gitaitis family, who lives in Lawrenceville and attends Victory Church in Gwinnett County. The family, who is white, wore white T-shirts with handwritten messages such as “I’m not black, but I mourn with you” and “I’m not black but I hear you.”

Lawrenceville residents Kelly Gitaitis, her daughters, Selah, 16, and Gabby, 8, and husband, Greggory, attended a Monday, June 1, 2020 rally by OneRace in downtown Atlanta to show their support for efforts to improve race relations in the wake of national unrest, including in Atlanta, over racially-charged killings of African Americans. ERIC STIRGUS / ESTIRGUS@AJC.COM

The family said they wore the T-shirts Sunday. Some people, they said, seemed shocked by the messages. Others gave them a thumbs up.

Selah Gitaitis, 16, said she prayed with friends Sunday about the racial unrest and attended Monday’s rally to show her support with those actively involved in nonviolent protest.

“We do believe there is power in prayer,” she said.

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