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Pittsburgh Faith Leaders Promote Unity, Compassion At East Liberty Vigil

Kiley Koscinski
90.5 WESA
Rev. James Harris of St. James AME Church gave a rousing speech about the value of faith in times of despair.

Scores of people surrounded East Liberty Presbyterian Church on Wednesday for an afternoon vigil, marking the fifth straight day of local demonstrations in response to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis Police custody last week.

The vigil was organized by East Liberty Presbyterian Church, the Pittsburgh Chapter of the Black Presbyterian Caucus and the Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network. Blocks away, protesters were teargassed while demonstrating on Monday.

A few hundred people showed up, according to organizers. Some stood along sidewalks across the street to promote more space between demonstrators. Most people wore facemasks. The vigil was scheduled to last an hour and most of that time was spent with participants holding signs and cheering on honking cars passing by.

Organizers had attendees stand in groups along the sidewalks to pray with local faith leaders. The plan was to hold a moment of silence and project prayers through a loudspeaker. But, according to East Liberty Presbyterian Church’s Rev. Randy Bush, it was decided to have faith leaders staged in sections along the sidewalks to pray with people there.

Credit Kiley Koscinski / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
Lenore Williams, president of the Pittsburgh chapter of The National Black Presbyterian Caucus, speaks with vigil attendees.

Lenore Williams was pleased with the turnout. She noted that in decades past, there weren't always so many white people at demonstrations like these.

“There’s a recognition of the fact that people deserve justice, people deserve to be heard… regardless of the color of their skin,” she said. “I feel encouraged because there was a time when you did not see this ... It was very inspiring to actually see young, white people out with signs saying ‘black lives matter.’ It gives me hope for the future,” she said.

Nearing 1 p.m., Rev. James Harris of St. James AME Church gave a rousing speech about the value of faith in times of despair.

“There is a pandemic called COVID-19, but there’s another pandemic that has been in this land for 400 years,” he said. “This is our obligation to fall on our knees and talk to God, talk to Allah, talk to Hare Krishna, whatever you call that sacred in your life, you talk to that.”

Rev. Bush closed the gathering with a group prayer that called for support of the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Antwon Rose, Jonny Gammage and others.

“Our faith compels us to move once more,” he said. “To speak out for justice, to offer words of hope, to reach across the divide and to find a way forward.”

Police were present but distant at the vigil. There were no reports of arrests or alteracations with law enforcement.

Kiley Koscinski covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.