TIFTON — While other cities are seeing protests and riots, a group gathered in the heart of Tifton on June 4 to unite in prayer.

Local elected officials and law enforcement personnel came together with pastors, preachers and priests across the street from the Charles Kent Administration Building on Tift Avenue for a prayer vigil that lasted over an hour.

“This is serious, y’all,” said Tifton City Councilmember M. Jay Hall. “I appreciate every single one of you guys that are in uniform out there. Tifton has to make a stand. We have to show that we do things a different way. We’ve got people out there with hearts that are crying. We’ve got to show them we’re different. I know the city and the county and any first responder can do that. But it starts with us.”

The purpose of the vigil was to pray for the city, county, state and nation in the wake of days of protests and riots sparked by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25.

Pastors from a variety of churches and denominations spoke at the vigil.

“A couple of days ago I texted my friend Rudy Porter here, my fellow pastor,” Father Lonnie Lacey from St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, said. “I said, ‘What are we going to do?’ And he said, ‘Well, we got together recently to pray for COVID-19. Pastors got all out here, right here, made a circle, and we prayed about COVID-19. Why can’t we get back together and do it again?’”

Pastor Rudy Porter, of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, said that he wanted to show the community that pastors are praying for the community, the mayor, elected officials, and first responders.

“We need to show the world that we are coming together and trusting God,” he said. “Prayer changes things. If we can touch the hearts of people, trouble will go away.”

Several of the speakers addressed the disparities between the lived experiences of black and white Americans.

“I don’t know what it’s like to grow up African American,” Dr. Wayne Rowe, of First Baptist Church of Tifton, said. “I’ve been white most of my life. When a policeman pulls me over, first of all, I’m sure I wasn’t doing anything wrong but just in case I might have been going a little over the speed limit, I don’t have to worry. I don’t know what it’s like to be afraid. I’m so thankful that here in Tifton that’s never been a problem, but I know that it is in other areas.”

He asked the assembled crowd for forgiveness, saying that he realized he’d been judging people by their outward appearance.

“I ask your forgiveness and promise you that I’m going to work in my own life, to look in the heart and realize that on the inside we’re all the same. We’re all sons and daughters of God.”

Elected officials spoke and prayed over the community as well.

Commissioner Melissa Hughes said that African Americans need to teach their white neighbors, because they don’t know what it’s like.

“I believe with all my heart this is going to be a turning point, not just for Tift County,” she said. “Other people are going to see what we’re doing and they’re going to emulate it.”

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