Annual peace and love messages delivered through community walks are not uncommon in Westwood. This year, however, the familiar took on a bit of a different look.
Amid vendors, supporters and community friends, the Rev. Melvin Watkins, pastor of Mt. Vernon Baptist Church-Westwood, put the difference in context.
“For the third, consecutive year, we have hosted a community prayer walk,” said Watkins. “Since it happened to fall on Father’s Day Weekend this year, we decided to have a Fatherhood Walk. It is a walk for non-violence, for peace, and for love. It was a unity walk.”
The Fatherhood Walk paired Mt. Vernon with the Families Matter, Inc. outreach effort and its program, AFIRM (A Father’s Involvement Really Matters.)
Fathers marched with their children, spouses, and other members of the family.
“We were sending a message to fathers who are taking care of their children; thanking them and encouraging them,” said Watkins. “We were also sending a message to fathers who are not in their children’s lives – their love and presence in the lives of their little ones makes all the difference.”
Walkers held a banner and trekked through the Westwood community in southwest Memphis.
“Throughout Mt. Vernon’s history, we have always tried to reach out to the community around us,” said Watkins, co-founder of both Uplift Westwood and The Chosen Ones Mentoring Initiative, a program that trains adult male mentors and prepares male youth for manhood.
“Calling our fathers back to their rightful place as head of the home and leaders in the church will address the gun violence that is tearing up our city. Children need the love and guidance of their fathers. Encouraging fathers to take their rightful place will begin to put the village back in order.”
When the march was over, walkers returned to the church grounds, where vendors, food, and fun created family-friendly activities all afternoon.
Memphis Police Department Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis, along with members of her command staff, mingled and walked with church members and community residents. The Raines Station Task Force provided traffic control for participants along the one-mile walk.