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Hearts United plans Galax peace vigil

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By Brian Funk, Editor

What started as a prayer vigil to bring together law enforcement and the black community in a show of unity during a turbulent time has grown into a movement.

Encouraged by the turnout and the positive reaction to the Peace Prayer Vigil in Hillsville on July 10, Pastor Daniel Harrison of Elk Spur Church in Fancy Gap has launched Hearts United. The group is planning a similar unity vigil on Sunday in Galax.

Harrison and the Rev. Daryl Beamer of Bethany Baptist Church in Woodlawn created the movement. The group’s mission, according to its Facebook page, is “bringing diverse communities and law enforcement together, united in love and peace.”

More than 100 people turned out for the Hillsville event, which was held just days after officers in Dallas were killed by a sniper and two black men were shot by police in other cities, the latest incidents in a period of growing tension between police and the black community around the country.

Harrison and Beamer sought to unite church congregations, community members and law enforcement to heal those wounds at a local level. “I believe we need to come together as a community and show our love for one another,” Beamer said before the Hillsville event.

If the response to that vigil was any indication, it was just what the community needed and has opened some doors that have long been shut — especially between police and the black community.

Last week, Harrison met with McMillian Ministries in Galax, a mostly black congregation led by Bishop Sue Greene, and other local black pastors to plan this Sunday’s vigil, and he said the discussion veered into black citizens’ encounters with police.

Rather than let hard feelings fester, Harrison invited Galax Police Chief Rick Clark to come by the meeting and listen. “It turned into a really good dialogue session,” Harrison said. “I feel like we can move forward with the unity vigil now that we’ve had that discussion.”

Harrison said he was encouraged that, when he contacted Clark, the chief and other officers were in the middle of community outreach training.

So far, the Galax Hearts United vigil involves the Carroll County Ministerial Association; Sam Bartlett, president of the Galax Ministerial Association; Bishop Sue Greene of McMillian Ministries, Bishop Barry Early of River Hill Church; Pastor Kevin Johnson; Dionne Tucker; and the Galax Police Department. Harrison said he expected others to join before Sunday.

He also anticipates Hearts United continuing to grow. He’s had requests for vigils in Grayson County and Floyd, and he’s seeking community and ministerial contacts in both areas.

“We’re inviting the whole community to come together and prayerfully stand together, united, regardless of race, creed or tradition,” Harrison wrote on the Hearts United vigil’s Facebook page. “We want to stand together, with our law enforcement, and show unity — in order to forge a more hopeful tomorrow.”

With all these diverse groups coming together, the event “will have a lot of historical significance,” he said.

The Hearts United vigil will begin at 6 p.m. on July 24, at the courtyard in front of the Galax Police Department on North Main Street in Galax. The service should last 30 to 45 minutes. For more information, visit facebook.com/heartsunitedforpeace/.