Residents assembled under cloudy skies Wednesday night at Greater Barbour’s Chapel Baptist Church to pray for a community just down the road in Santa Fe, just days after a gunman killed 10 and wounded a dozen more in spree of violence at Santa Fe High School.
“Any time children are being killed, it really shows that we certainly need to do some things in our community,” Andrew Berry, pastor of the church, said. “We want to use this as a way to come together and pray for our brothers and sisters.”
The vigil at Greater Barbour’s Chapel, the congregation of which is mostly African American, has meaning apart from the many other such events held around the county since the shooting last week. There’s a long-held belief among many in towns and communities around Santa Fe that the small city is unwelcoming to outsiders, especially to African Americans.
Many Santa Fe residents and officials have disputed that, but the roots of the opinion are deep, hard to shake and not without some contemporary justification.
Less than 20 years ago, for example, a Jewish middle school student alleged his classmates had threatened to hang him after two years of anti-Semitic harassment. After a visit by the Anti-Defamation League, Santa Fe leaders began an anti-hate campaign dubbed “Santa Fe is No Place for Hate.”
The city also has been linked, in the minds of outsiders, anyway, to the Ku Klux Klan because of rallies held there in the 1980s. Members of the Klan made a recruiting visit to the city as recently as 2002, with Klan members making an appearance at a roadside park along the heavily traveled state Highway 6.
Berry, who organized the community prayer vigil, thinks it’s important for the African-American community to put aside past differences with Santa Fe to allow the community to come together and heal, he said.
“I think us just demonstrating that even though we are in Texas City, the Bible says mourn with those who mourn,” he said. “If it happens in Santa Fe, it can certainly happen in Texas City. The pain has gone beyond color lines.”
The Santa Fe population is predominately white, with 86.4 percent of its residents Caucasian, according to City-Data.com.
Mary Johnson, a La Marque resident, said she had felt unwanted in the past in cities like Santa Fe and Hitchcock, but thought it was important to focus on the future.
“I was bullied,” the 60-year-old said. “I felt unwelcome. But we need to get past that because we are all in this together. It’s not a black or white thing. Hatred has no boundaries.”
Resident Katie Webb said the vigil was about unity across geographical and racial lines.
“We just need to pray for those people,” she said. “We don’t need that foolishness. We all have to come together.”
Tifney Scott, a spokeswoman for the church, echoed that sentiment.
“It’s just an exercise and an effort to pray for peace and cohesiveness among the people and the school district,” she said. “It’s a community effort. It’s not just about our church.”
Times like this ultimately require action, Berry said.
“I felt an overwhelming desire to do something,” he said. “Prayer is the most important thing we can do.”