‘Raise our voices’: A prayer vigil and a hoopless basketball court after FAMU mass shooting

From Tallahassee Democrat

Five days after a tragic mass shooting shook the Florida A&M University campus, Tallahassee clergy, politicians and community members gathered Friday on the basketball court that became a crime scene to pray for a reprieve from “senseless and demonic gun violence.”

In response to the gunfire Sunday that killed Travis Huntley and injured four others, the “Respect Yourself” Crime Prevention Task Force, chaired by the Rev. R.B. Holmes Jr., organized the prayer vigil as a first step toward action.

“When a police officer shoots someone, we protest, we march, we argue and we do it consistently,” Holmes said. “When a Black man shoots another Black man there is no outrage. We’re going to have to raise our voices.”

The vigil, attended by an estimated 50 people, was held on the basketball courts behind the Hansel Tookes Student Recreation Center where the mass shooting took place.

Offering prayers were Pastor Rosalind Tompkins – a “prayer of faith”; Pastor Joe Parramore – a “prayer for the families”; Pastor Rudy Ferguson – a “prayer for the courage and conviction for citizens”; Pastor Judy Mandrell – a “prayer that the blood of Jesus” will protect law enforcement and first responders; Pastor Warren Cave – a “prayer that God will give good success to our programs” and Pastor Greg James.

“We must go from site to site and place the mark of prayer and then release angels to set guard over these communities,” James said in his “prayer for community unity and hope and feeling.”

Among those in attendance were recently elected State Sen. Corey Simon, State Rep. and FAMU alum Gallop Franklin, Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce CEO Sue Dick, Prime Meridian Bank chairman Sammie Dixon, and FAMU President Larry Robinson.

There were also police and military veterans present who support and work with the task force.

Many of the speakers encouraged people to speak up and say something if they see something suspicious or crime happening in their communities.  Too often, that is not happening.

“Culturally, for too long, it started when we were younger and it was being called a tattle-tale,” said Simon. “Us not being a tattle-tale is destroying our communities. It is time to stand up, step out, and say more. That’s the only way this changes.”

Franklin, who served as SGA president at FAMU from 2009-2011, said he took the shooting incident personally since he advocated for the basketball courts to be installed on campus as a positive outlet for students that would steer kids away from getting involved in crime.

“It’s hard and tough for me personally to stand in this moment because at a time when you think basketball goals would keep people from committing crimes, is the place where a violent crime can actually occur,” Franklin said.

FAMU removes baskets from goal posts

Serving as a backdrop to those attending the hour-long vigil was a stark reminder that a place as simple as free outside basketball courts are no longer safe havens.

This week FAMU removed the hoops from the goalposts as a safety precaution for the time being, preventing people from playing on the courts, Robinson said.

“We want to remain an open university to our community around us but at the same time we have to really be concerned about the safety of our students and faculty and staff and visitors,” Robinson told the Tallahassee Democrat. “We’re looking at how we might operate this differently.”

Robinson said he feels the mission of the task force is important on several fronts.

“What I like most about this task force is the strong message that it is sending to the victims as well as the perpetrators that we care,” Robinson said. “We must all work together to address gun violence in our community.”