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Its just time for show of unity in Gainesville, residents say
Prayer gathering in square puts focus on avoiding tensions between police, residents
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Pastor Joab Rico of Gospel City Church joins others in prayer during a Unity Hour of Prayer held by Gainesville United and the Gainesville Police Department on the square Saturday in downtown Gainesville. The hour of prayer was specifically focused on teachers, police officers, community workers and leaders. - photo by Erin O. Smith

In a show of community and racial unity, a large group of people met in the downtown Gainesville square Saturday for an hour of prayer hosted by Gainesville United.

At the event, a semicircle of people gathered around the “Old Joe” soldier monument to join in prayer with a scattering of different pastors, church members and community leaders. Among those attending were Pastor Efrahim Medina of Restoration Community Church, Pastor Evelyn Johnson of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Sgt. Kevin Holbrook of the Gainesville Police Department and Gainesville City Council member Sam Couvillon.

Each prayer highlighted different issues faced by residents of Gainesville, with an emphasis on unity between the Gainesville community and the police department.

“We are all working together toward one common goal, and that goal is to make this the best place to work, play, or live,” Chief of Police Carol Martin said.

Saturday’s event, the brainchild of Martin and Apostle Roderick Hughey of Voices of Faith North, has been nearly two years in the making. But after the recent racially charged shootings that have occurred across the country, members Gainesville United decided it was time to act.

“It’s just time,” said Hughey. “We don’t want our city, Gainesville, to look like these other cities that are having issues.”

Hughey said when Martin came into office, she approached many people in the community about what could be done to better connect the different offices of public servants with residents, and how the different areas of the community could be brought together.

From those meetings the Gainesville United organization was born, with the express purpose of doing whatever necessary to bring everyone together.

Martin says department officials realized community policing techniques were working, and the quarterly meetings with residents were yielding positive results.

“They know me more now, they know the officers, and we know them,” Martin said.

The event ended with a short speech from Hughey on how Gainesville United was started and a plea that the crowd come back and participate at the next event.

“This is not a black organization. This is not a white organization. This is a Gainesville organization,” Hughey said in his closing remarks to the crowd of people at the event Saturday.

“If you look around, this is truly Gainesville United.”

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