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Newtown prays for neighborhood
Community residents want junkyard gone
Joanne Steele sings a song during the community prayer vigil outside a scrap metal recycling company that sits next to the Newtown neighborhood. - photo by Tom Reed

Residents concerned about the impact of an industrial business on a Gainesville neighborhood joined together and pleaded to God. They prayed Saturday for a change, the kind that heals and strengthens an entire community.

"We no longer want to buy flowers for our caskets, Lord," said Rev. Charles Dickey, president of the Interdenominational Black Ministers Alliance. "We want to plant trees, Lord. ... We want a better life for our children and grandchildren."

About 20 people gathered for the Newtown Florist Club's prayer vigil at 9:30 a.m. near the corner of McDonald and Dunbar streets in Gainesville. Faye Bush, executive director of the environmental justice group, called their spiritual reflection a "prayer vision."

Many of those who participated live in or have a connection to the 75-year-old neighborhood, which today is cut with railroad tracks and abuts industrial companies.

For decades residents have fought pollution brought on by industries that moved into the area well after they did.

The neighborhood was established for black families on an old landfill east of Athens Street after the 1936 tornado. It was intended to be the "new town" for residents displaced by the disaster.

Saturday's vigil brought specific attention to recent difficulties residents have had with Blaze Recycling and Metals.

"Our biggest purpose is to see that junkyard gone. We have faith it will happen," Bush said. "Our dream is to beautify this community. We're proud of this community. This is our dream. I hope I'll live to see it."

The prayer group circled near a tall fence surrounding the business and listened to the Rev. Rose Johnson-Mackey, pastor of Truth and Deliverance Outreach Ministries, lead the residents and participating pastors through their lineup of prayers and hymns.

Johnson-Mackey acknowledged the boundary topped with barbed wire and shrouded by green tarps before delivering her vision for the future.

She pictured the rusty fence line being replaced by long rows of beautiful flowers and foliage. Useful grocery and drug stores and other retail shops would sit where loud machinery and scrap heaps do today. And instead of railroad tracks nearby, walking trails would connect Newtown to the rest of Gainesville.

"That vision is one that is just coming to life for us in a beautiful way," Johnson-Mackey said. "It's just stirred up in our hearts."

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