How A Liberty City Pastor Rallies His Community After Murders
Pastor Billy Strange is dressed in a floor-length black robe, his funeral attire.
A silver-blue casket topped with flowers rests near the altar.
Strange’s Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist Church sits just blocks away from the site of a June mass shooting that left seven people injured and two dead.
Strange tells the 100 mourners crowded inside the purple-and-white church he’s going to keep it real.
“Don’t go around trying to get even with people because they do you wrong. Learn how to pray for them, and leave them in God’s hand,” he preaches. “Learn how to let God fight your battles. Are ya’ll listening to me today?”
In Liberty City, when people get shot, it’s often because someone wanted to get even.
On June 24, police believe two men jumped out of a black SUV with high-powered rifles looking to settle a dispute over drug turf in the early morning hours.
The men thought their target was among a crowd gathered outside of a beige, two-story apartment building across the street from the notorious Liberty Square housing projects.
They fired indiscriminately into the crowd. Nakiel Jackson, 26, and his best friend Kevin Richardson, 29, died.
On this sunny Saturday morning, Strange is eulogizing Jackson. He was the son of Strange's parishioner, Tangela Jackson.
"Sometimes anger and the suppression of that anger can turn us into bitter people," he preaches. " And can turn us into hurting people. And I’ve discovered that hurting people hurt other people. Somebody say, ' Amen.'"
Strange is a plain-speaking man. He says funerals of murdered victims are a barometer of how hot the streets are in Liberty City.
If he officiates one funeral a month or one every two months, the streets are calm. Recently, he says he’s averaged two to three homicides a month.
“I’m seeing a pattern of just senseless crime,” he says.
Strange is a man of God, but when thinks about the violence impacting the neighborhood, he admits, sometimes even he despairs.
He recounts walking down the street near his church to fellowship with “the corner boys,” or the neighborhood drug dealers. A group of young teens warned him to tuck in the gold necklace chain dangling from his neck.
Apparently, a crew was robbing people.
One month later, 67-year-old pastor Kenneth Johnson was gunned down on July 10 for his fake gold chain.
Just over a year ago, Strange started the organization Call A Pastor to counsel families of murdered victims and spread a message of love to the crime-ridden area.
Call A Pastor’s latest strategy is to walk the streets of Liberty City one Saturday every month -- singing spiritual songs and chanting their message of nonviolence -- until the murders are solved.
During a recent Saturday morning protest; Hermana Richardson wore a memorial T-shirt of her son Kevin, who was killed in the mass shooting. She had a message about his murder for anyone who would listen:
“I am going to get justice for mine. I don’t know about anybody else, but I’m going to get justice for mine,” she says. “I’m determined.”
Strange says to reach the neighborhood's young men and women, you have to go to them.
The pastor and a group of men carried a casket around the neighborhood. They stopped in front of the corner stores, outside of apartment buildings — anywhere young people congregated.
They asked each person to look into the casket. Inside was a mirror.
“If you don’t change your life,” he told them, “This is where you will end up.”
This story is the first installment of the series "Aftermath: Beyond the Bullets in Liberty City," which looks at the inner-city Miami neighborhood after deadly shootings.