Armed with prayer

Published April 9, 2007

LARGO - It's a tradition in the Greater Ridgecrest area: For the past five years, local churches band together on Good Friday to march for a better neighborhood.

And this year was no different.

Late Friday afternoon, about 40 church leaders and members carried three crosses to what they said were two known "drug holes" in the neighborhood to pray.

One of the goals, they said, was to discourage drug use among young people. Once a person starts using crack, they said, they lose the ability to know and love Jesus. And tolerating drug use can ruin a neighborhood.

So on Friday, men and women, grandparents and grandchildren chanted "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus," as they paraded down Railroad Avenue waving at men hanging around street corners.

As the group passed one house, a group of men in leather jackets watched the procession stoically and did not wave back.

"We're concerned," Mack Johnson, a pastor, said before to the event. "Please see what we're saying."

Holding wooden crosses, they stopped and prayed at known narcotic hot spots.

"The people really scatter when they see us coming," said the Rev. Bernard Smith, minister of Greene Chapel AME Church. "Like when you have roaches and you turn the light on in the dark kitchen. They scatter."

This year, the march included six churches, including Greene Chapel and St. Mary Missionary Baptist Church.

Johnson of the Community Church in Largo said residents would not "stand around" and let drug dealers and users seize their neighborhood.

"In certain areas, they'll just take over, and the next thing you know, it's a drug hole," Johnson said. "Satan has done a great thing with crack cocaine."

Eileen Schulte can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or schulte@sptimes.com.