By: Christa Meland
On Sunday, the Twin Cities suburb of Brooklyn Center became known nationwide after a police officer killed 20-year-old Daunte Wright, a black man, during a traffic stop. Since then, mass demonstrations have taken place within the city—and law enforcement officers have used tear gas, flash-bang grenades, and projectiles to clear the crowds.
Revs. Rich Zeck and Henry Dolopei, who serve Brooklyn UMC, and Laquaan Malachi, who serves North UMC in Minneapolis, have been ministering to hurt and angry congregation and community members and helping residents whose lives and businesses have been impacted by the response to the officer-involved shooting. Zeck has identified several ways other United Methodists can join them.
Ministering in this time and place
“I get asked a lot how are we doing,” Zeck said Wednesday. “The honest answer is not well. Our very souls are hurting...We are in pain, angry, sad, and exhausted because our people are hurting and the need is so great and constant.”
Zeck and Dolopei spent one recent evening trying to usher young people—both neighbors and youth group members—out of the streets and away from harm while diligently working to avoid getting hit with tear gas and rubber bullets. Since then, all three pastors have been attending protests and vigils, and attending to community needs.
What Zeck especially wants people to know right now: “This is not the first or last time we will deal with a senseless death in our community…We have been dealing with the issues that led to this killing of another young black man for decades: poverty, unemployment, anti-immigrant hate, racial tensions, systemic racism, under-employment, housing, evictions, COVID health care, lack of vaccine distribution, police reform, racial profiling, food deserts, lack of health care.”
This week, on Zeck’s block alone, he recounts two traffic stops where there were eight police officers with guns drawn. Both times, the driver was a young black man.
“Every single person of color in our community is afraid every time they get in their car,” Zeck said. “I know of not one person of color in the Brooklyn UMC community or Brooklyn Center as a whole who was shocked by what happened during a routine traffic stop because, sadly, what happened is routine in that our people of color know that at any time the lights go on, their lives are in danger…Traffic stops of young black men in this community have been violent and terrorizing for decades. The only difference is this time the metro and the nation now have heard of Brooklyn Center.”
How you can help
Because of the situation in Brooklyn Center right now, many of its residents are not receiving a pay check, have had to relocate, or have lost their businesses. Zeck said these are the best ways for congregations and individuals to assist:
Donate money: Brooklyn UMC has two funds set up:
• The Community Needs Fund is to assist local residents and business owners as they seek to recover from recent losses. Money will be used for everything from restocking shelves of local businesses to fixing windows and doors to helping those who are unable to go to work or have had to relocate.
• The Food Pantry Fund will provide basic items to those unable to access them. Many residents of Brooklyn Center—a food desert even in the best of times—lack access to local food supplies given the curfew that’s been in effect this week.
Donate to either fund by sending a check to the church (Brooklyn UMC, 7200 Brooklyn Blvd., Brooklyn Center, MN 55429); please specify in the memo line which fund your gift should go toward, or list both.
• Purchase staples (including gari, black eyed peas, red oil, fufu, and dried milk) from any local African Market and bring them to the church between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
• Donate items to Brooklyn Center’s emergency food pantry in the heart of the neighborhood most impacted by current events. Items most needed are cleaning supplies, perishables, and non-perishables of all kinds—particularly fruit, vegetables, milk, juice, and infant formula. These supplies can be brought to the Blue Barn on the Brooklyn Center Middle and High School Campus (6500 N. Humboldt Ave.) between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Keep watch: Brooklyn UMC is putting together a team of those willing to stand guard nights to protect businesses, apartment complexes, and homes. Contact Zeck if you’d like to assist.
You can also donate online to the Minnesota Conference’s “Just Love” campaign, which is supporting ministries of mercy (crisis counseling, housing stability, food/medicine) and ministries of racial justice (education, advocacy, intervention); $1,000 from the fund has been deployed for food needs for families, particularly Liberian families, that have lost access to regular food sources—and another $4,000 will go to Brooklyn UMC’s Community Needs Fund.
Minnesota United Methodists are also invited to join a Rapid Response Facebook group to stay apprised of the latest information and opportunities to assist. Join here (note that you’ll need to provide your church name and pastor’s name).
“Most of our prayers seem to be laments, yet we are disciples of a stone-rolling God,” said Zeck. “Come partner with us in many and varied ways and help us roll the stone away.”
Right now, Zeck feels God is calling him to help his people survive while knowing some will not. He also knows this: “Once we have a chance to mourn the loss of one of our young men and wipe the tear gas from our eyes and clean up our streets, God promises to walk with us as we face the anger and the pain and the hurt and the hunger, and the loss of home and health, the devastating and deadly effects of systemic racism… and attempt to build the church in a place filled with so many wonderful people made in the image of their God.”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church