Faith-based leaders helping community cope with recent gun violence

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Faith-based leaders are playing an important role in helping the Austin East community cope with the loss of three high school students.

Local pastors have been a part of conversations this week following the shooting death of Stanley Freeman Junior and Janaria Muhammad. ‘

Church leaders all across Knoxville are coming together trying to figure out how they can help the community cope with the recent gun violence.

That includes Bryan Wilson, lead pastor at Grace Knox Church.

“You’re probably watching this saying, ‘Okay, why is some white person, who’s a Christian, who lives in a different neighborhood… why are they being interviewed here, why are this being asked to commentate? You know what, I’m asking the same question,” Wilson explained during an interview Sunday with WATE 6 On Your Side.

Grace Knox Church pastors and Knox County community members want to be part of the change.

“We’re not experiencing the same things, but I want to do whatever we can to bridge because it’s the young generations that I cry out for,” said Grace Knox’s Next Generation Youth Pastor, Andrew Ervin.

“We have weeped, we are weeping, our hearts are broken,” added Wilson. “Nobody wants to go and bury a friend.”

They’ve been speaking with other faith-based leaders in the Austin East community who all want to address gun violence in the area.

“There are people with different skin color who are here ready to come alongside and to help you,” Wilson said.

Rick Kuhlman is also a member of Grace Knox Church and works with young adults to become successful, faith-minded business leaders.

Kuhlman said the best way to help is to ask questions and try to understand certain situations,

“Learn the stories of those communities, and then I really feel like collaboration is really important as we take what we’ve learned to develop some sort of action plan,” he said.

In creating an action plan, communication is key in addressing our youth,

“These are the youth, these are our next generation and their lives are at stake and at risk,” said Wilson. “…and if we’re not doing something, if we’re not waking up, then that is something we really need to address.”

Kuhlman’s also gave a message to the students who have lost friends and classmates.

“You’re not alone. There are people in Knoxville that truly care about you and, right now, they are trying to figure out where and how they can engage,” he said.

Members of Grace Knox Church along with other community leaders were at the change center to discuss recent violence in East Knoxville on Friday.

They hope to continue the discussion moving forward.

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