This Saturday, May 21 will mark the 6th year for Pastor John F. Hannah’s Prayer on the 9. In the past, the event has included members of New Life Covenant Church taking over a short stretch of the busy commercial district of 79th from Greenwood Street going South to the Dan Ryan Expressway.
What makes this year’s demonstration of faith and healing different from previous years will be the group’s bold reveal of the number of lives taken by gun violence in Chicago.
Pastor Hannah is one of the most recognizable faith leaders in the Chicago region, as the Senior Pastor of New Life Covenant Church which has 20,000 members throughout the country—he has become a national leading figure in faith. He can also be heard every morning on iheart radio’s Inspiration 1390 AM, the number one Gospel program in the market.
Among his various programs and projects, the latest one—Prayer on the 9 is an urgent call to address the killing in our Black community.
“With this increase of violence—I felt like we needed to do something a little bit more. I had this vision—what’s a visual picture of the number of bodies in Chicago? How do we get a visual picture of that? We see the news flashes; we hear that person died or this person got shot,” He said his congregation welcomes a great deal of people who are from all walks of life—some are part of ‘that’ life that still draws them to the gang culture. He is familiar with them and hopes this demonstration would affect them or any shooter out here.
He explains in detail how this year’s program will have every participant wearing the color red to symbolize ‘blood’. “When you step out into the street, you hold that picture up and you literally lay your body on the street. A visual picture of bodies with family members holding photos of their lost loved ones close to them—straight down 79th St. I applaud those who were able to shut down Michigan Ave. during that holiday season but the blood is a little further South. The crime is in our community,” he said.
Like so many families that have lost loved ones at the hands of a shooter—it hit close to home for Hannah when his young pregnant cousin was shot and killed. “A young man just shot her—she lost her life but the baby lived. Now, her baby has permanent damage. I pulled this scripture from Genesis. When God said to the king, ‘your brother’s blood is crying out from the ground.’ There’s a lot of blood criers in this city.”
They have reached out to various churches, non for profit organizations, fraternities, sororities and community organizations to join forces for Saturday’s efforts. From Greenwood to the Dan Ryan Expressway there are 21 blocks and in order to make a real impact, Hannah said they would like 42 groups of 50 people or more to ‘lock down’ a street corner. So far, they are close to achieving their goal.
With the cooperation of Alderman Michelle Harris, Alderman Roderick Sawyer, the Chicago Police Department and businesses along the 79th Street business district—they will initiate their demonstration at approximately 11:30am stopping traffic. Although, there will be a steady flow prior to this time—traffic will halt once participants ‘step out’ onto the street.
Hannah announced his plans for Prayer On the 9 from his pulpit one Sunday and felt it was important to do this as the weather is warming up.
In conjunction to Mayor Emanuel’s Faith and Action program, they discussed that Hannah’s event would be a kick-off for the May 27 launch of Put the Guns Down summer campaign.
This is not his first time bringing awareness of violence and crime in the community when he and his congregation protested a neighborhood liquor store a few years ago.
“We put a demand on the city about a liquor store that has been on 79th and Cottage Grove for over 30 years—Happy Liquor Store. They were closing at 2am and opening back up at 5am. That’s crazy.” He says they had members that were getting off the bus while people who would hang around the store would follow, jump and rob them.
“There were no lights on that street and he had no security. We were able to shut them down for three weeks and put some demands on them. Clean the outside of your store, put security in the front of the store, stop people from hanging out in front so we were able to do some clean up there.”
There are approximately 21 locations that sell and distribute liquor along the Prayer on the 9 demonstration route including small pubs—some Black owned but most that are not. Hannah wants more restriction on the zoning of liquor sales in the community but understand that they must be a plan in place to replace the economic stimulation that it provides to the community.
The church just completed building and opening its daycare in the heart of the neighborhood and will further its undertaking of building a multi-purpose facility which includes a 4,000 seat performing arts center.
“Until we figure out a way to usher in businesses on this strip, then I can’t go hard. Because I don’t have a plan to go as hard I want it to go. Hopefully, with us opening a $5-million daycare center and a $25 million complex that is also a performing arts center—we can provide more jobs and opportunities.”
So far, New Life Covenant’s daycare center employs over 50 people and their multi-purpose facility will provide 70 additional jobs for people within the community.
The Prayer On the 9 is just one extension to reaching out to the community. The staff of NLC feel it’s a consistent effort of being entrenched in the community from hosting the ‘Breaking Bread’ monthly meetings to their youth summer programming—they are determined to bring their message to the streets.
The church’s Chief Operating Officer, Charles Johnson said, “We are opening ourselves as a resource center to hear some of the problems to be resolved. The young people and the people with the guns are also raising their hands and saying they are tired of doing this. But, as a church if you don’t come out of the four walls—you don’t reach them. They’re not coming in so it creates a bridge for conversation.”
Hannah understands the violence is city-wide and welcomes everyone to come and participate. Utilizing 79th St. is only a start to represent the entire city and can be used a solid model throughout various neighborhoods to step out and lock down a block.
“This is the first time, we’ve reached across all denominations and organizations in order to collectively come together. So, there’s a unity part of this that’s different—that allows them to take a piece of what we’re doing and take it back to their community. This is a cry to our community on what’s going on and we need it to stop.
For more information: http://www.prayeronthe9.com