LUMBERTON — A local faith-based group of ministers has begun to include law enforcement in its mission to promote peace, and offer healing and “justice for all people.”
Members of the Ministers for Justice group met Tuesday with Lumberton police Chief Mike McNeill to offer resources to officers and to victims of crimes, said Brianna Goodwin, executive director of the Robeson County Church and Community Center, whose vision helped lead to the group’s formation. The meeting also was used to discuss negative police perception by some members of the public across the nation and how it translates locally.
Chief McNeill said the police department has worked with local pastors before and welcomes the collaboration.
“The meeting went real well,” he said. “I think it’s gonna benefit the community with support groups like that praying for the officers and the community here. I think it’s a good thing. It’s a good thing for us.”
The police chief said he looks forward to meeting again with members of the group.
“I just want to be a part of the healing in our community when it comes to law enforcement and the perception of law enforcement and the way that people interact with them, and you know, that involves recognizing the good things they do and connecting them with resources so that they can do some of that, that other work, that community work,” Goodwin said.
The group and RCCCC are willing to partner with officers to give items like clothing or comfort items to children in Child Protective Services situations when a social worker is not available immediately. Goodwin also said pastors will provide guidance, prayer and support to police officers when needed, especially in situations when force is used or trauma is involved.
“Part of our mission is to actively pursue justice for all citizens of our county. We decided to start by building relationships with our city and county leaders. We chose to start with our law enforcement officers first since it’s the one area where injustice can result in deadly consequences. It is our desire to be proactive rather than reactive to potential tragedies,” said Rev. Leslie Sessoms, minister of youth at Godwin Heights Baptist Church and group member.
The group advocates for all victims of injustice, including victims of police brutality and police officers on the receiving end of injustice in other situations, Goodwin said.
Rev. Derek McNair, pastor of First Missionary Baptist Church in Red Springs, described the meeting with Chief McNeill as “wonderful, informative and inspiring.”
“It was our hope and goal to create a relationship with Chief McNeill and staff to let them know that they do not stand alone,” McNair said.
“It was encouraging to hear what he and his officers are doing in the city to build positive connections between his officers and the people they serve. Our hope is that this meeting will be the beginning of a relationship built on mutual respect, one in which we can celebrate the positive contributions made by our law enforcement officers and one in which we can work hand-in-hand to resolve any negative issues that currently exist or should arise,” Sessoms said.
“I think he has a wonderful philosophy on community policing,” Goodwin said of the police chief.
The meeting is the first of many to come with law enforcement agencies across the county, she said. The group will also “branch out” to meet with and serve organizations like the county’s public school system.
“One of our goals is to meet with every police chief in Robeson County as well as our sheriff, Burnis Wilkins,” Sessoms said.
The Ministers for Justice group began holding meetings at RCCCC in July 2020 to discuss racial issues and promote unity in the county. The pastors who attended were to take a better understanding from discussions with others of different races and spread the message of unity to decrease “racial tension” in the county, McNair told The Robesonian in October.
“I believe we are called to be a voice for the voiceless,” Sessoms said. “If we remain silent in the face of injustice then we are complicit in it.”
The group of ministers continues to meet every fourth Thursday of each month. The December meeting was held via Zoom video conference with 11 ministers in attendance, Goodwin said.
For information on how to get involved, contact Sessoms by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.