Monday, May 14, 2001

Prayer planned for Taste fest

By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        With Cincinnati fractured by racial discord, city leaders say they will turn to a higher power later this month to unite people spiritually during the first large-scale community event since last month's riots.

        Mayor Charlie Luken on Sunday said he and organizers of the 22nd annual Taste of Cincinnati — including the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce — are planning a nondenominational prayer sometime during the Memorial Day weekend food fair downtown.

  • The 22nd annual Taste of Cincinnati: A three-day food and entertainment event, featuring about 40 Greater Cincinnati restaurants.
  • When: Memorial Day weekend. Noon to midnight May 26 and 27; Noon to 9 p.m. May 28.
  • Where: Downtown on four blocks of Central Parkway, between Elm and Main streets.
  • Non-denominational prayer service: Time and place have not been determined.
        Sunday's decision to organize a community prayer comes just four days after the cancellation of the annual Pepsi Jammin' on Main street festival, which would have taken place Friday and Saturday in Over-the-Rhine, a largely African-American neighborhood. Organizers cited dismal ticket sales as the reason for canceling the music event, which attracts a mainly white crowd.

        Religious leaders citywide will be asked to recruit members from their organizations to participate in the Taste's prayer gathering.

        It's not a final solution to the city's problems, Mr. Luken said. But it's a way to understand each other, he said.

        “The Taste of Cincinnati has always been a celebration of our community, but this year our community is coming together,” said Raymond Buse III, spokesman for the chamber of commerce and its Taste event. “There's a healing process going on.”

        The prayer is not a marketing tool, he said: “We want people to feel safe, but the purpose of this is on a higher level. It's much more spiritual and heartfelt.”

        Organizers envision a service of five minutes or less that will draw together Christians, Jews, Muslims and those of other faiths. A place and time have not been determined.

        “In many ways this is unprecedented,” Mr. Luken said of the community prayer event. “But the circumstances we have faced over the last month are unprecedented as well.”

        The mayor Sunday had not yet talked to the Rev. Damon Lynch III, pastor of New Prospect Baptist Church in Over-the-Rhine, to ask him to participate in the prayer service.

        The Rev. Mr. Lynch, co-chairman of the mayor's new commission charged with diffusing racial tension, has led rallies and marches throughout the city to protest the April 7 shooting of an unarmed black man by a Cincinnati police officer, which sparked the riots.

        The Rev. Mr. Lynch said later Sunday he probably would participate in the Taste of Cincinnati prayer service if asked.

        “I think prayer is always appropriate,” he said. “I think prayer has the power to bring people together. But after prayer, you have to get up, open your eyes and go to work.”


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