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Pastors hope film will rekindle racial reconciliation in Sanford

Pastors hope film will rekindle racial reconciliation in Sanford Pastors hope film will rekindle racial reconciliation in Sanford

Black and white pastors are hoping the movie Selma will renew efforts toward racial reconciliation in Sanford that started with the death of Trayvon Martin.

Northland Church Pastor Joel Hunter and Calvary Temple of Praise Pastor Paul Wright say the film, which opens Jan. 9, can restart discussions on the unfinished business of the civil rights movement for blacks and whites.

"What I want to do as a white pastor is to continue to be part of the civil rights movement. This movie gives us a chance to re-engage with each other," Hunter said.

Wright said his congregation discusses issues of race and injustice on a regular basis, but the film brings those conversations out in the open for interracial dialogue.

"I think the black communality wants reconciliation. I believe the white community wants reconciliation. We just have to understand the terms of what is expected," Wright said. "We can't resolve it until we can understand it."

Members of Northland and Calvary Temple will watch the movie together, along with other community leaders and law enforcement, at a special premier on Jan. 6 in Altamonte Springs. The screening will be followed by a discussion.

"This gives us an opportunity going forward not only to discuss the movie, but to discuss our present day issues," Wright said.

The film comes at a time when the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. and Eric Garner in New York City have exposed the tension and mistrust between blacks and law enforcement. It's the same dynamic that existed in Sanford when George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin in 2012.

Sanford escaped the violence that followed the deaths of Brown and Garner in other cities, largely because of the work between the black community and the police department, facilitated by the interracial organization called Sanford Pastors Connecting, said Sanford Police Chief Cecil Smith.

"Sanford went through a bad time, but the leadership and the partnership of the pastors allowed the community to have a voice," Smith said. "Trayvon Martin was a fire that lit our community, but what it also did was allow us to see our deficiencies, not just in the police department or in City Hall, but in all of our communities."

Just as Selma is a reminder of the unfinished business of race relations in the United States, the riots in response to Brown and Garner brings to mind the unfinished business of the Sanford Pastors Connecting, the pastors said.

"We really have not come to the full hopes of that group which was to effect on-going racial reconciliation in Sanford," Hunter said. "The original purpose was to bring the races together to make a healthy community as we go forward into these perilous times."

jkunerth@tribune.com or 407-420-5392

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SOURCE: http://www.orlandosentinel.com/features/religion/os-northland-blacks-and-police-20141231-story.html

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