Members of Atlanta's faith community gathered this morning at Tabernacle Baptist Church for a press conference in response to the bullycide of 11 year old student Jaheem Herrera. Herrera, a victim of anti-gay bullying by a group of his peers at Dunaire Elementary School in Dekalb County ended his life by hanging nearly two weeks ago.
Rev. Dennis Meredith, senior pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church, an LGBT affirming ministry in Atlanta's Old 4th Ward and head of Atlanta's Faith & Community Alliance addressed the underlying cultural problem that he believes led to Herrera's untimely death.
"This is not just a problem that was perpetrated from the bullys that harassed and taunted the young man, but this is a cultural problem. It represents how people feel in our culture towards people who are different", said Meredith.
"The truth of the matter is that it did not have to happen and it should not have happened. If there were certain adverse issues in our culture to people who are different-and the fact that we don't as a culture celebrate diversity and differences-we would not have had this particular incident".
Herrera's death followed the suicide of Massachusetts student Carl Walker Hoover Jr. who hanged himself in his home due to schoolyard anti-gay bullying. Hoover's mother remembers her son as being sensitive, church-going, and athletic. Neither Hoover or Herrera identified as gay.
"We have made it acceptable to hate some people, in particular, the bullying that both Jaheem Herrera and Carl Joseph Walker Hoover experienced was particular to the perception of who they were or who they were growing up to be", notes Marissa Pendermine, Assistant Pastor of Unity Fellowship Church Atlanta who was also on hand to speak.
(pictured- Youth from Atlanta's Evolution Project)
Noticeably absent from the press conference were Atlanta's mega pastors and anti-gay crusaders Bishop Eddie Long and Creflo Dollar. I guess calls for social justice have to take a back seat to million dollar bank accounts, expensive sports cars, and anti-gay demonstrations.
A vigil is scheduled for Jaheem Herrera at 6 PM tonight at First Christian Church of Decatur in Decatur, Georgia. Video from the press conference below.