WASHINGTON – They wanted to help,so they prayed,they sang and they offered friendship to the people of New Orleans. At a fundraiser Friday for Hurricane Katrina victims,worshipers at the Washington National Cathedral and a church group from New York united for the cause.
The church nave was crowded. About 1,000 people from the African-American congregation of St. Paul Community Baptist Church made it to the nation's capital from Brooklyn,N.Y. There were also a few people from New Orleans who survived Hurricane Katrina and some local residents.
A colorful show,with several dances performed by children and the members of St. Paul's,was followed by the entire congregation singing,led by the Rev. Johnny Ray Youngblood,St. Paul's pastor.
Men and women,from little kids to people with gray hair,stood up and clapped and danced to the beat of “Thank you Lord” and “This is the Place.” They eagerly took up the songs,and their sincere smiles and bonhomie reflected a new friendship between the Brooklyn church and the largely white local congregation.
“Fabulous,” said Charles F. Cleland,a U.S. Department of Agriculture employee in Washington,who came to the event with his wife Tina Cleland,who is originally from New Orleans. “We need more of it. So much spirit,” he said.
After praying for the souls of Hurricane Katrina victims,Margery Freeman,a trainer for the People's Institute for Survival and Beyond,which combats racism through community workshops,and Dwight Webster,pastor at Christian Unity Baptist Church in New Orleans,spoke.
In speeches that were frequently interrupted by applause and cheers,both criticized the federal government for ignoring New Orleans in the five months since Hurricane Katrina.
Freeman said there was “no word ‘New Orleans'” in Bush's State of the Union speech,which is not the case. Bush dedicated one paragraph to New Orleans out of his 63-paragraph address. He mentioned the words “New Orleans” twice in eight sentences.
Webster was even more critical of the government. He said that people in New Orleans “die and suffer needlessly” because of “shoddy work” done by the government. He said the money the government is spending in the search of “the right person,Osama bin Laden,in the wrong place – Iraq,” should have been made available to Katrina's victims.
The National Cathedral pledged $15,000 of the $100,000 it is trying to raise. St. Paul's Church pitched in the same amount.
Individual donations included $10,000 from Dr. Marilyn Tyler Brown,a program director for the National Cathedral's scholar program.
There is no official information on total contributions yet,but the Cathedral's Canon William Barnwell estimates it's above $60,000.
The money will be divided three ways: to help Christian Unity Baptist Church bring back to New Orleans African-American members who are scattered all over the country; to support Rebuilding Together,a program formerly known as Christmas in April that helps low-income people fix up their homes; and to help the People's Institute,which the cathedral's Web site describes as the nation's “most effective undoing-racism organization.”