ST. LOUIS — "African Americans are robbing each other. African Americans are killing and disrespecting each other. We cannot ignore this crisis any longer," said James Clark, Vice-President of the non-profit group, Better Family Life.
Friday afternoon, passionate members of Better Family Life, clergy, business owners, parents and many others filled a room at Mount Paran Missionary Baptist Church in East St. Louis.
Their message was loud and clear.
"Whatever it is, we want to confront it. We want these communities to know that we care about them," said Pastor Dr. Zachary Lee of Mount Paran MB Church.
"The fact that African Americans victimize African Americans and the reality of African Americans keep killing each other is something our community must own up to," said James Clark.
Local leaders said black on black crime in the Bi-State region, and in other metropolitan cities around the country, is at "an alarming rate."
The groups said they are fed up with the murders, robberies and gun violence. It is violence that is destroying families and communities, the leaders said.
"Everyone sees it. Everyone feels it, but it's time for our community to say enough is enough and we have to take ownership of this crisis," added James Clark.
On the night of Feb. 24, the groups will gather for "Peace Be Still: A Week of Peace."
During the event, crowds of pastors, parents, business owners, former drug dealers and many others plan to participate in two silent marches down Dr. Martin Luther King drives in North St. Louis and East St. Louis at the same time.
They will plead to drug dealers, gang members and other gun-carrying criminals to put down their weapons and stop the violence.
It is violence some say won't end until more black churches step in and address what local leaders call "a national crisis."
"We've got people that are professionals in ministry coming, people who know how to deal with the community and we want people who have lost loved ones to violence to also come and joins us. This will be a community event for so many of us in the Metro East and in St. Louis," said Pastor Zachary Lee.
"I feel like it starts at home," said East St. Louis resident Kimberly Goodwin.
Goodwin said she will be at the community march for peace spreading hew own message:
"That more parents need to embrace and support their teens before the kids turn to violence," the concerned grandmother said. "I feel like most of these teenagers run to the streets for love because they're not getting it at home."
"We understand that this is a long-term issue just as Dr. King and our forefathers understood that a march was not gonna solve it, but it brings the necessary attention to it," said James Clark.
The two silent marches will start at 7 p.m. on Feb. 24.
In North St. Louis, people will gather at the intersection of Dr. Martin Luther King Boulevard and Hamilton and then proceed with the peace march.
We're told on the east side, the groups will meet at East St. Louis City Hall and then march down MLK.