A group of clergy gathered for a special service Wednesday night in North Philadelphia focused on justice in response to police killings of African Americans.
The program at New Vision United Methodist Church on North Broad Street was titled "Strange Fruit: The Seven Last Words of Seven Black Lives." The name is in part a reference to the traditional Holy Week sermon about the last words of Jesus on the cross.
It also was inspired by Strange Fruit, the poem about racism and the lynchings of African Americans that Billie Holiday turned into a song.
"They no longer lynch us. They kill us in the street," said the Rev. Traci Blackmon, pastor at Christ the King United Church of Christ near Ferguson, Mo. She spoke to the packed pews via a remote connection.
Imam Abdul-Halim Hassan of Masjidullah in Philadelphia suggested a mass "sick day" as an effective form of protest. "They really don't hear until it hits them in the pocket," he said.
In a prayer, the Rev. Robin Hynicka of Arch Street United Methodist Church called for acknowledging white privilege.
"Oh, God, white privilege is alive and well, and it's me," said Hynicka.
Rabbi Eli Freedman of Congregation Rodeph Shalom read aloud Prayer for Our Country, first delivered by Rabbi Uri Miller at the March on Washington in 1963.
"Freedom, pride, dignity must not be empty words," Freedman said.
The service included a reading by Sonia Sanchez, who was poet laureate of Philadelphia from 2012 until this year. The event was put together by POWER - Philadelphians Organized to Witness Empower and Rebuild - an inter-faith community group.
Seven clergy members offered reflections on the reported last words of seven African Americans, including Trayvon Martin, killed in a Florida confrontation in 2012, and Eric Garner, who died in police custody this summer in Staten Island, N.Y.
"To be black in America is to be consistently under siege," said the Rev. Rashad Grove of First Baptist Church of Wayne as he spoke about the reported last words of Martin: "What are you following me for?"