By Tiffany C. Ginyard, AFRO Managing Editor
In a one-on-one conversation with AFRO Publisher and CEO the Rev. Dr. Frances “Toni” Draper on Wednesday, May 1, Mayor Catherine E. Pugh said she will resign as mayor of Baltimore City effective May 2.
“She said, ‘I’m going to resign,’ Draper recalled, after leaving the Mayor’s home close to 9 p.m. last night.
“‘I asked, ‘Are you sure”? And she said, ‘Yes.’”
“She said, ‘they’re trying to take everything from me,’” Draper continued of her brief sit-down with Pugh. “And I told her, ‘they can’t take your life.’”
The meeting between them was not on Draper’s agenda. She was at the mayor’s home responding to an invitation to a pop-up prayer vigil hosted by a few of Baltimore’s praying “sistas.” Draper is the pastor of Freedom Temple AME Zion Church in South Baltimore. She was asked by her peers to lead an interfaith circle of prayer among the women gathered at the corner of Ellamont and Dorchester roads to answer the call to “return to love.”
In a random order, prayers poured from the lips of the women– carrying the vibrations of the 23rd Psalm. Some belted original prayers from the depths of their souls. And some stood still…knowing. Holding onto the infinite idea that “all things work together for the good of those who love God” (Romans 8:28).
In the spirit of sisterly love, Black women gathered to show love and compassion for a friend. A neighbor. Someone “sick and shut in.” A sister in faith. A tax-paying, city resident. An elected official. A former state senator. The mayor of Baltimore City. A human being.
A half hour passed, and a new wind of people, including men, popped up and prayed.
The people who gathered yesterday evening had no demands. No stones to throw. They were not there for politics. These were people who genuinely wanted to connect with the mayor, people who want to see her “make it through” the legal and physical challenges she’s facing–alive.
While thirsty media outlets scrambled back to newsrooms to publish alluring headlines hinting of an official statement of resignation to be released by the mayor’s legal team later today, the AFRO stayed behind talk to prayer warriors and passersby alike.
“I am here…because I believe in God. And I believe God is a healer. I am hear to call out the name of God to heal our city and to heal our mayor,” Salima Marriott Gibbs, former long-time state delegate told the AFRO. “We gathered, as like-minded citizens, with no particular agenda in mind.
“What I believed happened today is that our prayers lifted our mayor. That is essential because it is important that she be lifted up. I think we accomplished that,” said Gibbs before walking off with an air of peace.
The mayor, touched by the sentiments expressed by her constituents, was moved to break her silence– even if only to release a few words. Her statement to the AFRO last night was not for courtroom, or for the media really; it was for the people. And not just those gathered, but for the citizens who have chosen to withhold judgment until the judicial process unfolds.
Dr. Tonya Phillips, a loyal daughter of Baltimore, said she showed up to stand in solidarity with the prayer warriors and to call her community to action.
“I have been in Baltimore my entire life, and I’m just wondering, what happened to the worth and human dignity of all mankind? ” Phillips, a licensed mental health professional, said in a Facebook Live post from the vigil.
“I showed up today for several reasons. I got excited, actually when I found out this was happening, because… I thought, ‘Wait a minute…we haven’t heard anything about how she’s doing? Where are the prayer warriors? Where is the city? I do not come defending, or protecting, or minimizing. I come simply to ask Baltimore: Where is your love?”
Draper said the AFRO’s presence yesterday was about more than scooping the news, but about being true to the role and responsibility of the Black press and its coverage of Black leaders, Black people, and the Black experience in general. Loosely likening the media business and politics to America’s favorite pastime, football, Draper cited that the AFRO‘s nearly 127-year legacy was not built on “piling on,” a phrase used in football to describe the action of one or more players jumping on top of a player, or group of players, after a tackle has been made.
“In football, we’d be fined for that,” said Draper. ” We’re not about kicking people while they are down. I’m not excusing any of the allegations. I think that’s what people misunderstand about why we are here. Whatever she is accused of she will have to answer to, but that’s not why we’re here.”
From where Draper sits, the AFRO represents a diverse constituency of Black folk in Baltimore, and is partly responsible for providing a platform for courageous community conversations about what it will take to lift our city, and her residents, out of the culture of corruption and disorder. It is from this perspective, Draper says, the publication as an institution is not interested in joining the media “pile on;” Baltimore is too fragile for that right now.
“In football, piling on is illegal because it slows up the game, can cause injuries and is unnecessary,” Draper said, reading from a sports source she’d searched on her smartphone to make her reference plain. “‘It says here it’s illegal at most every level of competition…Although players wear lots of padding during a game, piling on can cause injuries because of the sheer weight of the players on the pile.'”