KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — It's hard to put into words how many people in the East Knoxville community have felt following the deaths of several teens due to gun violence. Anguish. Pain. Sadness. Fear.
Those are just some of the ways to describe how the community is feeling. As families reel from losing loved ones and the number of people who die due to gun violence continues to rise across the city, people are looking for ways to start healing.
National faith leaders will gather in Knoxville on June 29 to help people find hope. "Building Bridges" at Overcoming Believers Church will start at 7 p.m. and will feature a panel of pastors and preachers who said they want to connect with the community.
"We need to have these conversations, but with civil discourse where we don't demonize someone who disagrees with us," said Dr. A.R. Bernard, who is set to appear during the event. "Instead of trying our best to be understood, maybe we take the time to understand first and work from there."
Dr. Bernard is the pastor of the Christian Cultural Center Megachurch in Brooklyn, New York City. It has more than 37,000 members and he said healing begins by fostering relationships and starting important conversations.
He has been featured nationally on talk shows for his work to unite the country's largest city through his church, according to a release from officials. Knoxville faith leaders said they hope Dr. Bernard, joined by Dr. Bernice King, Hallerin Hill and Cece Winans, will be able to help the grieving East Knoxville community.
One of the main tenants of his message is also one of the simplest — people cannot give up hope.
"Without that, we're lost," he said. "And in me, hope springs eternal. That is what pushes us forward and allows us to believe that things can be different."
The Building Bridges event will be free, and anyone who does not want to watch it in person can watch it online at Overcoming Believers Chruch's website.
"Our city is healing, our country is healing," said one pastor from Overcoming Believers Church. "The world is healing, so this is some small portion of being able to bring some reconciliation to the community."