Atmore residents attend Jena rally

Published 10:39 am Wednesday, September 26, 2007

By By Adrienne McKenzie
Last week Atmore residents took a trip to Jena, La. to show support to those affected by the "Jena 6" arrests and trial, which has recently become the talk across the United States.
"What made me go was because I think Jena needed support from all around," Atmore resident Sandra Gray said. "The Concerned Citizens of Atmore are concerned about making peace. I decided to make that trip."
Along with Gray were Tomese Ballard, Ketrick Reynolds and Ray Thomas, all of Atmore.
"I sent out a message over the radio that I was going," Gray said. "Those were the people who responded. I would like to thank them for going with me."
According to, Mychal Bell, 17, is still in jail because of an incident which occurred in Jena, La. more than nine months ago. The occurrences of the town in Louisiana began in August 2006 when three white teenagers at LaSalle Parish High School hung nooses on a tree the day after a cluster of African American teens obtained the OK to sit underneath a predominately "all-white" tree.
The students who hung the nooses, according to, were only suspended from classes for a few days. On Dec. 4, six teens which are now known as the "Jena 6" were blamed for beating Justin Barker. Bell, Robert Bailey Jr., Carwin Jones, Bryant Purvis, Theo Shaw and Jesse Ray Beard were all charged with attempted second-degree murder and conspiracy.
Bell is the only one of the "Jena 6" who remains in jail. Bailey, Jones and Shaw's charges were reduced when they were arraigned and Purvis is still waiting for his arraignment. Beard's charges are not available since he was 14 at the time of the incident.
Thousands of citizens from across the United States have traveled to Jena, La. including different well-known figures.
"I met Tyler Perry, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson," Gray said. "There were so many people that I met. I also met a lot of rock stars and rappers. There were so many people there."
Gray said she was met with both racial acceptance and aversion when she reached Jena, La.
"When we went they had rebel flags in the driveways," she said. "But, when I arrived (at the rally) and saw that the crowd was mixed I felt so much better that people understood that what is happening is wrong. I met a white guy on the street who lived there and he said he knew what they did was wrong."
Gray said she had the opportunity to talk to Bell's mother while in Jena to give her words of comfort and encouragement.
"I hugged her and told her that prayer changes everything," Gray said.
Gray said being in Jena was a touching moment for her.
"I just stood there and had to say a prayer on Jena ground," she said. "I felt like they need to know they are not alone. Man doesn't have the last say, God is in charge. The Concerned Citizens are always somewhere trying to help somebody. We are all about peace and unity. I felt like Jena needed us to stand with them. I have two sons, one that goes to Troy and I can't imagine him being in a fight at that school and being in jail for nine months."
Gray said there is a special person in her life she appreciates for allowing her to experience the rally in Jena.
"I need to thank my husband (Wayne Gray Sr.) for letting me go," she said.
Gray also had some words of advice for those stricken by things going on in the United States.
"There is one scripture in the Bible that I would like to close with," she said. "2 Chronicles 7:14 says 'If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from Heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.' My plea is to have all people call on the Lord so he can heal our land."

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