ST. PETERSBURG – Packed into a tiny church Sunday morning on Irving Avenue South, congregation members and esteemed guest swayed to the joyful noise of the Men of Faith Ensemble at the 27th annual Men’s Day Celebration.
This year’s theme was “Men of Faith Striving for Stronger Brotherhood,” and keynote speaker and St. Petersburg Chief of Police Anthony Holloway asked a question as old as the Bible: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
A brother is one that protects you, cares for you, loves you to the core and looks up to you, he explained.
“I look at myself today,” he said. “The only reason why I’m in the position I’m in today is one, because of God. The second one is I have some brothers.”
Holloway related a story about a police operation in the 1990s where he posed as a man selling crack on a street corner. A minister who recognized Holloway approached him and expressed surprise, but naturally, Holloway could not disclose his purpose out in the open street. The minster, clueless of what was happening but simply concerned for Holloway’s safety, was determined to help.
“He said, ‘Here’s what I’m going to do for you,’” Holloway recalled. “I’m going to buy all the crack off you, and go home because you don’t want to do this.”
That minister was there, Holloway said, being “my brother’s keeper.” The chief pointed out the importance of those of his generation helping younger folks get on the right path.
“I’m very blessed because I have people that work for me that are my brother’s keeper,” he said.
He asked everyone in the congregation: “Are you the voice that speaks up when they can’t speak up? Are you that person that’s going to stand up for them when you see something wrong? Are you ready to take that challenge?”
Even if community members believe its own police department is doing something wrong, they should step up and speak out.
“I don’t want either man or woman that’s out there doing something wrong wearing our badge,” Holloway said, to applause.
Passing along sets of skills or even being friends to those who are alone are also ways to be your brother’s keeper, he pointed out.
The path of life for everyone has detours, he explained, and there is often a reason. People can use detours, or mistakes, to help others find the right path and avoid their own deviations. Holloway said he is tired of putting young African Americans in jail. He spoke directly to members of his generation and said, “When are we going to step up?”
He spoke of a young mother who left her car running with her two kids in the vehicle, explaining that she was only going to be gone “for a minute.”
“Thank God no one paid for that minute,” Holloway said. “When are we going to talk to the parents about that?”
Referencing the city’s auto theft epidemic, Holloway said when your 14 year old comes home in a better car than yours, you should step up and talk to him. He encouraged everyone to be a “brother’s keeper.”
“Think about how you got where you got in this world and think about how many people helped you get there,” he stated. “The question is: what have you done to help someone get where they are?”
Assistant Chief Luke Williams, who has worked with seven police chiefs during his time on the force, said Holloway was the “absolute best chief that I have worked with.”
Holloway has transformed the St. Pete Police Department in a positive way, said Williams, who is due to retire in January.
“I am comfortable knowing that as a citizen of the city of St. Petersburg,” he said, “we have a leader in the police department who goes about the business of ensuring the safety of the community, the safety of the officers he leads, and more importantly, focuses on the fair treatment and the unbiased protection of the people we are sworn to serve.”
Community Service Awards were presented to Bro. John Muhammad, Principal Nikita Reed, Vincent Leeroy Smith, Eddie Lewis (posthumously), Eddie Tolliver, the Theta Eta Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity and the St. Petersburg Police Department.
Rev. Curtiss Long is the senior pastor of New Faith Free Methodist Church.