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The state of black Minnesotans
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Stevie Wonder appeared at the Unity 2003 service as a guest of the Rev. Jerry McAfee, right. He urged the crowd to continue working toward unity and civil rights. (MPR Photo/Brandt Williams)
African-American church and community leaders say black Minnesotans face growing challenges in today's troubling economic times. At a Sunday evening worship service held in the State Theater in Minneapolis, black leaders told the crowd of nearly 500 that African-Americans still face high rates of unemployment, poverty and health problems. They expressed hope that through church and community collaboration, those problems can be solved.

Minneapolis, Minn. — Several speakers at the Unity 2003 service asked the audience to pray for the troops in Iraq. However, the Rev. Randy Staten rallied the crowd to go to battle in another kind of war.

"We come here to unite, and to wage a war until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream," Staten said.

Staten is the head of the Coalition of Black Churches, one of the organizers of Sunday's event. Though he supports the troops, Staten spoke out against the war in Iraq. He said America's greedy and decadent habits created the need for the country to go to war.

Staten also took on the Pawlenty administration for proposed budget cuts to programs which serve mostly low-income and people of color.

"The governor says we are rewriting the state budget so that we can address our value systems. Well, Mr. Governor, you need to know that your value system conflicts with our value systems," said Staten.

The program was also an opportunity for churches to present how they address some of the problems which affect the black community. Several pastors talked about how they reach outside the walls of the church to help those in need.

"In 1986, the Lord spoke to me about starting a program to address the issues of domestic abuse and family violence within the Christian community," said the Rev. Dr. Diane Thibodeaux, pastor of Holding Forth the Word of Life Church in North Minneapolis.

Thibodeaux said her mission to address domestic violence has led to the creation of several programs which serve more than 200 women, including a 24-hour daycare service for women who are trying to leave an abusive relationship.

The service included music by a mass choir made up of singers from nearly 20 churches. There was also an unexpected guest -- singer Stevie Wonder.

Wonder appeared as the guest of the Rev. Jerry McAfee of New Salem Baptist Church. McAfee told the crowd that Wonder was in the middle of recording a new album, but was so moved by the idea of the event that he wanted to come. Wonder said unity is very important these days.

"Particularly in a time when we have so much happening, that is on the contrary of unity -- a kind of false unity," Wonder said. "A kind of unity that talks about our father god, or Allah. We are hearing people talking about the goodness of God, but do the violence of Satan."

Wonder also encouraged the crowd keep up the fight for civil rights.

Organizers say they will compile a report on the state of black Minnesotans, complete with statistics on the most pressing concerns for the black community.

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