It was an afternoon that began full of fun, fellowship and praise, but later ended with mayhem and foolishness.
On July 31, Mt. Ararat Baptist Church, in East Liberty, held their 14th Community Day picnic at Mellon Park, an annual event offering fellowship and fun to members of the congregation, as well as members of the community.
According to reports, while the picnic that entertained 3,000 individuals was wrapping up, a large group of young people visited the nearby McDonald’s, Trader Joe’s and even the new Target Store causing a raucous and what some are describing as a “riot.”
|REV. DR. WILLIAM CURTIS
Many are blaming Mt. Ararat, accusing the youth of their church and those that attended the picnic of causing or being involved in the incident, but Rev. Dr. William H. Curtis, pastor of Mt. Ararat would like to set the record straight.
According to Rev. Curtis, the youth involved in the hideous actions were not members of the church or from their picnic. He said that blaming their youth is unfair to the youth and the ministers that work with them.
Reverend Curtis said the incident began on the park’s basketball court when several young people from the community and other areas got into a disagreement and began fighting.
“Once we knew of the incident we called the police,” said Rev. Curtis. “We did not want it (the fight) to affect the picnic. Anything that happened at Target and McDonald’s, after, was not a result of our picnic.”
After police arrived and disbursed the crowd, the youth then went on to cause havoc at other nearby establishments.
An associate from Trader Joe’s refused to comment and gave the number for their corporate headquarters, but suggested that the other stores be contacted.
While most reports stated that the group of kids went into the Target store, which opened just weeks prior, Target staff said they did not. The Target store manager was not available but Target personnel who did not want to be identified said the youth never entered the store. Another Target store employee Kim Nemkovich said, “The individuals did not affect our store and it was business as usual.”
“Because we are an anchor in the community we have reached out to have a meeting with Target and McDonald’s,” Rev. Curtis said.
The church would like to discuss the incident and perhaps possible future partnerships, he said. As of the time of the interview he had not received a response, but said it was still early.
Also since the incident, the church has received some backlash. There have been negative comments, some Rev. Curtis said have been racial, and suggestions for the church to cancel future community day events.
While the suggestions may have been made, Rev. Curtis made it clear that he will continue to hold the church’s annual community day.
“Too many folk benefit from this. It is a very positive event,” he said. “We cannot let a negative incident like this affect such a positive event.”
Master Yusuf Owens, of a local martial arts studio who attended the community day and held martial arts demonstrations, agrees that the picnic should not be cancelled and said, “It (the community day) is a very good thing. (Reverend) Curtis should be commended for what he’s doing. There is a need for us to reach into the community and we cannot stop because of a few bad apples. The media doesn’t break things down, they go for what’s sellable.
“We have to let them (the disruptive people) know that we’re not going to stop something good for our people, but we just have to make it not available to those who are disruptive.”
Owens suggested that security measures be put in place for future events.
To the youth who were involved in the incident, Rev. Curtis said, “There are people that love them too much (for them to act like this.) And whatever caused the venting of this nature, the church is here for them. No matter what the issue may be. As the church’s motto states, ‘We are a ministry that cares.’”