Rev. Kelvin Sauls, Pastor Shep Crawford and Councilmember Curren Price, Jr., gather at the “Church at the Park” celebration. (Courtesy Photo)

“Me and my wife were walking in the neighborhood and they told us to come over to the park. Everyone was nice to us and they gave us food and clothes and we danced and had fun,” said South Los Angeles resident Louis Sanchez.

Upwards of 2000 men, women and children made their way to the 3rdAnnual “Church at the Park” held at the historic South Park, located at 345 E. 51st Street in South Los Angeles. Pastor Shep Crawford, and co-pastor, Dr. Shalonda Crawford, of Experience Christian Ministries (ECM), led the festival-styled event, which aimed to promote peace and unity in the community.

In search of allies to help bridge the gap between Black and Brown residents, the Crawfords partnered with the Black Leadership AIDS Crisis Coalition (BLACC Faith), Latino Outreach and Understanding Division (LOUD) and the International Society of Black Latinos (ISBL), all initiatives of AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF).

The exciting fellowship offered music as well as free food, clothing, toiletries, employment resources, housing options, rapid HIV testing, education services, allergy testing, financial counseling, face painting, children’s games and a money machine challenge sponsored by AHF. AHF’s mobile unit tested more than 125 individuals while the pharmacy educated more than 100 individuals.

Pastors Shalonda and Shep Crawford, center, OG gang members and LAPD officers pledge to promote unity and peace in South L.A. (ECM photo)

“This event came out even better than I thought it would,” declared Pastor Shep. “We have been praying and planning for this event and to see Black, Brown, community, police and everybody come together, what more can you ask for? Overwhelmed is an understatement.

“To be able to serve the community, offer free resources and to actually meet the residents and shake their hands was invaluable. We wanted to let them know that we are here in the community as a church and a help for the people,” he said.

Jackie Harris of BLACC Faith added, “Church at the Park in South Park was an amazing event-filled day of inspiration, unity, families, community service, and strong partnerships. This would not have been possible without all the support that the respective teams provided.”

Jackie Harris of BLACC, Pastor Shep Crawford, Tammi Mac of KJLH and ECM co-pastor, Dr. Shalonda Crawford  (ECM photo)

Expressing similar comments, Rev. Kelvin Sauls, AHF board member, described the event as “an extraordinary opportunity to bridge church to the community through catalytic and collaborative partnerships. If you want your congregation to be real and relevant, adhere to the Great Commission and go from the pew to the pavement to the park!”

The event opened with high-energy, praise and worship by the Connection singers and the True Praise and Vizual Arts dancers. The hip hop group, Roqk Star, (Royalty of Queens & Kings), performed an explosive set with Dr. Crawford burst onto center stage to lead the rap.

The crowd roared with excitement, setting the stage for Pastor Shep to deliver a visual adaptation of the story of Joseph from the book of Genesis. Within minutes, he captivated and inspired the crowd.

Ninth District Councilmember Curren Price, Jr., also extended greetings and invited the crowd to utilize the newly-renovated South Park. Others speakers included representatives of Mothers of Slain Sons and former gang members turned gang interventionists, who all shared their stories.

       Deitrick Haddon (Cora J. Fossett/L.A. Sentinel)

Contemporary gospel artist Deitrick Haddon, Grammy award-winning vocalist Faith Evans and R&B singer Frankie J gave outstanding musical performances. “I’m glad to help touch people outside the four walls of the church,” proclaimed Evans. “My heart and soul have always been and will always be rooted in the Gospel!”

                Faith Evans (Cora J. Fossett/L.A. Sentinel)

In addition, LAPD Officer Cody Silva of the Newton Station led a prayer for the community, asking “may the God that gives you encouragement, give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and one mouth, you may glorify God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

“Thank you, Lord God, for the people here and the blessings that will come to this area. Thank you for new mindsets and new vision of moving forward. We claim victory in the name of Jesus and we claim South Park as a starting point for what you are doing in this community,” intoned Silva.

As for the future, Pastor Shep said that he plans to host a forum to develop strategies to promote peace between the various ethnicities residing in South L.A.

“I will have a panel with police, gang members, mothers, teachers, and principles to talk about how we can continue to work together and making sure we can bring more peace to this community,” said Pastor Shep.

Experience Christian Ministries (ECM) located at 326 E. 47th Place in Los Angeles. To learn more, visit