Officials hope an evening of prayer and worship helps stem violence this Memorial Day weekend.
More than 120 people gathered at Carolina Forest Elementary on Thursday evening to pray over Memorial Day weekend and the thousands of motorcyclists it brings to the Grand Strand.
Joseph Washington, pastor of HOPE Church in Myrtle Beach, organized the “biker blessing” to promote safety, peace and unity among riders. Washington also wanted to kick off Atlantic Beach Bikefest with positive energy and affirmation.
“There needed to be a positive event during this week, especially after last year,” Washington said. “We wanted the bikers to know that we do appreciate them coming to the area.”
Three people died and seven were injured in eight shootings last year on Ocean Boulevard in Myrtle Beach during Memorial Day weekend.
Several hundred law enforcement officers will be present this weekend as tens of thousands of people travel to the area for a three-day weekend at the beach or to take part in Atlantic Beach Bikefest. Washington and other religious leaders said they hoped the blessing would stem some violence during the weekend, especially if visiting bikers feel welcomed and not harassed.
“Certainly there are people who come just to create chaos, but that’s only one percent,” Washington said. “Most are here for fun.”
Horry County Police Chief Saundra Rhodes echoed Washington’s wishes for a safe weekend, encouraging participants to “self police” any potentially dangerous situations; breaking up fights before they get out of hand was just one example she gave to the crowd.
“Two people can cause 100 people to act a fool,” Rhodes said.
People of several races, religions and creeds gathered for more than an hour to worship, read scripture and pray. Jaczulle Pegues, president and founder of Alpha Breed riders, said the service will help visiting bikers feel welcomed on the Strand.
The service welcomed leather-clad riders with open arms.
“It was really nice,” Pegues, of Myrtle Beach, said. “I’m a big faith person, but I know this is going to be helpful this weekend.
“Something like this – something welcoming – could bring more people into the area,” he said.
Pastors and members from Centenary United Methodist and Cedar Branch Missionary Baptist churches were also in attendance, as well as members of Chapter 40 Motorcycle Ministry. Deb Causey, vice-president of Chapter 40, said the best way to prevent violence is to show unity among all riders, regardless of race, religion, creed or bike style.
“We wanted to welcome the bikers with love and show them unity,” Causey said.
After the service, dozens of riders made their way to Atlantic Beach town hall “to show unity between the predominately African American and white motorcycle clubs,” Washington said. Organizers hope to continue the event every year.
“Prayer and praise is a great way to start off bike week,” Washington said.
Contact CLAIRE BYUN at 626-0381 and follow her on Twitter @Claire_TSN.