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Prayer march fosters healing

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Prayer marchers walk down Mulberry after stopping to pray at Jim & Lou's bar, which was burned in the Oct. 15 riot.

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Annie Walker said she was shocked last month by the magnitude of violence that erupted in her North Toledo neighborhood when a planned neo-Nazi march sparked a riot.

"I didn't know the anger was so severe and so deep," Ms. Walker said.

Because of the Oct. 15 riot and the stain many think it has left on that community, Ms. Walker decided to join more than 50 people yesterday on a march through North Toledo led by local religious leaders.

"Today, we are about promoting peace, healing, unity, and love in our community, and it has to begin with us," said the Rev. Will Stuart of Nu-Vizion Christian Fellowship of the United Church of Christ.

The march started at Woodward High School with a prayer and continued though the streets where nearly a month ago looters struck several businesses, rioters assaulted bystanders, and crowds of people threw rocks at vehicles and the police.

More than 120 people were arrested throughout that day.

Rioters burned Jim & Lou's bar, looted a carryout and a gas station as well as other businesses, flipped over a car, and injured a police officer and two firefighters with rocks.

Yesterday, the marchers stopped to pray in front of the locations where some of the worst violence occurred, including the American Petroleum gas station at Central and Stickney avenues, which was looted.

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The Rev. Will Stuart, left, North Toledo resident John Szych, and the Rev. Stephen Ward pray together outside Mr. Szych's Bronson Avenue house, which was damaged in the Oct. 15 riot.

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"This is to help unite the community with one common purpose," said the Rev. Stephen Ward of Northgate Community Church. "I was not surprised by the [violence] because when there is an organization that teaches hatred and they walk through a residential neighborhood, people will retaliate."

The neo-Nazi group, whose visit last month incited the riot, plans to return to the city Dec. 10.

The group plans to stage a demonstration against the police and the city for their handling of the group's planned October march, which was canceled before it began but resulted in several hours of rioting.

More than 600 people eventually swarmed to the north end to confront the neo-Nazis.

This time, spokesman Bill White said the National Socialist Movement will rally on the steps in front of Government Center in downtown Toledo instead of returning to the north end.

Many of yesterday's marchers were either raised in North Toledo or live there now.

Andy Hurley, who lived as a child on both Mettler and Champlain streets, said the neighborhood can recover from the blight seen in many areas.

"What's beautiful about this community is the diversity," Mr. Hurley said.

"The riot is not what this neighborhood is about. And when they come back, we are going to organize more community support and ignore them."

Associate Pastor Mansour Bey of the First Church of God, who helped organize a counter-event the day of the riot, said he would do the same when the neo-Nazis returns.

"On the Friday night before, we will go down there and have a prayer service, and we will consecrate Government Center," he said.

"The next day, we will bring brooms, mops, and buckets and wash away the hate that they brought to Toledo."

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171.

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