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VIA: USA Today

Leaders from the largest black Methodist churches have gathered in Columbia, South Carolina to seek solutions to the problems plaguing many young African Americans.

The event, which is being called the Great Gathering, is the first time these three denominations will jointly meet.

Participating churches are:

  • African Methodist Episcopal (AME)
  • African Methodist Episcopal Zion (AMEZ)
  • Christian Methodist Episcopal (CME)

The bishops organizing the summit, which takes place today through Wednesday (March 1-3) at the Carolina Coliseum in Columbia, say they will address issues including incarceration, drug abuse, unemployment and high school dropout rates that disproportionately affect blacks.

Those invited include not only the ministers and 5 million members of the three denominations but also politicians, educators, and others interested in these social issues.

Big-name speakers include several prominent black thinkers and activists:

  • Cornel West, a Princeton professor and expert on racial justice
  • Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund
  • Rev. Charley Hames Jr., pastor of the rapidly growing Bebe Memorial Cathedral in Oakland, California

“We have invited some of the best minds around the country and we do feel that they are going to be helpful to espouse many of these issues,” says senior Bishop George Walker of the AMEZ Church.

The three days will also include prayer, discussion and musical performances.

Rev. Staccato Powel, pastor at Grace AME Zion Church in Raleigh, N.C., and the chair and coordinator of the gathering, says:

We want to come out of this meeting with an initiative focused on the plight of African American males being caught up in the judicial system as well as having more of them matriculate through higher education. We feel our collective voices will really affect the issue, because when people of faith speak we have the voice of God behind us.

The event began with the three senior bishops, John Bryant of the AME Church, William Graves of the CME Church, and Walker of the AMEZ Church, who decided that the three denominations face many of the same issues within the African-American community and could better address them collectively. Says Walker:

We are hopeful that whatever comes out of Columbia will speak loudly not only to the administration but to America and it really is our intent to make a very bold statement to America to call its attention to many of the atrocities that our people are faced with, especially the African American male.