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Remembering July 7: Pastor Richie Butler On Building Unity After Tragedy

Year of Unity
Richie Butler, pastor of St. Paul United Methodist Church in Dallas, speaking at the launch of the Year of Unity.

St. Paul United Methodist Church is just a few blocks from where a gunman disrupted a peaceful rally in downtown Dallas last year. Richie Butler, pastor of St. Paul United Methodist Church, said some church members were part of that once-peaceful rally.

"A number of people actually saw officers falling," Butler said. "Come to find out those same individuals had passed away."

He launched "A Year of Unity" to build community after the shootings. The tragedy, Butler said, gave members of his congregation a new sense of purpose.  

"Some of the work we're doing in the community, they're some of the very people who are much more engaged and concerned."

Interview Highlights: Richie Butler...

On the immediate aftermath of July 7:

"There were people who I know would never come together under any other circumstance, and it's unfortunate that tragedy will bring us together, but it did. Despite the weight and the pain and the anxiety, I think there was also, within that moment, a sense of hope. People rallied. We came together. How we do we take this moment and make it into a movement?"

On whether much has changed in a year:

"It's like creating a snowball effect. You have to get one snowflake at a time, and I think what we're trying to do [with the Year of Unity] is build momentum. As an African-American man, who has a 13-year-old son, when we think about some of the issues between blacks and police, there's still fear and still concern. but, I think we have to work together to calm some of those fears and to address some of the underlying issues." 

...On whether Dallas is a divided city:

"Race is one [issue]. I think there's socioeconomic challenges, specifically, in Dallas. There is a clear division between the haves and the have-nots. As a former athlete, one of the things I recognize is if a team is divided — I don't care how talented, I don't care how resourceful, I don't care how many dollars you pour into it —if they're not on the same page, that team cannot win.

"We've got to galvanize and recognize that if not, as Dr. [Martin Luther] King [Jr] said, 'We'll ultimately perish as fools.' And under my watch as a pastor, I'm going to fight like hell. If that means loving the hell out of some people to advance the ball and move it forward, that's what we will do."  

Richie Butler is the pastor of St. Paul United Methodist Church in Dallas.

Former KERA staffer Krystina Martinez was an assistant producer. She produced local content for Morning Edition and She also produced The Friday Conversation, a weekly series of conversations with North Texas newsmakers. Krystina was also the backup newscaster for the Texas Standard.
Rick Holter was KERA's vice president of news. He oversaw news coverage on all of KERA's platforms – radio, digital and television. Under his leadership, KERA News earned more than 200 local, regional and national awards, including the station's first two national Edward R. Murrow Awards. He and the KERA News staff were also part of NPR's Ebola-coverage team that won a George Foster Peabody Award, broadcasting's highest honor.