Editor’s note: This story has been changed to clarify the location of Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church.
There are at least 10 people who have announced a run for mayor of Philadelphia this year, and they’ll all get a chance to talk to the congregants at Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church.
The congregation, located in Mt. Airy and Germantown, has started carving out time during its virtual Saturday prayer sessions for conversations with mayoral candidates.
The conversations are shared on the church’s social media accounts, or people can call in. Pastor Alyn Waller estimates about 4,000 people tune in to each session.
“I think an informed citizenry is what’s best,” Waller said. “And I think the role of the pastor, preacher, prophet is to kind of sit in the middle and call balls and strikes.”
It’s important to have a space where Black Philadelphians can voice their concerns — which largely revolve around public safety, he said. There were 516 homicides in Philadelphia last year, and nearly 80% of victims were Black, according to an analysis from the Office of the Controller. That’s more than twice as many homicides as the city saw in 2016, according to Philadelphia Police Department data.
Each of the four candidates that have appeared in the Enon Tabernacle series so far have brought up gun violence as a priority, Waller said.
“It comes up somewhere in everyone’s top three,” he said.
He said some candidates have emphasized the need for more policing, while others have focused on the systemic issues that drive the crisis such as racism, education and poverty.
Waller said many of his congregants want to see a mayor that can “[turn] the financial spigot toward Black people.”
“The mayor has the ability to create real opportunities for people,” he said. “To get contracts and do business with the city and the state and change their lives.”
The candidate conversations will continue through mid-February. On April 13, Enon Baptist will host a mayoral candidate forum where journalists from Black community media outlets will ask the questions.
Waller said he expects to see tons of forums come springtime, but they may not be as accessible as this one.
“I wanted to do this for the people who don’t get invited in closed rooms,” he said. “And when we see the big ones that’ll be on TV, they’ll probably be being asked questions that are not central to our concerns.”
Find out about upcoming conversations through Enon’s Facebook page.
If you or someone you know has been affected by gun violence in Philadelphia, you can find grief support and resources online.