John Raphael, who led a crusade against violence in New Orleans as pastor of New Hope Baptist Church and on the streets where he frequently held days-long vigils, died of cancer at age 60 this morning.
Raphael's father, John Raphael Sr., was the city's first African-American police officer. Raphael also served in the force for 15 years then joined New Hope as its pastor in 1988.
In 2008, Raphael led Yes We Care to push for citywide anti-violence campaigns — which culminated in a March 28, 2009 rally at City Hall with 3,000 attendees. Raphael spent the last week of each year at the intersection of Claiborne Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, where he fasted and prayed to end street violence.
In 2011, Raphael told Gambit that New Orleans needs community-wide efforts to help at-risk young men in New Orleans.
We have to encourage them, we have to push them, and there is a lot of grassroots and groundwork that has to be done. I think churches can play a tremendous role. Some people have to get up every morning and look for a way to change their lives. Others will sit and wait — one day something's going to happen. But they'll get up if they have someone giving them a hand, saying, 'Listen, what's going on in your life and what can I do to help?' You have to help them, give them some alternative.
There are those things as a city and as a community we can't hide anymore. We can't shove them under the rug and pretend it's not there. We have to respond to it.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu issued a statement this morning:
I have personally relied on the wisdom and counsel of Pastor Raphael over the years, not just because of what he said, but because of how he lived. Pastor Raphael will be dearly missed.
Whether he was preaching on the corner, fasting for days on MLK, mentoring young people, or challenging us all to do more to end the death and violence on our streets, Pastor Raphael was consistent and responsible in challenging us all to do our part to reflect the love of God and improve our city. May our thoughts and prayers be with the Raphael and New Hope families.