During a back-to-school sunrise prayer service Aug. 27 at Oakwood/ 41st Street Beach, Deacon Leroy Gill was praying for a peaceful school year for all of Chicago’s students, but his mind was particularly on Darius Brown, a 13-year-old Holy Angels student who was shot and killed while playing basketball Aug. 3 on the South Side. Gill ministers at Holy Angels Parish and School, and he blessed Darius just two months earlier during a similar prayer service with youth from Catholic schools on the South and West sides. At that service, they were praying that the youth have a peaceful summer. “I died with him,” Gill said recalling Brown’s tragic death. “I live in Crete and I jumped in the car and went all the way down to the hospital but he had died.” Brown’s death has hit the Holy Angels’ community hard. “It’s a family and one of our brothers died,” he said. The Aug. 27 sunrise prayer services, organized by the Black Deacons of Chicago and the Office for Black Catholics, began last year as an effort to pray for a peaceful school year. They took place simultaneously at five beaches on the South Side (Rainbow, 63rd Street, Oakwood, 31st Street and 12th Street), each service focusing on a different type of violence — such as street or domestic violence. Gill said he hopes these prayer services prompt action on the part of the faithful to get involved to help protect the kids and reduce the violence. It’s all part of our being a pro-life church, he said. The time of the services is inspired by Scripture, Gill said. When Jesus had something important he wanted to ask of the Father, he got up early to do it. Gill was joined by two priests and another deacon at Oakwood Beach for prayer, praise and some liturgical dancing. About 40 people joined them. Among them was Hales Franciscan High School Principal Arthur Reliford. Reliford echoed Gill’s hopes that the Catholic community become more involved in ending the violence in these communities. “Small actions are needed. We need strong mentors for our males. We need jobs for their fathers,” Reliford said. “We have to change the culture now.” Churches, government, men and women and community groups have to join together to talk and stop the violence, he said. He encouraged anyone who wants to get involved and offer their “time, talent or treasure,” to contact him at the school. Catholic schools Superintendent Dominican Sister M. Paul McCaughey also attended the early morning service at Oakwood Beach. “I believe the prayer flowed from this beach and these people and can transform our streets, and our schools will be a vital part of it,” Sister M. Paul said.