'We have an opportunity' after recent shootings, St. Paul pastor says

Pastor Danny Givens speaks to the media.
Pastor Danny Givens speaks at the NAACP press conference outside of the governor's mansion in St. Paul Thursday.
Evan Frost | MPR News

The Rev. Danny Givens has been outspoken in protests over the police shooting of Philando Castile, and recently lost a family member in unrelated violence in Minneapolis.

On Sunday, he stood before his congregation. They sang and clapped to recorded music. Givens was a bright spot at the front, wearing orange pants and a multicolored checked shirt, and swaying to the music.

Givens started his Above Every Name Ministries in 2011. The group holds services at a Unitarian church in the Summit-University neighborhood of St. Paul.

Along with the joyful noise, there were tears over the events of the week: Wednesday's shooting of Philando Castile, 32, by a St. Anthony police officer, and the death of 2-year-old La'Vonte King Jason Jones in a north Minneapolis shooting. Both lived in St. Paul.

Danny Givens
Speaking Sunday, the Rev. Danny Givens calls for justice in the killing of his 2-year-old relative in north Minneapolis.
Solvejg Wastvedt | MPR News

Co-pastor Marea Perry opened the service with a prayer.

"We don't take this time for granted, we don't take life for granted because there's babies that didn't wake up today, there's men that didn't wake up today."

Givens is at a particular crossroads in these tragedies. He knew Castile and has been outspoken in the protests following Castile's death. Givens is the clergy liaison with Black Lives Matter. He challenged Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton during a rally outside the governor's residence last week.

The next day, violence struck Givens' own family. The boy shot and killed in north Minneapolis and his toddler sister who was injured are the children of Givens' first cousin.

"One way or another, we gonna get justice," Givens said, and asked the congregation to repeat with him

Givens himself is no stranger to gun violence. He served 12 years in prison for armed robbery before becoming a minister. In a YouTube video, he tells how he exchanged gunfire with a police officer while robbing a bar.

On Sunday, Givens and other family members called on whoever fired the gunshots that hit the children to come forward.

But Givens had a broader message, too, about not waiting to act.

"And so finally we said we realize wasn't nobody coming for us, but us, so we picked ourselves up," Givens said. "And people had something to say about it."

A mostly white contingent from St. Paul's Unity Unitarian Church, where the service was held, joined Sunday's gathering. Givens welcomed them warmly. He had a message for them, too.

"During this time in our great city of St. Paul we have an opportunity to go and grab one of those sides of that stretcher and pick up our beloved black community, our beloved brown community, our beloved trans community, our beloved queer community, our beloved native community, our beloved Asian Pacific Islander community," Givens said. "We have an opportunity to pick our marginalized communities up, our oppressed communities up, and help carry them to justice."

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.