It started with a new building and a prayer.
When the 60-year-old congregation for Healing Cathedral Temple in Whitehaven decided to change location five years ago, Marilyn Boyd, member of the church, decided it would be a good idea to mark the move with a congregational walk from the old building to the new one.
“One of my roles at the church is the health ministry leader. We do several things to encourage people to be active and healthy both spiritually and physically,” she said.
The six mile walk from the old location on Flynn Road to the new location at 4523 Elvis Presley Boulevard, became what is now called The Healing Races.
The annual event, which draws more than 200 people, has evolved into a 1 Mile race, 5K, 10K and a children’s challenge held in the church gym. This year it will begin Saturday, March 17 at 8:00 a.m.
The Healing Races will focus on raising awareness about health and literacy in Whitehaven. The church plans to give away about 400 books to children that participate this year.
Boyd said the first two to three years of the race focused solely on health, but the illiteracy she noticed in children in Memphis cannot be ignored.
“We are hosting this event to help unite the community and to promote the importance of reading,” she said. “We are trying to do as much as we can to get the word out about the race and attempt to heal the literacy lag.”
She said as she and her team researched the issue, she saw direct correlations to illiteracy and crime in neighborhoods.
According to Literacy Mid-South more than 45 percent of all inmates in local jails, 40 percent in state facilities, and 27 percent in federal corrections institutions did not graduate from high school.
The site also states that 14 percent of adults in the country don’t read well enough to comprehend a newspaper or job applications and that 43 percent of adults with low literacy live in poverty.
“We found out that so many people can’t read at the level they should be on,” she said. “This not just an issue in Whitehaven but in all parts of Memphis.”
During the week, neighborhood kids meet at Healing Cathedral Temple for tutoring and sports activities. One evening when the pastor of Healing Cathedral Temple, Tyrone Hunt, spoke to a group of youth playing basketball at the church a teen boy expressed that he wants to become a pastor one day.
Hunt, pastor at Healing Cathedral Temple for the past 22 years, began mentoring the teen. On their first afternoon together, they opened the bible to read the Lord’s Prayer and the young man couldn’t get past, “Our Father.”
Hunt then realized, he needed to make literacy a focus in his church for youth. The teen has been visiting Hunt for a year now to read and complete vocabulary building exercises after school. Hunt said he sees a change in the teen’s confidence and wants to see youth mentoring in his church and in the community.
The church offers tutoring and homework assistance throughout the year to neighborhood youth on Wednesday nights.
“Our ministry strives to promote healing of the total person in mind, body and spirit. The illiteracy rate in Memphis is alarming,” Hunt said. “This is our way of trying to put a dent in it. Hopefully other churches and businesses will use the race as a way to help raise awareness as well.”
According to a 2003 study by the National Center for Education Statistics, 13 percent of people in Tennessee lack basic literacy skills.
Hunt, who grew up in Whitehaven, said he’s also noticed an increasing number of dialysis centers in Whitehaven.
Dialysis be used as a long term or short term treatment for kidney issues.
“These centers are going up everywhere. We believe if we can promote healthy eating and some form of physical activity, we can prevent people from having to use these centers,” he said. “It’s a life changing event. Typically the machine is hooked to you for four hours. That’s half of a work day. We want to help stem the tide.”
Ultimately, Hunt said that through partnerships with other churches and community organizations, the Healing Races promotes healthy choices.
“We want people to be more conscious of their own health,” he said. “We wish to put (dialysis centers) out of business in a good way.”
Partners and sponsors for the race include Faith Temple, Abundant Grace Fellowship, Greater Lakeview Baptist Church, State Farm Insurance, McDonalds, Southern College of Optometry, Malco Movie Theatres, Chuck Hutton Toyota, Lenny’s Subs, and Perkins Restaurant.
Registration for the race is open at thehealingcathedral.org for teams and individuals.