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Pastor Ezra Maize stands in Friendship Central Church on Friday afternoon. He will hold a Preach-A-Thon to help prevent violence on the streets of Chattanooga.

A local church hopes to stop violence by bringing people together and giving them something to do.

"I believe that if we can get people together in one place with the same objective, not just to remember those who lost their lives, but at some point we have to put a stop to what is going on," said the Rev. Ezra Maize, pastor of Friendship Central church.

Maize launches his plan for peace today. He's hosting a 24-hour preach-a-thon to honor 24 local people who died violent deaths this year. Each hour of preaching will be dedicated to a homicide victim.

The event starts at 11 a.m. today at Friendship Central, 7 North Tuxedo Circle.

"We don't have the same problem Missouri is having," Maize said. "We don't have white police shooting young black men. We're killing ourselves. At some point someone has to bring people together and say enough is enough."

Maize promises high-energy motivating messages from one hour to the next. Praise dancers and singers will perform for three minutes to give breaks between each sermon, he said.

The plan is to change the mindset of people who resolve conflict with violence, Maize said.

"I have high hopes for it," said 24-year-old Darnell Cooper, who has been distributing fliers about the day and upcoming events.

The preach-a-thon is just the start. On Oct. 31 the church will launch Midnight Madness, when the church gym and game room open at 7 p.m. and will remain open until everyone goes home. It could be 5 o'clock the next morning, Maize said.

Activities will include basketball tournaments including a $300 prize, a spades tournament and movies for the kids.

Midnight Madness will happen every weekend thereafter, said Maize, who said gang members suggested the idea.

"We're trying to motivate youth in the community," Cooper said.

Then on Nov. 2 the church is sponsoring a skate party with the intent of bringing students from Brainerd, Howard and Tyner together.

Chattanooga Police Department Chief Fred Fletcher and Mayor Andy Berke have committed to visiting the preach-a-thon and attending the skate party.

Maize also has started meeting with youth and adult parishioners after church brainstorming activities for the future.

"We want to be there for the youth," said 26-year-old church member Courtney Mason. "We're looking for long-term results."

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at yputman@timesfreepress.com or 757-6431.

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