Religious and secular leaders worked to harness frustration over the deaths of young black men and transform it into social progress Sunday as they called for greater respect for the value of black lives.
“We need to connect with the young people who are angry and upset,” the Rev. William E. Dickerson II, pastor of Greater Love Tabernacle in Dorchester, said in an interview Sunday. “We have to be solution-oriented. This could be a pivotal moment if we use it the right way.”
The church was among thousands of congregations participating in “Black Lives Matter Sunday,” a nationwide day of religious services named for a rallying cry used by protesters outraged that grand juries did not indict white police officers who killed unarmed black men Michael Brown in Missouri and Eric Garner in New York.
At Good Shepherd Church of God in Christ in Roxbury, Bishop Samuel Byron Hogan Sr. read a passage from the Gospel of Matthew in which Jesus explained that the good or ill a person does for “the least” of society is equivalent to doing the same for him.
“One thing we have to understand is that Jesus is concerned about everybody. . . . Nobody is labeled as ‘the least,’ ” Hogan said. “But it’s not that way in our communities, in our societies, because they look down on people who don’t have a degree, people who have a different skin color, people who don’t talk the same way that they talk.”
The ministers described what they said was a longstanding pattern of racial injustices, evoking the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and ’60s and tragic deaths from that era.
Hogan recalled his shock as a child reading about Emmett Till, a black 14-year-old tortured and killed in 1955 because he supposedly tried to flirt with a white woman in Mississippi.
Dickerson spoke of Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Denise McNair, and Cynthia Wesley — black children killed in a 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala.
“These young, innocent girls were killed, and their futures were thwarted; their dreams were eradicated simply because of the color of their skin,” Dickerson said.
They said the present moment could begin a new movement. They called for a broad agenda of community improvement and political engagement, asking congregants to teach their children to respect authority and live honorable lives, to mentor young people in their communities, to register to vote, and to bring their concerns to legislators.
They called on governments to diversify and better train their police forces and to engage with communities of color in meaningful dialogues.
Dickerson praised Mayor Martin J. Walsh for addressing issues of race.
“We have a mayor that’s willing to create city-wide dialogues on race relations,” he said in an interview. “That’s historic; that’s epic . . . that he would try to lead on that.”
Walsh said Saturday that he hears residents’ concerns about racial justice.
“We’re meeting with people, meeting with the ministers,” he said in an interview. “We’re looking at dialogues in the community.”
Juan M. Cofield, president of the New England Area Conference of the NAACP, said the organization is preparing for sustained political efforts over the coming months, with a tentative plan for a relay march from the New Hampshire State House in Concord to Beacon Hill and on to the Rhode Island State House in Providence.
Jim Thompson Jr., an elder of Global Ministries Christian Church in Dorchester, said the time has come to move beyond voicing frustration to presenting solutions.
“It has to be more than protests,” Thompson said. “We have to sit down with a plan, men and women of all faiths, to address the impact of economics, politics, and church accountability.”
Chanel Fields, 24, said Dickerson’s message gave her hope.
“I think it changed a lot of young minds in the church,” she said. “I need to focus on what’s wrong in my community first, and what I have experienced, to make a difference.”
David Abel of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at email@example.com.