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    City minister challenges residents to defend young lives

    A worshiper prayed Sunday at the Azusa Christian Community Center in Boston, where the focus was on Raekwon Brown’s death.
    Keith Bedford/Globe Staff
    A worshiper prayed Sunday at the Azusa Christian Community Center in Boston, where the focus was on Raekwon Brown’s death.

    When friends and family of Raekwon Brown, the high school junior gunned down last week, gather Thursday to bid him farewell, the Rev. Eugene F. Rivers will issue a challenge to the community.

    “Make sure his death was not in vain,” Rivers said during a Sunday morning service at the Azusa Christian Community Center on Washington Street. “The black community has to press for resources that will help families in these violent neighborhoods at the ground level.”

    Rivers will lead the funeral service Thursday morning at the Charles Street A.M.E. Church on Warren Street in Roxbury, where he said the life of the 17-year-old Jeremiah E. Burke High School student will be celebrated during an hourlong service.

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    “We will be preaching a message of salvation,” Rivers told a small congregation on Sunday. “Then you challenge those who remain because God has a message for the life of every individual who has lived on the planet.”

    The Rev. Eugene F. Rivers spoke about the late Raekwon Brown during Sunday’s services at the Azusa Christian Community Center.
    Keith Bedford/Globe Staff
    The Rev. Eugene F. Rivers spoke about the late Raekwon Brown during Sunday’s services at the Azusa Christian Community Center.
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    Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who met with the family last week and spoke at Burke’s graduation Friday night, is expected to attend Brown’s wake at 10 a.m. in the Charles Street church, his office said.

    Brown, a popular student, who got good grades and had a nearly perfect attendance record, was shot to death Wednesday, moments after a fire alarm went off at his Dorchester school at about 1 p.m. and students left the building. Three others were wounded in the shooting including two students, one of whom was Brown’s cousin, and a 67-year-old woman.

    Boston police are still investigating the shooting, said police spokesman Officer James Kenneally. As of Sunday evening, no arrests had been made.

    Rivers asked his congregation to pray for justice and for people to stand up.

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    “God is calling on us to step up,” he said. “I’m feeling that family’s pain. When I heard of the young boy getting shot, I thought about my child. We’ve got to build a movement to defend these kids.”

    Rivers raised concerns about the long-lasting impact Brown’s death and the shooting will have on students at the school and residents in the community.

    “These young black people are traumatized in ways no one has focused on,” Rivers said. “This tragedy is an opportunity to mobilize, reduce stress and trauma by focusing on the unique experience of black youth in the city.”

    He recalled driving one of Brown’s friend’s home after a vigil for the slain teen last week. As they drove, the friend spoke emotionally about her brother who had been stabbed to death earlier this year on Devon Street several blocks away from the Burke school. Every time she passed by that spot, it was painful for her, Rivers said she told him.

    Passersby stopped to view a memorial for Brown on Sunday.
    Keith Bedford/Globe Staff
    Passersby stopped to view a memorial for Brown on Sunday.

    Rivers called on city officials to help residents and students cope with such traumatic events.

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    After the shooting, trauma counselors provided one-on-one and group counseling for students and staff at the Burke school, according to Andria Amador, assistant director of behavioral health services for the Boston public schools.

    “We all are very saddened by the loss of a student and realize how huge of an impact it has had, not only on the school community, but to the functioning of students,” she said.

    After Sunday morning’s service at the Azusa Christian Community Center, congregants wondered what it might take to end youth gun violence.

    “It’s just sad to see this continue to happen in the black community,” said Greg Davis, 35, a father. “To see a young male get shot over something so frivolous . . . at some point in time it needs to stop.”

    Davis said initiatives like the city’s gun buyback programs don’t go far enough toward getting guns off the street.

    Kenneally said more than 300 guns have been taken off of the streets so far this year.

    Brutawit Anteneh, 30, also a member of the church, worried that services for students in the wake of Brown’s death might wane as the school year comes to a close. The last day of classes is June 24.

    “These kids are going to have to live with this trauma,” she said.

    On Sunday, Boston Public Schools announced that men of color from Boston and surrounding communities will greet students at the Jeremiah E. Burke High School as they arrive Monday at 7:30 a.m. to “show support, encouragement, and examples of positive role models in the wake of a tragic loss within the school community.”

    Jan Ransom can be reached at jan.ransom@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Jan_Ransom.