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Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Southern University standout running back Lenard Tillery, a featured guest at 'A Gathering of Neighborhood Boys,' speaks Saturday, July 2, 2016 at New St. John Baptist Church. Tillery and LSU men's basketball head coach Johnny Jones encouraged youngsters in the church's Boys Academy in the basics: staying in school, getting good grades and making good life choices.

Travis Spradling

The young man in camouflage pants and black T-shirt wandering outside the Triple S Food Mart Wednesday night picking up discarded water bottles, food wrappers and cigarette butts likely got little notice among the hundreds of protesters packed there to protest the fatal shooting of Alton Sterling.

But a couple of recent Southern University grads, Alfred Earley and Ebonni Jackson, recognized Lenard Tillery, the star running back at Southern and pitched in to help.

“He just said he’s got to keep his community clean,” Earley said, of why Tillery chose to take on cleanup duties on an oppressively hot and humid July night in Louisiana.

Earley alerted The Advocate to the quiet, selfless deed he thought warranted mention amid the angst and turmoil prompted by Sterling’s shooting.

It didn’t seem out of character for Tillery.

A little over a week before, Tillery had spent his Saturday at New St. John Baptist Church speaking to a group of young men in Baton Rouge, urging them to stay in school, concentrate on their academics and make good life choices.

Tillery said he went to the protest Wednesday to support those gathering to speak out against what had happened in the store’s parking lot the night before, a police shooting that triggered nationwide protests.

He said there are different ways to take a leadership role and he decided one thing he could do was clean up.

“Sometimes small things like picking up trash make a difference,” Tillery said. “You have to show pride in your community and lead by example.”

In addition to the two students from Southern, he said, a couple of little kids from the community pitched in to help.

“It warms your heart,” Tillery said. “It shows people are just looking for someone to show you the way.”

Faithful offer prayers for healing, patience

Downtown drivers and passers-by on their lunch break Thursday paused to take in a demonstration in Town Square.

Over the course of the week, politicians delivered impassioned speeches, demonstrators chanted and carried signs demanding justice for Alton Sterling, and his family members tearfully remembered the spirit of the man shot and killed by a police officer.

But this crowd was different.

Accompanied by acoustic guitar, the Methodist-organized, mostly-white group held hands and sang “This Little Light of Mine.”

The demonstration, which included Scripture readings and prayers, was organized in response to the shooting. However, it didn’t call for prosecution or make any specific demands of authorities. Rather, organizers acknowledged that the situation may be more complex.

“Let us not rush to the language of healing before understanding the fullness of the injury and the depth of the wound. … Let us not rush to offer a Band-Aid, when the gaping wound requires surgery and complete reconstruction,” prayed United Methodist Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey.

After the Sterling shooting, religious leaders from all over the area convened, and leaders of African-American congregations shared that their flocks were hurting, Harvey said in an interview.

“Our hearts are very troubled right now,” she said. “The only right response for the people of God is to gather and pray.”

Pastors from various churches read other texts including the Beatitudes, the “God is love” passage from the Gospel of John and a prayer written by Martin Luther King Jr.

Advocate Assistant Metro Editor Greg Garland and staff writer Steve Hardy contributed to this article.