Ex-NFL pro makes play to raise money for burned Louisiana churches

Benjamin Watson wants people to open their hearts and wallets to help the people of St. Landry Parish rebuild their houses of worship

Benjamin Watson (Photo by Michael C. Hebert, New Orleans Saints)

A former pro football player is helping to bring awareness — and funds — to meet the needs of three historically Black churches in Louisiana’s St. Landry Parish that fell victim to arson.

Benjamin Watson, a tight end who played 14 years in the NFL, including four with the New Orleans Saints, has been taking to social media to promote fundraising efforts in hopes of helping the historic churches rebuild.

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St. Mary Baptist Church, Greater Union Baptist Church and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church made headlines after all three were burned within a 10-day span from late March to early April. Authorities initially did not confirm that the fires were connected nor whether there was foul play involved. An Opelousas, La., man, Holden Matthews, 21, has been charged in connection with the fires.

Since the fires, many people have reached out to help the three churches, including Watson who recently tweeted a link to a GoFundMe account that was set up by the Seventh District Baptist Association. Watson also shared an address where donations could be made.

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According to New Orleans station WGNO, the initial goal was to raise $1.8 million, but so far they have raised just over $53,000. The fire that did major damage to Notre Dame cathedral in Paris have apparently driven attention to the Black churches as well.

The New York Times reports that a crowdfunding campaign for the churches have surpassed that goal after a spike in donations inspired by the fire in France.

Matthews is still in police custody and WGNO reports that several pieces of evidence, both from the scenes and from technological resources, confirmed Matthews as the primary suspect. Though a motive has not been confirmed, Matthews has so far been charged with three simple counts of arson, hate crime charges are yet to be determined.

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