The photo of the “Charleston Strong” print shown above is the work of April Knight. All profits from each print sale were given directly to the families of the Emanuel AME Church shooting victims.
As the nation knows by now, on June 17th, 21 year old Caucasian Dylann Storm Roof, from Columbia, South Carolina walked into the oldest African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina and sat down with the parishioners that were present for Wednesday night bible study. After sitting with the parishioners, praying and talking with the AME members about the bible for approximately one hour, Dylann Storm Roof took out a gun he had hidden on his person at approximately 9:00 PM and opened fire, shooting and killing nine members of the church in the hopes of starting a race war.
Charleston is the city I call home – the city known as the Holy City. I had been struggling to wrap my head around the hatred that led to the slaughter of nine God loving people. I suppose, like so many others in the Charleston area, my grief overcame me. I have not seen, or been exposed to this level of raw hatred since my military deployments. I was heartbroken, and if I were honest, I have to admit that I was also depressed. I know this because I have not been able to concentrate on my reading, or my writing. I stopped, again. I took to my bed when I could, and I was frightened by the familiar feeling of fear. A new fear, but fear nonetheless; however, it did not take long for my fear to be trumped by my anger, and my wanting to find some way to do something to fight back against this hatred and violence on our home front where we should all feel safe. I realized the only way I could fight back was with pen in hand. I was not prepared for the opportunity that would present itself – to be part of something never before seen in the United States.
On Sunday, June 21st – four days after the shooting, I would get my opportunity to do something, if nothing more than to show up. The world had already seen the hatred that turned to rioting, looting and destruction of the cities of Oakland, California in 2009, Los Angeles, California in 2013, Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 and the most recent in Baltimore, Maryland. And I suspect that there were more than not that expected, perhaps anticipated, the same violence, rioting and looting to happen in the Holy City of Charleston, South Carolina, but I am extremely proud to say that did not happen. Charleston united! All races and ethnicities came together and joined hands as one in love, peace and unity. There was no rioting, fighting, hate crimes of retaliation, fires, looting, or destruction in the Holy City.
On June 21st, 2015 an estimated 15,000 people came together in solidarity to honor the nine victims that were shot and killed in Charleston’s Emanuel (AME) Church Wednesday night, June 17th. The Bridge to Peace Unity event brought people from all walks of life, as well as hundreds from throughout the state of South Carolina, and still others that traveled from other states to support the united people of Charleston in forming a human Bridge to Peace Unity Chain on the Author Ravenel Jr. Bridge. This was an unique opportunity for the estimated 15,000 people gathered together in Charleston, some holding hands, others crying and hugging one another, some holding signs offering free hugs, but all united to make the statement to the world that Charleston is opposed to hate crimes in our city, and in our state of South Carolina.
There were two distinct events that stood out to me as I stood as one of approximately 10,000 people gathered beneath the Author Ravenel Jr. bridge on Sunday; all people gathered together in peace, love and unity. Cindy and I left early because we were afraid there would be so many people at the park that we would not be able to find a parking spot. The event was scheduled to begin at 7:45 PM; Cindy and I arrived at the Park at 3:30 PM. We took water, a sheet, and books to keep us busy until the event started, but when we arrived, we were dismayed to find there was no crowd. The event had been initiated via a Facebook Page titled Bridge to Peace – Unity Chain for Emanuel AME Church.
We found a small oak tree in the park that provided us with some shade from the hot sun and settled beneath the tree. I could not concentrate on the book I had in hand, and I kept asking Cindy, “What time is it now?” My worry escalated as 6:00 PM, 6:30 PM, 7:00 PM passed and there were very few people in the park. Suddenly, and I cannot tell you the time, there were people as far the eyes could see. I was emotionally moved and wiped away the tears that amassed in my eyes. Cindy and I gathered our belongings, made our way over to where the speakers were set up and finagled our way up front.
This was when the second, and perhaps the most profound event took place. I had seen a group of African Americans earlier, all dressed in black, and what looked to be their leader wearing black sweat pants and a black hoodie that said “Black Lives Matter” in white. I will not lie; when I initially saw this group following the Mount Pleasant Chief of Police to another location upon their arrival, I was fearful, if but momentarily, of what this peaceful “United” event would escalate into.
The Mount Pleasant Chief of Police emerged from the crowd with this group, as well as a group of Caucasian women. One of the women was a housewife and mother who had organized the event. The Chief of Police addressed the crowd about the event and thereafter introduced the African American I had seen earlier dressed in the black sweats and hoodie. Introduced as the Cincinnati Executive Director of the official “Black Lives Matter”, Jay Johnson took the microphone and to my astonishment, he removed his hoodie and said, “It’s not black lives that matter any more. All lives matter.” And he added, ”We are united as the human race.” Tears flowed, there was clapping and shouts of joy and my fear melted away with my tears. I have included the YouTube video of Jay Johnson speaking to the crowd; please take a moment to watch the short video to garner the full effect of this historical moment.
After Jay Johnson spoke, he, the Mount Pleasant Chief of Police and the women who organized the event began the walk up to the Author Ravenel Jr. Bridge where approximately 10,000 of us began walking from the Mount Pleasant side of the bridge to meet approximately 5,000 walkers coming from the Charleston side. When both sides met in the middle there were nine minutes of silence, one minute for each member that had died in Emanuel AME Church at the hands of a racist.
I do not do well in crowds, especially large and noisy crowds, but I pushed through with the estimated 10,000 others that had come to take a stand against hate crimes. My hair was wet from sweat and nerves, my Charleston t-shirt that I had proudly worn was soaked from the heat and my anxiety, my face became beet red from the anxiety of the multitude of bodies that swallowed me up, which set off the familiarity of the fear that I had come to know from my deployments. I fought the fear, and I fought the anxiety creeping up on me with every part of my heart and mind. This would normally set off a panic attack. I pushed on while Cindy kept a watchful eye on me for signs of a panic attack. And she would periodically ask me if I was alright, or if I wanted to turn back. I could only shake my head as I kept moving forward and in doing so, not only did I have a voice against the racial hatred that is bred in the United States, but I also had a voice against the radical Al-Qaeda hatred that had left me paralyzed for the last nine years.
In my heart, I know that Charleston made a significant impact on the world watching the events unfold on Sunday, June 21, 2015 as 15,000 people from all races united as one. I am proud of the city I call home, and I’m just as proud of Charleston’s communities for being the first to stand up and take the first steps to change racial hatred and divide in our country. The event ended with a beautiful sunset. This magnificent sunset seemed to draw those returning from the bridge to share another silent moment of solidarity. And as the sun finally set, the silence felt like a personalized eulogy to the nine people that brought an estimated 15,000 people together. These nine people did not die in vain – they are heroes and have made history here in Charleston, SC – the Holy City. Photo by: Cynthia R. Minor
I wish I could say that the Holy City had no hiccups; we did, but they were few and contained. We had some outsiders come in, after the shootings, and deface a 1932 Confederate statue by spray painting “Black Lives Matter” in red on one side of the base of the statue, and painting “This is the problem #Racist.” on the other side of the statue’s base. The statue is located in White Point Garden and was dedicated to the “Confederate Defenders of Charleston” who died at Fort Sumter, a popular tourist attraction in the beautiful city of Charleston. Apparently, there were some that did not believe or comprehend the fact that Charleston had united in opposition to hate crimes in our city. City workers immediately covered the base of the statue until they could restore the statue, removing that which was intended to incite hate.
We also had outsiders come in after the Bridge to Peace – Unity Chain for Emanuel AME Church Bridge walk and attempt to demonstrate and incite the race riot that Dylann Storm Roof had hoped for. They gathered in front of Emanuel (AME) Church where the nine parishioners had perished. They burned the American flag as they chanted and called for taking action. I do not believe they expected to find all races, ethnicities and religions standing united in front of the Emanuel AME Church, all singing Amazing Grace. The louder the ones hoping to incite a race war became, the louder Charleston sang Amazing Grace until the demonstrators slowly went away. I am sure they left feeling defeated, but I also believe they had to feel the love and unity somewhere within their persons. I wouldn’t be surprised if some had not become intoxicated by what they met with when they came to town to start trouble. This had never been seen, or experienced before; they expected a race war, but found love and unity in the Holy City that is Charleston, South Carolina.
On June 22nd, The Charleston City Paper’s front page had this to say about Jay Johnson:
“The man who gained media attention after taking off a Black Lives Matter T-shirt and declaring “All Lives Matter” at the start of Sunday night’s Bridge to Peace event is not affiliated with the national #BlackLivesMatter organization or with the local group Black Lives Matter Charleston, according to both groups and the man himself. The man, Cincinnati-based Jay Johnson, is the executive director of a separate group called Official Black Lives Matter, and he has an announcement to make: As of today, he’s changing his organization’s name to All Lives Matter. Johnson says the old name “has alienated particular groups.”
“After what I saw in Charleston, I want to say I’ve had an epiphany,” Johnson says. “What I saw yesterday was something that I had never seen. I really hadn’t. And it touched me and it touched a lot of different people. I talked it over with my leadership, and they’re like, ‘Listen, man, we’re elevating this thing. Let’s embrace it.’”
The article, in its entirety, is available through this link: http://www.charlestoncitypaper.com/TheBattery/archives/2015/06/22/no-a-national-blacklivesmatter-leader-did-not-say-all-lives-matter
Does this matter to Charleston? No! Charleston had already united before Jay Johnson showed up from Cincinnati. Does it matter that some outside haters traveled to Charleston wanting to stir the hate pot? No! Charleston remained united and scared the haters off. Does it matter that the Westboro Baptist Church announced its plans to picket the funerals of the nine lives taken in the Emanuel AME Church during a Wednesday night bible study? No! Charleston continues to stand united and ready for Westboro, or anyone else that wants to come to the Holy City to do unholy things, and Charleston was prepared to provide human wall barriers, if necessary, so the nine Christians from Emanuel AME Church could be laid to rest peacefully.
My heart, as well as so many other hearts have been broken into tiny pieces by the tragic event that took place in Charleston on June 17th, 2015, but my heart has also been made stronger by the unity of the Holy City I call home. I have remained silent on my blog during the burials out of respect to the nine Emanuel AME Church members. Yesterday, Reverend Daniel Simmons Sr., the last of the nine victims was eulogized in the state capitol of Columbia, SC. Before signing off, I want to memorialize all nine by name in my blog, and provide something about each parishioner so their lives are not forgotten. They were:
The Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41: A state senator and the senior pastor of Emanuel AME. Senator Pinckney was a husband and father to two children.
The Rev. Daniel Simmons, 74: Previously a pastor at another church in the Charleston area.
The Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45: A pastor at Emanuel, she was also a speech therapist and high school girls track and field coach. Sharonda was a mother to a son and two younger children.
Depayne Middleton Doctor, 49: Had once directed a community development program in Charleston. Admissions coordinator at Southern Wesleyan University. Depayne was a mother to four children.
Cynthia Hurd, 54: A 31 year manager and librarian to two of the Charleston County Public Libraries: The John L. Dart Library and the St. Andrews Regional Library. St. Andrews library is to be named for Cynthia Hurd.
Myra Thompson, 59: Wife of Rev. Anthony Thompson, vicar of the Holy Trinity Reformed Episcopal Church in Charleston.
Ethel Lance, 70: Attended Emanuel for most of her life. Ethel was a mother and grandmother.
Susie Jackson, 87: Ethel’s cousin, and longtime Emanuel AME church member.
Tywanza Sanders, 26: Known to those who knew him as Ty. Ty was a 2014 graduate from Allen University in Columbia.
I say to the nine of you, rest in peace. All nine of you paid the ultimate sacrifice; a sacrifice that was not in vain. Your city – your Holy City of Charleston, South Carolina will forever remember each one of you. You are heroes; all nine of you. You laid down your lives to unite a city and a state. Your city thanks you. And within my heart and knowing place, I have to believe that the uniting that your deaths were the result of here in Charleston will continue on – heart by heart, city by city and state by state until we are no longer at war with one another; until we no longer look at the color of a person’s skin and hate; until we all stand together – One Nation Under God. Godspeed!