This year, I did something daring. I packed up everything and moved with my husband to the city of Charleston. We had fallen in love with the culture, the people, and the laid back lifestyle when visiting in the past, so when life gave us an opportunity to finally move five states away from our hometown in Pennsylvania, we took it and ran. Ever since we pulled up in front of our little home in Mt Pleasant for the first time, we haven’t looked back. We’ve met great people, gone on little adventures around town, and soaked up the South Carolina sun. But what has really rooted this place into becoming our home has been the amazing community that flourishes here. One recent event has fully illustrated how genuine, strong, and resilient this community truly is.
On June 17th, 2015, an evil being filled with hate walked into a church in Charleston and open fire, killing nine courageous, virtuous human beings, solely based on the fact that they were African American. They had opened their church to him and he responded to this beautiful act of acceptance with an act of racism and violence.
How can the human mind even wrap around the idea that someone could do this? How can you not feel anything but rage, sadness, and confusion?
Instead, the people of Emanuel AME Church did something unexpected. They forgave him. Through their actions, they responded to hate with love and peaceful remembrance of the Charleston Nine.
My husband and I watched the live coverage of the service on Sunday at Emanual AME Church and at one point, Reverend Norvel Goff said “A lot of people expected us to do something strange and to break out in a riot. Well, they just don’t know us. We are people of faith.”
Now, I am not much of a religious person, but this blew me away. The normal human reaction is to have rage and justifiable anger for such a tragedy. Yet by forgiving and rising above, the AME Church shifted the public’s attention from the shooter to the victims, which is where it should be. They started the healing process and celebrated all the incredible lives of the Charleston Nine.
This was when I saw the true colors of the Charleston community. All the church bells throughout the city rang at 10 a.m. for the victims that Sunday. Thousands of people from all walks of life came together and joined hands from one end of the Ravenel Bridge to the other, to show a united front of support. Fundraisers were organized, prayer circles assembles, and flowers flooded the front steps of the church.
Charleston showed love instead of hate, peace instead of violence, unity instead of division. And that was something I wanted to be a part of.
We visited the church later that week to pay our respects. It was a calm and moving moment, looking at this incredible church and reflecting on how it has been a rock of faith in this sea of bigotry and racism. I said a little prayer for the victims and their families and wrote a note on the community poster. I then finally snapped a few photos to capture the spirit of this resilient community and wiped away a couple of tears before heading back home.
This was the only way to fight evil in this world. With love and forgiveness, quiet strength and justice.
Reverend Goff read from the book of Isaiah, “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper.” He then yelled to a cheering audience, “The doors are open at Emanuel this Sunday, sending a message to every demon in Hell and on Earth that no weapon, no weapon…shall prosper!”
A piece of art designed by the company Y’allsome says within the artwork, “Hate will not sink a city that loves”. It could not be more true.
This is a community I am proud to call my own. There is hope on the horizon.