“When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place.”
Emanuel AME Church was the first freestanding Black church in the South and the oldest in Charleston, South Carolina. The city of Charleston might be called the Holy City, but it’s history is anything but holy. It was the hub of slavery in America – a real live confederate Disneyland. The church was that space where Black people had a sense of ownership and religious liberation.
On June 17th, 2015, a white supremacist walked into a bible study and murdered nine African Americans. “I need to see my Mama. I need to hold my Mama. My best friend is gone. Everything I had in this world is gone. They wouldn’t let me see my Mama and the next time I saw her…she was in a casket.” Theses are the words of Nadine, whose mother attended Emanuel AME Church for over 40 years. She was one of nine people who were God-fearing, church going individuals who lost their lives in the place of worship. The one place where folks deem as a safe refuge. People who were mothers, daughters, sons and upstanding pillars of the community who were just extending their faith through Bible study.
Some watched their loved ones as life eeked out of them. Some never got a chance to say Goodbye. Some died in a hail of bullets and one was left to tell the tale of the young white man with dirty Timberland boots who had apparently snapped.
The person responsible for such a heinous crime had convinced himself that Black people were taking jobs and making white people inferior. His rage was fueled in part by the Trayvon Martin case. He believed that the white race had become soft and it was his job to do something about it. Racism is as American as apple pie. Due to the historical treatment of people of color in this country it should not be a surprise that this incident occurred. I will not mention his name in this article as I feel the ridiculous racial rhetoric that resulted in the loss of life doesn’t deserve one more second of attention.
Two months prior to the incident in Charleston, Walter Scott was shot five times in the back. Ferguson. Rodney King. Eric Garner. Time after time we are visually exposed to images of black men executed on the street like animals. So, it suffices to say that this young man was just following suit with what our country has instigated, encouraged and become comfortable with for decades. It also suffices to say, that as people of color we are resilient and forgiving. At this young man’s arraignment, one family member after another offered statements expressing their forgiveness, blessing his soul and not spewing the same hatred his actions incited. It was one of the most powerful expressions of forgiveness this country has every seen proving the adage hate never wins is alive and well within the church community. Of course, for some, the pain of senseless death still lingers and forgiveness is a work in progress for a few of those individuals left behind.
Emanuel is laden with a plethora of lessons. Lessons in humanity, love and hate. After the shooting, after four decades of resilient work, the confederate flag was taken down. A flag that in its sheer existence represented a painful past for people of color in this country.
Random shootings were once an event that seemed outside of our realm, as these things didn’t happen in America. Now, it’s a daily occurrence at schools, gas stations, churches street fairs and anywhere a deviant, mentally ill individual can get away with unmercifully snuffing out innocent lives. Produced by Mariska Hargitay, Viola Davis and Steph Curry, Emanuel should be required viewing to consistently remind us that we should never become comfortable with mass shootings. That is not the America I grew up in and shouldn’t be the America you want for your children. Grab your church, your friends and anyone you feel needs to be educated on forgiveness and take them to the exclusive screenings happening only through Fathom events on June 17th (four year anniversary of the shooting) and 19th featuring an exclusive conversation with Steph Curry and Director Brian Ivie. For tickets and more information go to www.FathomEvents.com.