In the early hours of Wednesday evening, a young man sat down with a supportive group of people to listen to them discuss the Bible, God's presence in their lives, and to pray. After about an hour sharing this type of intimacy between strangers which occurs so often in Southern churches, he stood up and opened fire with a small caliber gun. He reloaded numerous times and took nine lives.
A white man in a predominately black church, who had been readily accepted into their prayer group.
Despite being unrepentant, he would later confess he almost didn't shoot them, because they had all been so nice. Despite his unrepentance for this merciless act, family members of many of the victims have stepped forward to publicly forgive him.
In a state whose capital still flies the Confederate flag, grieving family members came forward to forgive a man who senselessly and methodically murdered their loved ones.
I grew up just north of Charleston, South Carolina. I have walked its cobblestone streets and strolled beneath its grand oaks with their moist drapery of Spanish moss. I have shopped for trinkets in the old slave market and ridden in carriages pulled by horses. And, like that young man, I have attended prayer meetings in AME churches. (Not to mention Sunday services, Spring weddings, speaking in tongues revivals, and emotional funerals too many times to count.) And, I have friends and loved ones who remain their still.
As a survivor and a Southerner, the thing I am most drawn to and literally can not escape thinking about is that, that young man spent an hour with those people.
He shared moments of their humanity before taking their lives. He recognized that they were nice and treated him with open kindness before murdering them.
As a culture and a society, there is something extremely broken in that.
It goes well beyond the pews of that church and the cobblestone of that city. We live in a world where, even when we recognize briefly the humanity of another, we can dismiss it, diminish it, and extinguish it.
We should not just mourn the loss of those nine human beings, but should be awakened to the reality of the world we live in. We should be horrified and angry. We should stop being selfish and ignorant. We should speak out and stand up.
It is time to recognize each other's worth, not briefly, but always. Every moment of every single day.
No one person's humanity is worth more than another.
We share this planet: in different time zones, with different languages, with different ideologies, under different flags, and believing in different higher powers. But, we are all human.
Every life has worth. Our humanity matters. We must fight for each other, even in our differences. We must believe we each matter, seeing the worth in ourselves and each other.
Don't just recognize the humanity within the person beside you- embrace it, fight for it, and believe in it.
Never commit a single act, or allow through inaction an act, that would dismiss, diminish, or extinguish the beauty that is another human being.
That man took nine lives.
Take the first steps in reclaiming your own humanity by respecting the humanity of others. We need to help each other survive.
Take the Confederate flag down.
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