How Charleston is honoring the shooting victims and banding together for peace

Last Wednesday, a white male gunman opened fire at a Bible study in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, a historic Black church in Charleston, South Carolina. He killed nine people: Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Rev. Daniel L. Simmons Sr., Susie Jackson, Myra Thompson, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Rev. Sharonda Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lee Lance, and Cynthia Hurd. The shooter, 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof, was taken into custody on Thursday morning, and while still under investigation, the shooting has already been ruled a hate crime by Charleston chief of police, Greg Mullen, and called an act of domestic terrorism.

In honor of the victims of this heartbreaking tragedy, the city of Charleston has banded together in support of peace, love, and equality for all. On Sunday evening, roughly 20,000 people participated in the Bridge to Peace walk, which took place across the 2.5 mile Ravenel Bridge that connects Charleston and Mount Pleasant. According to People, participants carried American flags and sang “This Little Light of Mine” and “God Bless America,” before holding a 9-minute moment of silence in honor of the nine victims.

Social media lit up with their beautiful message.

Earlier on Sunday, the Emanuel AME Church opened its doors for Sunday service, and the church was packed to capacity. The sermon’s message was one of solidarity, unity, resilience, and faith — an empowering and beautiful message on the heels of Wednesday’s tragedy.

“I want you to know, because the doors of Mother Emanuel [are open],” Rev. Norvel Goff Sr. said during the sermon, according to The New York Times, “it sends a message to every demon in hell and on earth.”

“We have shown the world how we as a group of people can come together and pray and work out things that need to be worked out,” he continued, according to CNN — before reminding the congregation that before we seek justice, the focus should be on helping the families of the victims.

His message spread far beyond Emanuel AME’s walls. A block away in Marion Square, hundreds of people came together in prayer at a gathering organized by interdenominational congregation, Awaken Church.

“To hatred, we say no way, not today,” Jermaine Watkins, a teaching pastor, said at the gathering, according to The New York Times. “To racism, we say no way, not today. To division, we say no way, not today. To reconciliation, we say yes. To loss of hope, we say no way, not today. To a racial war, we say no way, not today. To racial fear, we say no way, not today. Charleston, together, we say no way, not today.”

This past weekend’s events show the city’s ability to heal after what was an unspeakable act of racism, hatred, and violence. The Bridge to Peace walk and services held across Charleston have proven just how powerful messages of peace and love can be. By remembering and celebrating the victims’ lives, we continue to honor their memory and, hopefully, we step into the future united.

Our hearts and thoughts remain with the victims and their families.

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(Featured image via Instagram. Other images via Twitter and Instagram.)

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