Charleston shooting gathering draws about 250

Published 10:00 pm Monday, July 13, 2015

The Thermal Belt Friendship Council held a Peace, Love and Understanding event in response to the Charleston shooting on Thursday, July 9 at Rogers Park in Tryon with approximately 250 local residents in attendance. (Photo by Leah Justice)

The Thermal Belt Friendship Council held a Peace, Love and Understanding event in response to the Charleston shooting on Thursday, July 9 at Rogers Park in Tryon with approximately 250 local residents in attendance. (Photo by Leah Justice)

A Peace, Love and Understanding event was held at Rogers Park on Thursday, July 9 as a local response to the Emanuel AME Church tragedy in Charleston in June.

Approximately 250 local residents attended with the event sponsored by the Thermal Belt Friendship Council.

The event began with music by Virgil Stucker on Native American flute and an introduction by Mark Byington with the release of nine doves, donated by LJ Meyers.

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Guest speaker was Dr. Warren Carson, PH.D, Professor of English at USC Upstate (see full speech below).

The invocation was given by Rev. Tom Malone, parish associate, Tryon Presbyterian church and Meg Rogers, treasurer of the friendship council, also spoke.

Music included Sisters of Shalom Choir, the Garrison Chapel Baptist Church choir and the band 176.

Stucker, executive director of CooperRiis also spoke, along with the Rev. Lance Smith with the Tryon Congregational Church, Mary Parker, secretary of the friendship council and Byington speaking.

The benediction was given by Rev. Timothy Brown of Fullproof Ministries with the closing song, “We Shall Not Be Moved,” led by Smith and Carson.

Following are remarks made by Dr. Carson:

Thanks to Sofia Dow, Mary Parker, and members of the Friendship Council for organizing this most necessary opportunity for the community to gather.

Three weeks ago, easily one of the ugliest chapters in an already ugly history of race in South Carolina was written when 9 members of the Emanuel AME Church were gunned down at the conclusion of Wednesday Night Bible Study in one of the most hateful, overtly racist acts we have seen this century. Even more appalling is the fact that the gunman sat through Bible Study with them, waiting for just the right moment to do his hateful deed and make his hateful statement to the world.

Many of us have traveled to Charleston, often referred to as “the holy city,” and have seen the majestic Emanuel AME Church there in pristine beauty in the main historic district whose glory is now shrouded in tragedy.  Some of us perhaps have roots in Charleston, even in the historic AME Church. Others of us are members of the race under attack; all of us indeed are member of the human race, and our hearts continue to bleed for those whose blood was shed.

No doubt our hearts are still heavy even today as we remember how the bells tolled for victim after victim, and we will continue to mourn our collective loss after more than a week of funeral services as the Charleston 9 were laid to rest. And although this horrific event has wounded our hearts, shattered our equilibrium, confused our minds, and vexed our spirits, these setbacks must be only temporary. This evil thing should not, it must not dissuade us from living our lives and doing everything that we possibly can to make sure that these 9 who, in the words of African American poet Claude McKay, have nobly died, will not have shed their precious blood in vain.

Tonight, as we gather in memory of the fallen, let us give comfort to each other in distress. And when we have dried our tears, let us rededicate ourselves to the cause of justice for all, and let us pledge ourselves to living out our lives in peace, harmony and understanding. Let us also cloak our fears with courage, and let us clothe our confusion with resolve and move swiftly with a sense of urgency to help right the wrongs wrought by the gunman three weeks ago on a Wednesday night.

How shall we do that?

The late gospel music composer and singer James Cleveland wrote in part:

Behind every dark cloud, there’s a silver lining,

And after each rainstorm, there’s a bright new star.

When troubles grieve you and people deceive you,

Don’t worry; it will pass over in the morning.

Early this morning, after 13 hours of intense debate, enough of the members of the SC State House of Representatives mustered the courage to join the State Senate in passing a bill to bring the Confederate Flag down from the statehouse grounds and put it in a museum where those who wish to honor it may do so, and where those who wish to view it in its historical context may do so at the same time and no one has to be offended. Fifteen years ago, I marched with my students and throngs of others to call for its removal. Many voices kept up that call and made an annual march to Columbia in the years since, and today it is done. It is unfortunate, to say the least, that it took a tragedy of the magnitude of the Charleston Massacre for this bit of progress to be made.

But let us not be fooled. The removal of the flag, that for so many symbolizes a history of oppression and degradation, is largely a symbolic gesture. As happy as I am to see it come down, that fact in and of itself cures few of the ills we face as a country. For all of our freedoms and rights, we are still a country rife with discrimination, bigotry, intolerance, and insensitivity. Need proof? Listen to the voices of the poor, the physically challenged, African Americans, gays and lesbians, Hispanics and other 21st century immigrants to a land built by immigrants, and the voices of scores of others who are left out, pushed out, pressed down, pushed back, and in other ways made to be not a part of.

While lifting our voices is certainly a worthy activity, I’m afraid that sometimes more is required—we have to act, to actually do something to make a difference. Often we spend far too much time talking about doing something, trying to understand things that are abundantly clear, instead of just going ahead and doing the right thing. Nike has it right: Just do it! I believe it was the British Statesman Winston Churchill who said that Americans can be counted on to do the right thing only after they have done everything else. Seeking understanding is one thing. Hiding behind the seeking to keep from acting is something else altogether. Even Joshua knew that just crying out is often not enough—you have to not only talk the talk, you have to walk the walk as well, as he and his followers did, around and around Jericho until, finally, the walls came tumbling down.

For the last three weeks the spotlight has been on South Carolina. But let us remember that as far as speaking out against injustice is concerned, our own state, indeed our own beloved town, has enough to keep us busy for a long while. If we truly want to honor those whose lives were taken in Charleston; if we really want to see a better day; if we really want to improve the lives of others and in so doing improve our own; then I ask you not to leave here tonight with a sense of accomplishment, but with a new sense of urgency for action. Not with a sense of checking this gathering off of your calendars as something that is finished, but with a new sense that there is so much more to do. Not even with a good feeling for having come together tonight, except that your courage and commitment to righting the wrongs are renewed.

No doubt the Charleston Tragedy will be a defining moment in your lives, much as the quadruple assassinations, the bombing of the four little girls, and the murders of the three voter registration workers were for me when I was a teenager growing up in the 1960s. Those were dark days then; these are dark days now. But I challenge you not to forget what can happen when people of conscience and goodwill come together. And I further challenge you to keep walking on. If you stumble, try it again, but keep walking on. If someone blocks your way, go around them or over them, but keep walking on; If you get weary, rest, but keep walking on; if you’re knocked down on your face, roll over on your back, because if you can look up, you can get up. And when you get up, keep walking on. The hymn writer wrote,

Be not dismayed, whatever betide. God will take care of you!

Let us walk on by faith; let us do our good works. Each day forward.

Thank you, and goodnight.