Big-hearted strangers

The Rev. Norvel Goff and Charleston Mayor Joe Riley introduce a scholarship fund started by anonymous donors from out of state in honor of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney on Thursday at Emanuel AME Church.

The tragedy that struck Emanuel AME Church when nine of its members were gunned down in Bible study not only moved the Charleston community but also people across the nation.

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley and the Rev. Norvel Goff announced Thursday that it prompted an out-of-state group of anonymous donors to raise $3 million for a scholarship in the name of the church’s fallen pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney.

“I don’t know how many, all I know is they’re generous, loving Americans who wanted no credit, simply wanted to do their part in responding to this hateful (attack),” Riley said, adding that they were from “a good distance away.”

“These people will never get a pat on the back and they’ll never know a recipient of these scholarships; they’ll just know in their heart that in a moment of tragedy in America, they responded in such a positive and generous way.”

The Reverend Pinckney Scholarship Fund, a nonprofit, will provide college and advanced-degree scholarships for members of the extended Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church community, including the families of the victims of the June 17 tragedy. It also will be used for children of the extended Charleston community, Riley said.

Riley, Henry Louis Gates Jr. and William M. Lewis Jr. have agreed to serve as the initial board members of the corporation. The board and the church leadership will establish the grant-making process. The criteria for being selected have not been determined.

Riley said the scholarship honors Pinckney “in a way that provides building blocks for the future of our community.” He added that Pinckney would be greatly honored and that he couldn’t think of a more fitting way to forever memorialize his name.

“To know that the children of this community will have increased access to an excellent education is so very heartwarming. We are grateful for this gift for their future,” Riley said. “The grace and courage of this church and its members is a light in the darkness of this tragedy. The generosity of these anonymous donors has touched all of us.”

Goff said Pinckney highly valued education and that it is the church’s hope that the recipients of the gift will value education themselves further along in life.

“What a tremendous opportunity to show the world once more and again that goodness of heart overtakes evil,” he said. “We didn’t ask for it; it’s a horrific situation, it’s a terrorist act, it was racist, bigotry, all of the above, but through it all, we realize it’s not what has happened to (us) but how we respond.

“As a community, we have responded in a very positive way that now ripples throughout this nation if not throughout this world.”

Goff and Riley remarked about how the gunman’s goal to divide the community and spread hate created an opposite reaction.

“Isn’t it odd that this individual who sought to divide us has brought us together more than ever before?” Goff asked. “Isn’t it odd that we can really say that we are one community? That does not mean we do not have challenges, but together I believe we can face them.”

Reach Melissa Boughton at 937-5594 or at Twitter.com/mboughton.