Charleston City Councilman Harry Griffin, one of the five council members who voted Tuesday against the resolution apologizing for the city's role in slavery, still plans to speak at an event Saturday commemorating the third anniversary of the mass shooting at Emanuel AME Church.
Griffin, who is white and the youngest councilman at age 23, was invited several months ago to speak at the church's "Rally for Unity" on Saturday that focuses on gun violence and racial reconciliation.
In an email Friday to The Post and Courier, Griffin said he is honored to speak at the church this weekend.
"This will be a great chance to learn how our dedicated community leaders plan to handle issues, like gun violence, that hurt our great city," he said.
At the meeting earlier this week, he stunned fellow council members and many in the crowd when he announced he was voting against the resolution he helped draft.
"People in Charleston, the majority, are not in this room," he said to a jeering crowd. "The majority of Charlestonians that I talked to, from personal experiences, were not willing to apologize for something they did not take a part in."
In a number of meetings beginning in April, Griffin collaborated on the language of the resolution with Councilman William Dudley Gregorie, the city's legal department and the Sophia Institute's Social and Racial Justice Collaborative.
"We were word-smithing: 'Can we use this word, should we use that word?'" Gregorie said Friday. "One of the things he fought for was that in addition to apologizing, that we needed to denounce it. We thought it was brilliant that he suggested that."
While Gregorie was "shocked" that Griffin voted against the apology. He said Friday he was happy that Griffin planned on speaking at the rally.
"He is comfortable enough with himself to go before a crowd and talk about ending gun violence in our country," Gregorie said. "To me, that’s admirable."
Gregorie, a member of Emanuel AME, said the church invited Griffin to speak on Saturday because it wanted more voices of younger people.
That's the same reason he asked Griffin to help draft the resolution. Gregorie wanted to represent the views of a younger generation that, from his perspective, was more willing to confront issues of racial disparities.
"That’s why Griffin was so shocking," he said. "This generation, I feel, is so ready to reconcile and do whatever is necessary."
Dot Scott, president of the Charleston NAACP, was in the crowd on Tuesday. She said she was so upset by Griffin's comments that she ran to him after the vote to tell him that she felt he had been condescending.
Scott is also scheduled to speak at the rally Saturday and hopes Griffin leaves his opinions about slavery at home.
"He comes up with any of that stuff, I assure you, it’s not going to be pretty for him," she said.
Griffin had suggested that instead of an apology, the ancestors of Charleston would instead prefer a fix to the flooding problems where black people live.
But the more he tried to defend his "no" vote during the meeting, the louder and more visceral the jeers from the crowd became.
The Rev. Eric Manning of Emanuel AME Church — where nine parishioners were slain on June 17, 2015, by a self-avowed white supremacist — sat quietly as he spoke. Troubled, the reverend stepped out into the hallway, where he prayed.
On Tuesday night, the city had a chance to apologize for its role in systemic violence against African-Americans.
"Surely, apologies mean a lot," Manning said. "Words do mean a lot."
Still, Manning said he was happy Griffin wanted to speak at the event. A rally about unity without differing viewpoints is not unified at all, he said.
"We are quick to say people may be a racist because they have a different world view," he said. "Sometimes they may not understand it. That’s why we have to continue to be bold and courageous enough to have the dialogue."
The resolution for Charleston to apologize for its role in slavery did pass with a 7-5 vote. Griffin was joined in his dissent by three other white councilmen, Bill Moody, Kevin Shealy and Marvin Wagner, and one black councilman, Keith Waring.
Carolyn Rivers, founder and director of The Sophia Institute, was also surprised that Griffin voted against the apology. She said she hoped Griffin could use Saturday as an opportunity to listen to the other speakers and educate himself.
"Whatever turned his mind could turn his mind back around again," Rivers said. "As a young man, he has an opportunity to learn more and grow in his outlook and perspective."
Willi Glee is an active member of the Emanuel AME congregation and one of Griffin’s constituents. His church will welcome anyone, he said.
“I do know if I am there, I won’t jeer him,” Glee said. “He’s just another participant and he has a right to his opinion in this country. That’s what we were founded on. Hopefully.”