The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong. Those are not my words, but Gandhi’s. And in light of recent events within the Holy City, they could not ring more true. At the alleged shooter’s bond hearing on June 19, he heard from the victims’ family members. And one after another offered to him their forgiveness for his — what anyone else would have labeled — unforgivable acts. Powerful. Very powerful.
It is a very personal decision to dole out such forgiveness to the person charged with robbing you of what is most precious in your life. So it’s been unnerving to witness the national news outlets and outsiders question the victims’ families’ beliefs, stating they should not forgive, that they should harbor more hate for the killer. But Charleston refused to react. Instead, it responded. And what a response it has been. The makeshift memorials, the thousands who stood in solidarity on the Ravenel Bridge, the letters, the speeches, the benefit concerts, the donations and much more.
Other cities across the country have been afflicted with racial violence in recent months and not all have answered the same. That’s expected. Communities respond differently to like circumstances. The same boiling water that hardens the egg also softens the potato.
But where these shootings occurred is no old ordinary house of worship; the Emanuel AME church is no stranger to tragedy. In its history, it has been both burned and leveled by an earthquake. Yet out of the ashes and rubble has arisen a magnificent church with unshakable faith. When churches like this form the bedrock of your city, the question of where a community draws its strength becomes an easier one to answer. Its members have ushered in a new form of faith and compassion. Or perhaps they’ve simply reintroduced the same that has been missing for many years.
Regardless, their willingness to forgive and forge a new path forward has reminded the community of what real strength looks like. They’ve taught what it’s like to be Emanuel AME strong. And we’ve learned what it’s like to be Charleston strong.
Joe K. Cunningham