On June 17 at 9 p.m., I was sitting on the back porch of SOL restaurant in Mount Pleasant, watching the sun go down in peaceful reflection. I was thinking about how much I love this city — the scenery, the history, the incredibly kind people. The peacefulness of a quiet Wednesday evening.

Two hours later, I learned that at that exact moment, eight miles away, nine innocent individuals were murdered in their place of worship. They were murdered for being black, for gathering together to give thanks and praise. They were murdered for accepting a stranger who had walked into their sanctuary — a stranger who looked nothing like them, yet one whom they embraced.

I have a lot of opinions about this tragedy. I have an opinion about how wrong it is to label this an issue of “mental illness.” I have an opinion about the horrible lack of gun control that exists in this country, and I have an opinion about how continuous inaction has enabled a culture of racism and hate that is quickly turning the greatest country on Earth into a breeding ground of intolerance and violence. But that’s not what this letter is about.

As I watched the news into the wee hours of the morning, I was grieving. However, I was also in complete and total awe of our city. As Charlestonians, we do not expect this kind of violence among us. We are a city that holds open doors, says “ma’am” and “sir” and treats every person we come across with kindness and respect.

We enjoy the simple pleasures of life, like the smell of pluff mud, perfectly sweetened tea and the sting of salt water on sunburnt skin. We are a city that has been labeled the top tourist destination in the world, yet we have managed to hold on to the small-town feelings of community and togetherness that truly make this place irreplaceable.

We’re used to getting national attention — but we never expected attention of this kind.

From coast to coast, we’ve watched riots and violent protests erupt due to the incredibly strained race relations in this country. However, on Thursday night in Charleston, we banded together in peace and prayer. We held hands. We realized that while we are not accustomed to this type of violence, we can and will overcome it. Because that’s just the kind of people we are.

The feelings of anger I have towards Dylann Roof are undeniable; however, the feelings of love I have towards this city are stronger.

I hope, in the wake of this incredibly sad and confusing tragedy, that we can remember to turn towards each other instead of away. That we can uphold the values of faithful community that have made me proud to call this place my home, and that we can deny the temptation to resort to violence and aggression to make our frustrations heard.

We have the opportunity to set an example for the rest of the country that the beliefs held by Dylann Roof are the minority, and that we will not accept, tolerate or idly stand by when those sick extremist beliefs are turned into violent action. By standing together, despite our skin color, religious preference or political ideals, we can prove to the world, once again, that we are the greatest city on Earth.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Stacy Verner

Rhoden Island Drive

Daniel Island