Illinois state Sen. Donne Trotter was in Charleston this past week to remember an old friend.
He had known the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, also a state senator, for many years. Although they lived 800 miles apart, they ran into each other often at national legislative conventions. They shared a common interest in health care — particularly for women, children and the poor.
They both were advocates of gun control.
So in June, when Trotter learned that Pinckney and eight members of his church had been killed by a disturbed gunman, he admitted, “I was angry.”
“I turned on the TV to see how angry everyone else was. And they weren’t,” Trotter said in the sanctuary of Mother Emanuel last week.
“That is what inspired us to come here.”
The “us” is a delegation from Thornton Township, Ill. — 17 citizens, ministers and elected officials led by Frank Zuccarelli, the township’s supervisor.
On Wednesday, these folks delivered a proclamation from the Illinois Senate designating June 17 in perpetuity as a day of peace, and a resolution in support of the church and Charleston from the city of Chicago.
And they came to launch a campaign to nominate Emanuel AME Church and the city of Charleston for the Nobel Peace Prize.
In some ways, we have very little in common with Thornton Township, a community of 170,000 on the south side of Chicago.
They live in one of the largest metropolitan areas in the country, their politics are far less conservative and they see snow on a regular basis.
But in the end, those are the only real differences. We’re all just people, no matter how some racist fools try to divvy us up into groups. And the good people of Thornton Township saw a rare display of grace and greatness in Charleston’s response to tragedy.
For more than a year, communities around the country have been rocked by violence in the wake of senseless killings. We reacted differently, and they noticed. So, Zuccarelli said, they started a petition. They set up a website, nobelpeaceprizeforcharleston.com.
This is from their petition: “In some other city, an incident of such hatred and racist horror might have sparked an outpouring of anger, violence and divisiveness — driving crowds into the streets in clashes with each other and the police.
“Instead, something unexpected happened — an outpouring of unity and forgiveness.
“The entire community of Charleston — church, ordinary citizens, political leaders, business leaders and law enforcement, came together to support those families who lost loved ones. They came together in a spirit of forgiveness, love and peace — not anger or hatred.”
Turns out the world was watching Charleston, and we acquitted ourselves well. It is something to be proud of, and no matter what happens, we have made new friends.
You could argue the families of the Emanuel victims deserve the Nobel Peace Prize for their brave and inspiring response to these killings.
A case could be made that Mother Emanuel itself fostered the faith that was on display in those days after the shootings.
No doubt many people realize the city’s response to tragedy was formed to a large degree by 40 years of Mayor Joe Riley preaching inclusiveness and equity.
Thornton Township wants to honor all of them, and us.
The township is inviting people to the website, asking them to sign the petition, which they will present to the Nobel nominating committee. It is a very nice gesture.
Technically, it is a little late for this year; the Peace Prize that will be awarded on Dec. 10 had a submission deadline back in February, long before this incident happened.
Maybe they’ll make an exception, or maybe Charleston will be honored next year. Honestly, it doesn’t really matter.
This city has done something far greater than win a prestigious honor — it has set an example. It has inspired people.
Trotter says he and his colleagues were always jealous of Pinckney’s great capacity to teach.
But it seems they learned a lot from the good reverend, and the entire city.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org.