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#CharlestonStrong: Thoughts from a Disabled Black South Carolinian

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Over the past two weeks, the City of Charleston, the state of South Carolina, and the rest of the nation and world, has been working to mend the pain and heartache of the inconceivable act that has devastated all of us.

As a proud disabled Black South Carolinian and Christian, I had to share my thoughts on what happened at Mother Emanuel on June 17th, 2015.  That was the day a 21-years old man, filled with hate, carried out a heinous hate crime and an act of terrorism at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, killing 9 church members, including the Pastor, who was a SC Senator.

These past 2 weeks have been very emotional for me, and as always, writing about my feelings and thoughts have been therapeutic.  I took the time to write on my personal blog, and I could not not share about the powerful feelings of unity and forgiveness witnessed since that day.

Below are my thoughts about what took place, the terrorist who did it, and the power of forgiveness displayed by the families of the fallen.  I was incredibly humbled by the strength and love expressed in and to Charleston, as I think we all were as we watched what unfolded.

Without further ado…

My heart was, and still is, heavy for so many reasons.  I have several college friends who have been impacted by the massacre.  My dear Soror and friend rushed home to embrace her mother, who was there that night at the church.  Her mother had a meeting with Pastor and Senator Clementa Pinckney before Bible study, and left 30 mins before the shooting took place.  When I talked with her that Thursday morning as she was driving to Charleston, a mix of relief and “what ifs” pervaded her voice and words.  Her mom was incredibly blessed to have left early, and to be alive; there is a reason why she is still here.

I have other friends whose relatives, associates, and friends were among those killed.  To read their pain and disbelief on their Facebook pages tore me up inside.  Their loved ones and friends died from the actions of a twisted, evil person; one who was cold-hearted and cold-blooded.  I cannot wrap my head around how someone could go into a church, and do something so unimaginable to innocent people who welcomed him into their sanctuary.

My heart was also troubled by the growing number of “excuses” people and the media were creating about the shooter’s actions.  There were many warning signs that those who knew him ignored; he did not wake up that Wednesday morning & thought, “I am going to shoot up a church today.”  No, this was a premeditated plan; he had an agenda to kill Black people, and “start” a race war because he believed the white supremacy propaganda he was taught and brainwashed.  He was taught to hate; he was taught to think of Black people as disposable; he saw Black people as inferior, not human; he saw Black people as ones who were “taking” his white women and staining the integrity of the nation.  He was not mentally ill, as some will try to claim, as they always do when white men conduct domestic terrorist acts on American soil.  He was of sound mind, he was well aware of the devastation he would be inflicting on those families, the church community, the City of Charleston, the state of SC, and the nation.  He knew the level of fear and pain he had the power to create, as well as the power to not create.  He chose to express his hatred for Black people that day, and it was deliberate.

Despite the level of unconceivable ills this ingrate inflicted, the families of those who lost their lives were able to forgive him at the bond hearing on Friday, June 19th.  To hear them proclaim, “I forgive you,” “I’m praying for you,” moved me to tears.  It reminded me of how we as a people, Black people, have such a powerful ability to forgive wrongdoers and oppressors, and how we lean on our faith to be able to do so.  Though I am a proud Christian and am very spiritual, I could not have forgiven him so soon.  My heart would be filled with so much rage, hatefulness towards him, and bitterness that my loved one died senselessly – forgiveness would not have room to take root.  To hear them state such things showed me how strong their faith was, and it was so humbling to have heard the expression during the hearing.

Their proclamations reminded me that Black people possess a unique kind of strength and resilience that I have yet to find in others, and hearing from the loved ones who were experiencing such heartache forgive this man and what he has done was remarkable.  Many people do not understand how they could, but I do – it is all God.  They are leaning on Him during this time, and they realized that He had wrapped His loving arms around them because He knew they were hurting beyond understanding.  When you lean on God during such emotional, heartbreaking times, He will give you what you need, and for some of them, forgiveness seemed to have been the charge God placed in their hearts at that moment.  To forgive is to allow God to handle what you cannot, what you have no control over – they could not bring their loved ones back, but they could take control of how they move forward from this tragedy.  Forgiving this killer is a huge step in the healing process; for some, it was occurring early, and for others, it will happen in due time.

Seeing the courage of the families speak out about how much they loved the ones they lost, how strong their faith was, how the City of Charleston and the state of SC had come together beyond party lines and race lines, left a tremendous effect on me, one that will be felt for a long time.

I pray that our state and nation will continue to band together to make progress in the areas of race relations and fighting white supremacy, gun violence, and stopping the sympathy and “wrist slapping” for killers who consciously seek to harm people whom they hate.  This is the time to step up and truly do something of significance in these areas; let’s stop talking and start creating a world where we can all feel safe, accepted, valued, and truly free.

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Quote from the late Dr. Maya Angelou: “Hate: It has caused a lot of problems in this world, but it has not solved one yet.”

I urge all my readers and supporters to keep the 9 families, the Mother Emanuel Church community, the City of Charleston, and the State in your thoughts as those affected are rebuilding their lives and will need our unconditional support in doing so.  There have been an outpouring of generous donations given to the community, and I wanted to share that information with you all.  Please click the link to learn more:  Donations for Mother Emanuel Church.

About Vilissa Thompson, LMSW

Vilissa is the Founder & CEO of Ramp Your Voice!, an organization she created to establish herself as a Disability Rights Consultant & Advocate. Ramp Your Voice! is a prime example of how macro-minded Vilissa truly is, and her determination to leave a giant "tire track mark" on the world.

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