Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Benedict College chapel on Tuesday was scene of witness.


Benedict College's Antisdel Chapel was packed for the "No Greater Faith: The Legacy of Mother Emanuel AME Church" event, Tuesday, February 2, 2016. The college hosted the gathering as part of its Black History Month observations.


More than 500 people jammed the Benedict College chapel in downtown Columbia on Tuesday to listen to survivors and relatives of those killed in last June’s massacre of nine African-Americans at a Charleston church bear witness.

Survivors and relatives told of how they came to forgive their loved ones’ accused white supremacist killer, how they are coping with their grief and how they are bringing up their children to live in a world where sudden violence may come upon them.

A highlight in the more than two-hour service at Antisdel Chapel came toward the end. A dozen or so pre-school children stepped forward, presenting a long-stemmed red rose to each of those from “Mother” Emanuel AME Church, each saying in loud, clear voices what their rose stood for.

“This rose is for courage,” a child told Denise Quarles, 32, who lost her mother, Myra, a retired teacher, in the shootings.

“This rose is for hope,” the next child said to the Rev. Anthony Thompson, Myra’s husband.

And so it went, as the children presented roses for faith, healing, love, peace, strength, forgiveness, knowledge, sacrifice, legacy and unity.

The program was part of a series of events that Benedict College is holding this year as part of Black History Month. The college had invited survivors and relatives of those killed at Mother Emanuel to Columbia to tell their stories.

The event was unusual in that, although the news media had been invited to cover it, the Mother Emanuel congregants asked that reporters make no recordings or photographs, or even take notes, of those telling their stories. Reporters who would not agree not to report what the survivors said were asked to leave the event and come back when the Emanuel members were finished speaking.

Consequently, although those from Mother Emanuel each made insightful, compelling and even memorable statements, the power of what they said was confined within the four chapel walls.

Their statements were elicited by moderator Blondell Gadsden, who asked questions such as, “Do you think the history of Emanuel had anything to do with the events of June 17?” and “When you first heard of the shooting, describe what you felt” and “What is the difference between faith that is professed and faith that is practiced?”

After the service, Quarles spoke with reporters, repeating much of what she had said inside the chapel. She said she especially wanted to speak to youth, telling them that “even though you lose your mom, if you trust in God, you can still carry on.”

She also retold the story of how she had been sleeping around 9 p.m. on June 17, the time of the massacre, when she suddenly awoke.

“The last thing she said to me (earlier that day) was ‘I’ll call you when I leave church,’” Quarles said of her mother. But just before Quarles woke, she said, God spoke to her in a dream and let her know her mother had died. “For him to call me by name, to take that time to tell ... that has been comforting.”

“It’s been rough, I won’t lie. My mom and I were, like, best friends,” she said.

Across the country, people have been moved by the survivors and family members of victims. In court several days after the shootings, those who stood before the judge and Dylann Roof, who was charged with the crimes, told Roof that despite their grief and shock, they forgave him.

For their message of forgiveness after such horror, Emanuel AME church members have been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by a group of Illinois public officials. About 200 individuals or groups are nominated each year for that prize, which is awarded annually in October.


Clementa Pinckney, 41, a state senator and pastor of Emanuel AME Church

Sharonda Singleton, 45, a reverend and track coach at Goose Creek High School

Daniel Simmons Sr., 74, a reverend

Cynthia Hurd, 54, a librarian with Charleston County Public Library system

Tywanza Sanders, 26, a 2014 Allen University graduate

Myra Thompson, 59, a pastor at the church and retired teacher

Ethel Lance, 70, retired from Gilliard Center

Susie Jackson, 87, Lance’s cousin

DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49, a reverend and enrollment counselor at Southern Wesleyan University’s Charleston Campus

Source: The State Newspaper

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