Community gathers to mourn Charleston victims, combat racism

Charleston vigil

June 25, 2015 – Students, faculty, and staff of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health gathered on June 24 at a vigil in memory and honor of the nine victims of the June 17 massacre at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. The racially motivated killings at the historic black church shocked the nation and sparked widespread discussion and introspection about racism in the United States. In the spirit of unity with those who lost their lives and those who grieve, members of the Harvard Chan community gathered outside the Kresge Building, each holding a lit candle.

“We are here today to stand in solidarity with the families and community of Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina,” said organizer Christine Mitchell, MDV ’12, SD ’19. “We are here to remember the nine people killed by the act of racial terrorism there last week. We are here to remember that this act did not occur in isolation. We are here to remember that systems of hatred, racism, and white supremacy are all too real in this country’s past and present and that those systems motivated this attack. And we are here to recognize the role that we each play in confronting systems of racism in this country’s future.”

Following the remarks, nine designated members of the community each read the name and a short remembrance of one of the nine compassionate and loving individuals who were slain. A candle was lit for each person, followed by a moment of silence and reflection:

Cynthia Hurd, 54, manager of St. Andrews Regional Library branch at Charleston County Public Library; Susie Jackson, 87, longtime choir member of Emanuel AME Church; Ethel Lee Lance, 70, Emanuel AME Church employee for more than 30 years; Reverend DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49, admissions counselor at Southern Wesleyan University, mother of four daughters; Reverend Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45, mother of three, dedicated track coach, highly respected high school speech pathologist; Tywanza Sanders, 26, 2014 graduate of the business administration program at Allen University, worked at the “Against Da Grain” barber shop with his brother, aspiring rapper, poet, motivational speaker, entrepreneur; Reverend Daniel Simmons, 74, retired pastor and administrator at Emanuel AME church, war veteran, loving father and grandfather; Myra Thompson, 59, former teacher, active member of Emanuel AME Church and leader of the Wednesday night Bible study; and Reverend Clementa Pinckney, 41, pastor of Emanuel AME Church, Democratic state senator, father of two.

“Moving forward,” said Morgan Shields, SM ’16, in closing, “we hope that the lives of these nine victims are not lost in vain. That their spirit and stories live on through continued action on behalf of us all. That we may cultivate non-judgment, compassion, and a mindful awareness of our biases—and in doing so, transform the array of mechanisms that enabled this tragedy and many others.”

The organizers then invited everyone who wished to continue to share reflections, process emotions, or just be in the presence of others to gather in the Kresge Building for additional support and comfort.

Jan Reiss

photo: Noah Leavitt