Following the recent tragedy in Charleston, S.C., I decided to visit Charleston in order to find a way to provide support and comfort to members of the community. I just couldn’t stop thinking about this tragedy and felt like I needed to do my small part to show my support to the city and to the victims’ families. I knew that making a donation was not enough and I really needed to something more than give money — I needed to go to Charleston.
When I arrived to Charleston, I grabbed my rental car and headed to the funeral for Pastor Clemente Pinckney, hoping to personally share my condolences, however I was too late. I did get the opportunity to view the funeral and the eulogy given by President Obama via a local restaurant, which was so incredible and inspiring; however I knew I had to do more.
The next day, I spent time visiting Fort Sumter, home of the Civil War and Boone Hall Plantation. After a full day in the southern heat, I figured I would find somewhere to have a quiet dinner and retire to my hotel room. However, before heading to dinner, I researched where the remaining funerals were taking place, in particular on Sunday, as I wanted to ensure I attended at least one heading back home to Chicago. While researching, I noticed that the family of one of the nine victims, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, a mother of four, listed their home address suggesting that the public was welcome; so I took a chance and drove to the home.
My initial intent was to just give them a sympathy card and head to dinner, however, when I pulled up, the home was completely dark with no one in sight. I thought to myself, “Get out of here!” So I began to pull off. However, something pushed me to pull back into the driveway and at the very least put the card on their front porch. As I pulled back into the driveway, two men came outside and asked me if I needed any help. I explained that I had come in from Chicago because of how the tragedy impacted me and explained that I didn’t personally know their family member, however I wanted to leave a card to show that my thoughts and prayers were with them and their family. They quickly invited me in the home! I felt comfortable and decided to take the chance.
When I entered their home, flowers and plants were everywhere, demonstrating the outpouring of love that was being given to this family. The gentlemen kindly introduced me to DePayne’s mother. In speaking with Mrs. Middleton, I asked her and the family, “how do you forgive…how do you?” They said, “Baby…its called forgiveness. Our beloved, DePayne’s legacy, will live on and be remembered.” This caused me to quickly embrace Mrs. Middleton and cry. All I could think about was the fact she was preparing to bury her daughter the next day and the family was in positive spirits. I left their home motivated and encouraged.
I was so glad I decided to take that trip to their home. I was so glad that I trusted my gut and took this spontaneous trip to Charleston.
In conclusion, what really resonated with me from my experience was the amazing spirit of forgiveness demonstrated by the relatives of the slain victims and the members of Emmanuel AME church, the outpouring of love and support that was displayed by residents from the Charleston community and across the country; and the national symbol of healing and commitment to social justice in bringing down the Confederate flag from the South Carolina state capitol. This experience will forever live in my heart.