On Monday evening, I spoke at a vigil for the nine victims of the massacre at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. It was a wonderful experience with clergy from many different local churches, representatives from the police department, and the mayor of Monroe. I can still hear the beautiful voice of Joyce Myers as she sang "Amazing Grace." She has a richness to her voice that allows you to feel the song as well as hear it. Rhonda Crowder inspired us with her powerful rendition of, "Total Praise," and Johnny Barrino's soulful voice lead the congregation in the spirited, "Come by here my Lord." I have several friends who are church members but had not visited until Monday. I have never felt so much love in one room.
I appreciate the work my friends City Councilwoman Surluta Anthony, her daughter Shawn Tay, Tiffany Wilson, and all others responsible for organizing the vigil put into this event. Other speakers included Michael Hall, Monroe City Councilman Bill Jordan, and another woman who has asked to not be named. Prayers were offered by Rev. Melvin L Tate of Mt. Calvary AME Zion Church, Pastor Sharon Covington of New Life Community Temple of Faith, Rev. Ceasar, and Rev. Gripper.
The following are my remarks as delivered to those gathered at Mt. Calvary AME Zion Church on Monday to honor the nine victims of the massacre in Charleston.
Say Their Names
Thank you, Reverend Tate, and thank you to the congregation of Mt. Calvary AME Zion Church for allowing me to speak.
The Reverend Clementa Pinckney
The Reverend Sharonda Singleton
Ethel Lee Lance
The Reverend DePayne Middleton Doctor
The Reverend Daniel L. Simmons, Sr.
It is important to say their names.
Nine beautiful children of God murdered in the safety of their church, the historic Mother Emanuel. As the news spread on Thursday, we heard phrases like, "lone gunman," and "he acted alone." He may have been the only murderer in the church last Wednesday night, but we all know he did not act alone.
Every skinhead, racist, and member of the KKK past and present were in that church with him.
Members of the media who have promoted or furthered the narrative that African Americans are somehow inferior were in that church with him.
Politicians who have voted for laws intended to diminish the lives of African Americans were in that church with him.
And, every person who has held their tongue in the face of racism - who hasn't spoken up to protect friends, neighbors, and family members - they were in that church with him too.
As the hours passed and the killer was identified, we heard his name over-and-over again. It was many hours before we knew the names of the victims, as family members were notified and were given time to gather and grieve. During this time, the killer's name became seared into our memory. I know I will never forget it.
And, so, it is important to say their names.
Ethel Lee Lance
DePayne Middleton Doctor
Daniel L. Simmons, Sr.
If it is OK, I would like to direct a few comments to my white friends gathered here tonight. I understand if you are here, these comments may not apply, but they need to be said and we need to take this message outside these four walls.
It is time for us to stop showing up only after something has happened. We need to show up in the battle against racism every single day. We can't worry about who might be offended by our activism. We need to speak up against racism every single day.
We can't leave our African-American friends, neighbors, and family members to battle it out in the trenches while we go sit and rest a bit under our umbrella of privilege.
At some point, we have to stop pretending that fixing racism is going to take just a little more time without any effort on our part. We need to stop showing up only after incidents of racism are reported in the media because there are far too many incidents of racism that go unreported every single day.
This time, we don't get to go back to our safe, comfortable, regular lives. We need to stay in this place of grief, and shock, and horror. We need to feel uncomfortable so that we remember to act out and speak up against racism.
The Reverend Doctor William Barber put it perfectly when he said, "The perpetrator has been apprehended, but the killer is still at large." As long as the killer is still out there we need to feel uncomfortable. We can't possibly know what it is like to face racism every day, but we need to feel uncomfortable enough that we will do whatever it takes to make it stop.
So, wake up every morning and say their names.
We have a lot to do and I know I don't have to tell you that, but the people beyond this room need to hear it. So, let's promise ourselves and each other that we will come prepared for battle every single day.
If you ever need encouragement or motivation, just say their names.
As North Carolina poet Jaki Shelton Green put it so beautifully yet with so much pain evident in her voice,*
Say their names until your mouth bleeds, until your breath catches fire.
Say their names.