WHITMAN — The Rev. Clementa Pinkney, 41; the Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45; the Rev. Daniel L. Simmons, 74; Susie Jackson, 87; Ethel Lance, 70; Cynthia Hurd, 54; Myra Thompson, 59; Depayne Middleton-Doctor, 49; Tywanza Sanders, 26.
They were pastors, a church sexton and dedicated members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., who had gathered for a regular Wednesday night Bible study when they were gunned down on June 17.
But for Whitman resident Sandra Ford, they were also potential neighbors — the WHRHS graduate will be a nursing student this fall at Charleston Southern University — and she wanted to do something to help “show that love is much stronger than hatred.”
When she heard of the plans to hold Sunday’s human chain of solidarity, which would span Charleston’s Arthur Ravenel Bridge, Ford wanted to do something like it here.
While a short planning window, Father’s Day and uncertain weather created challenges, she was able to use social media to bring out almost two dozen friends, neighbors, family and fellow members of the Whitman’s First Congregational Church. They gathered near the pond at Whitman Park to pray, light candles, recite the names of the nine slain AME church members and observe a moment of silence.
“I’m sure no one in South Carolina knows that we’re gathered here, but I know [support] means a lot to them,” she told participants. “I know we’re so far away, but it’s still important to keep people in mind when they’re going though tough things.”
CSU, whose T-shirt Ford wore Sunday, is a Baptist college in North Charleston that often works with Emanuel AME, she said.
“It kind of hit home a little bit,” Ford said before the brief vigil ceremony. “I always loved it down there so it was hard to hear that people would do that.”
The Rev. Josh Gray, pastor of First Congregational Church offered the prayer, and thanked Ford for organizing the event.
“It’s so important to have young people who are paying attention to the world,” he said before asking the gathering to join hearts in prayer.
“God, our hope is that you are most strongly present when our world is suffering,” he prayed asking for God’s grace and presence in Charleston and Emanuel AME, known by its members as “Mother Emanuel.”
“Today, we pause as a community,” he continued. “We remember the lives of those lost in an act of racially motivated terrorism. We pray that our communities can come together, to recognize that racism is not an idea of the past but has many tentacles that reach deep into the fabric of our society.”
He concluded with the hope that, in sewing love, communities and the nation might come together to work toward ending violence.