Too Close to Home: Why Charleston Matters to All of Us

On the one year anniversary of the Charleston Massacre, I had the opportunity to share my reflections with Christianity Today The Local Church alongside:

Patricia Raybon who wrote about “Charleston and the Resilience of Wednesday Night Church,”

Dawn Araujo-Hawkins who shared “What It Means to Burn Down a Black Church,” and

Derek Rishmawy who contributed “What Emanuel AME Taught Us About God’s Unrelenting Love”

My contribution, “Too Close to Home: Why Charleston Matters to All of Us” is extremely personal and I’m so glad to share it.

Charleston_Black Lives Matter3

“Who are you?” When someone asks a question about my identity, the first response that comes to mind is “I am a black girl from Orangeburg, South Carolina.” Long before I became a graduate of the United States Naval Academy, a US Marine, an author, or a minister of the gospel, I was a black woman. And the root of this knowing was in the heritage of my family, the soil of Orangeburg, South Carolina, and the waters of the Edisto River.

Orangeburg is a community filled with black people and culture, the home of two historically black colleges and universities: South Carolina State University and Claflin University. There I tailgated at college football games and enjoyed HBCU homecomings that included the “battle of the bands” and step competitions. Little girls played in the backyard with their cousins and devoured home-cooked meals made at the hands of their big bosom mothers, grandmothers, and aunts.

During the summer months, we would run through the sprinklers in our bathing suits and swim caps (because there was no way we were getting our hair wet). We would spend countless hours enjoying the sunshine on those hot summer days in June, studying the moss hanging from our trees. Sometimes we would sit inside and watch TV as we listened to the violent summer rain.

On Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights, we would go to church. Sundays were for worship; Wednesdays were for Bible study, Vacation Bible School, or hanging in the back room until mom finished choir rehearsal. These precious times were filled with sacred artifacts: pews, wooden floors in old Baptist churches, the sides of brick store fronts or white slab buildings with small crosses that showed passersby who we were and to whom we belonged. We belonged to Jesus. Our simple songs clearly proclaimed this truth.

These small churches most likely had dirt or gravel parking lots and a small cemetery off to the side, the tombstones surrounded by uncut grass and ant hills, with fading names above the birth and transition dates of those who had gone on before us.

When I heard about the pain and suffering Dylann Roof inflicted on the families of Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, DePayne Middleton-Doctor, US Senator and Reverend Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel L. Simmons Sr., Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, and Myra Thompson by murdering them in the sanctuary of God that is Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, I was not shocked because of the reality of the deaths that took place on June 17, 2015. These things happen every day.

I was shocked because I have family members who knew people who died in Emanuel AME Church on that Wednesday night. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton was a graduate of South Carolina State University. I was stunned by the overwhelming history and mystery wrapped up in this racially motivated massacre that took place in 2015.

This was too close to home.

Continue reading at The Sanctuary.

 

 

A Mentor’s Love

Over the last couple weeks, I mourned the loss of a dear friend and mentor. When I received the phone call that my senior year, high school guidance counselor was no longer with us on earth, I cried uncontrollably. This was a person who inspired me to attend the United States Naval Academy and cheered me on along the way. He was so proud of my accomplishments and to watch me grow. To me, he was an encourager, mentor, father figure, and friend. Visiting and gleaning words of wisdom from him was always one of the highlights of my trips home.

Robert M. Hemby throw

When I told my husband about this loss, the words could barely escape me. I finally settled my emotions, I wanted to consider, “What is it about this loss that is so devastating?” On the surface, I knew that I would miss him and wish I had the opportunity to say goodbye. After digging a little, however, the best conclusion I arrived at is, “I knew that I was loved by him.” As I thought about him and our relationship, my thoughts quickly carried me to another mentor and mutual friend we both lost earlier in the year. These gentlemen knew me when I started to dream about finding my place in the world. They knew me when I didn’t always have the best attitude, and when I made stupid mistakes more frequently. They saw something in me that I don’t think I knew was there, and they gently called it out. With them I was safe. I was loved.

Continue reading “A Mentor’s Love”