June 17 marks the anniversary of one of the worst acts of hate violence against African-Americans, in at least a generation.
Just days before the community of Charleston, South Carolina, began to remember the night when a lone gunman killed nine black worshippers at the Mother Emanuel AME Church, hatred struck again in the LGBTQ community in Orlando, Florida.
The parallels between the acts of hatred run deep. Just like in Charleston, the shooter in Orlando entered a place of sanctuary and gunned down people when they were most unguarded and vulnerable. Just like in Charleston, the Orlando gunman had previously expressed hatred toward a historically marginalized minority group. And just like in Charleston, the bloodshed in Orlando drew international headlines and support from all corners of the world.
But for one pastor in Charleston, this isn't just a time for a mere rehashing of grief and fear.
"If all we do is sit around and sing songs and express our
grief, this just becomes an empty exercise to assuage the guilt of other
people," the Rev. Nelson Rivers III, pastor of
There have been some changes in South Carolina. After a contentious debate by lawmakers, the state removed a Confederate battle flag from statehouse grounds on
Yet despite several public calls to see the Charleston tragedy as evidence of a need for tougher gun control laws, national leaders still haven't taken action. The same seems to be true in the wake of Orlando. On Thursday, Democratic senators held a 15-hour filibuster until Republicans pledged to hold votes on measures that would expand federal background checks for gun buyers and prevent individuals on the U.S. terrorism watch list from buying guns, Reuters reported. But the measure is unlikely to pass in the GOP-controlled Senate.
Nelson is vice president of religious affairs and external relations for the National Action Network, a civil rights group founded by the Rev. Al Sharpton. He will be participating in a handful of commemorative events in Charleston on Friday. Nelson will also travel to Orlando this weekend to meet with the Latino, Muslim and LGBTQ communities, he said.
A year ago, Dylann Roof walked into Mother Emanuel while
members met for
"I have to do it,"
"People can dismiss what happened to the Emanuel Nine because it didn't happen to their mother, father, brother, sister or cousin," Nelson said. "When the children, church members and the people in that [Orlando] club become your brothers and sisters, then you become someone who gets in the arena to do something about it."