A Note from Charleston | Sojourners

A Note from Charleston

A Diverse Coalition of Women Finds Church at Emanuel AME
Emanuel AME Church
Emanuel AME Church, Charleston, S.C., on June 20. Photo by jalexartis/Flickr.com

We felt like we had to be there. Five women, who were all at the Sojourners’ Summit in Washington, D.C., white and black, straight and gay — Lindsay, Holly, Sharon, Melinda, and I — we felt like we HAD to go. We needed each other, and we needed our special powers that can exist only together, to grieve and heal and find hope.

Should we go? Do we have an invite? The young leaders knew to call Dr. William Barber, the Moral Mondays activator. They had him on speed dial. His framing, teaching, and encouragement were the “yes” we needed.

Flying was too expensive, so we drove instead. We pooled resources. Someone bought gas. Someone boarded us at her mama’s house in Fayetteville, N.C., on Thursday night. Someone got hotel rooms for Friday. Someone bought air travel home. We had more than 5,000 prayers from all over the country in tow collected by our sister Valarie, and our brother Isaac, via a faith-rooted platform called Groundswell. Each held babies — new life — while they held our organizing work. We worked our networks from the car to try to set up something to DO, something that would be the right thing.

That car was busy: tweeting, organizing, praying, writing, talking to team Auburn in New York and to Micky, Steve and Robyn still in D.C., all helping us find ways to lift up the many multi-faith and multi-race voices of hurt and healing that are so needed in the coming days. So many people in our networks organized with us while we got advice from you, dear friend. The car was rehearsing, laughing, grieving. The car was full of emotion and practicing ways of sharing leadership. I could write a book about the car. I could write a book about what fueled the car.

We arrived in Charleston and went straight to Emmanuel AME Church. In the heat outside the church, Melinda recognized Joe, one of our contacts, and he was clear: we should present the prayers at the 6 p.m. vigil.

We saw a gathered crowd, a makeshift memorial, flowers and ribbons with the names of the beloved on them. We five walked our pilgrimage, paid our respects separately and together. I spoke to people from Charleston, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Texas. They were predominantly white, but people of all races – children and old folk — weeping, hugging. It was church, y’all, like when at first everyone is not there and then they come.

As we talked to community people, tourists and pilgrims, we also talked to CBS, CNN, some British folk, a black man who covers black news. Reporters were intrigued by our multiracial and multi-faith, interracial and interfaith, LGBTQ and straight, coalition of women. We spoke into the cameras about how we represented a culturally and ethnically diverse American truth.

We lay some flowers down and were moved to pray. Melinda prayed with power. Up walked Lucy, the amazing mom whose son, Jordan – you remember that awful headline – Jordan was gunned down in a hail of bullets because an angry white man at a gas station thought his music was too loud.

Suddenly Lindsay was weeping and we were all weeping and Melinda was naming Jordan in her prayer. We hugged, we cried, we prayed. People joined us. I, who often pray in song, asked, “Can we sing?” Lucy started, “Hush, somebody’s calling my name…” People joined in. A congregation grew and we sang ”Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me ‘round.” We sang “We Shall Overcome” because a young brother from the Black Lives Matter movement named Mohaddin lead it. Little children came up front and they sang. I was so moved by that. Our spontaneous church grew a larger congregation in every hue. There was spontaneous preaching — by this young black man, Mohaddin and me, this middle-aged lady preacher. We get it all out on the table – All lives matter when #blacklivesmatter.

Team Auburn organizeed the 5,000 plus prayers into a book. We showed the mayor our book, but didn’t give it to him. We asked him to point out a family to whom we should give it. We met a member of Emanuel, a woman in a wheelchair, who turned out to be the great grandmother of two children: a boy named Messiah and a girl named Phoenix. We gave their momma’s momma’s momma the prayers.

Later, into the hot South Carolina night, we stood together and listened as a local preacher preached politics and power and passion and faith all combined: about how The Hon. Rev. Pinckney was assassinated for his justice work and how the shooter thought the people were nice. We knew the flag must finally come down.

We, a human family, joined hands in grief. Exhausted. Stunned at the gifts and dedication of the human family — our wide posse. When I stopped moving fast, I realized my heart was broken wide open, laid out. We have taken leave of Charleston but never will Charleston leave us.

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