I don’t know if others had the same feelings as I did learning about the mass killings in Charleston this past week. When I heard it was a church, I thought “Oh, Lord, no.” I realized it had to have been a prayer meeting before reading any news reports. When I learned who was gunned down and what church it was, I thought, “What a devastating blow to all that is good.”
Poet Bill Mohr said it’s racism and says we should talk about it.
Yeah, it’s racism. What’s to say? When a mass killer slaughters black people who welcomed him into their church and says he wanted to start a race war, there’s no argument. Racism. To put this into a context white people can see, the Beltway Sniper was gunning for white people from a distance and he took a young 17 year old boy with him. That was racism, too. Racism destroys. The Charleston killer’s family and friends bear responsibility and guilt because they were certainly aware this young man was talking about doing something outside the realm of humanity and did nothing to stop him. They are responsible the same as the Beltway Sniper John Allen Muhammad coached and mentored Lee Boyd Malvo to destroy others’ lives as well as his own.
Everybody wants to take the situation and turn it to their own purposes. Gun control advocates want to take others’ guns away, as if that will bring back the lives lost. Second Amendment advocates say that if the pastors had been packing, the killer, not they, would be 6 feet under right now.
When I saw this picture and news story about one of the victims in Charleston, librarian Cynthia Hurd, I thought, “I know this lady.” My eyes filled with tears.
I’m crying as I type this. I will probably never be able to look at these pictures or think about her and the others without weeping.
I am a white woman. I was once a little white girl with not a very happy life and not too many people to turn to. And I was so, so lucky that I lived in a town that, like Charleston, had a wonderful library with wonderful people like Cynthia working in it. Cynthia “spent her life helping people, particularly helping them become educated,” her friend and library spokesperson Jamie Thomas said.
If I just look at what happened, a violent, at-best confused young man with nothing good going on in his life went into a place where everything good was gathered, and lashed out and destroyed it. Faith, hope, love, community … books, reading, education.
What people don’t realize, but which I saw manifested in these wonderful pictures of Cynthia Hurd and in the words of love, gratitude and thanks written by the families and parents who’d visited her library, is that no guns or bullets can take away what Cynthia did, how she lived and the many lives she touched.
Cynthia’s brother Malcolm said, “She was not a victim. She was a Christian. She was a soldier. She was a warrior. She was with her maker when she took her last breath. God bless our sister and this community.”
She was a librarian. It’s the commonly-held perception that black people do not read, or read less than, others. That’s not true. African-Americans have the highest rate of readership, almost 80 percent. She was the ultimate librarian, according to her brother. “She was always in someone’s business,” he said. “When she told a story, it went on and on and on because she included the research and all the footnotes.”
What I hear African-Americans saying is totally true. It hurts to say it, but if it were a “white” church with similar leaders gunned down, there would be hours and hours of eulogies and tributes. There would perhaps be a film in the works about Pastor Pinckney, who was also a state representative, or about Sharonda Singleton, speech therapist, coach and athlete. As it stands, Library Journal made a tribute to Cynthia Hurd, and the library where she worked will be named in honor of her memory.
I don’t have the power to do what I want to do for Cynthia. I didn’t “know her” but I absolutely did know her. She was everything her brother said and more. And — yes — there is a higher power. May these precious lives not be lost in vain.
Originally published at www.amysterlingcasil.com on June 20, 2015.