It's been one year since the racist massacre at Charleston, South Carolina's Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. On the evening of June 17, 2015, a white supremacist walked into the church we know as Mother Emanuel and joined our sisters and brothers in their weekly bible study. He then calmly turned on them with a legally-purchased handgun, opened fire and murdered nine parishioners.
For African Americans and our Progressive allies, Mother Emanuel is a place of peace, a center of activism, a safe haven for children and families and a refuge for the persecuted. It is a sacred space where we connect with our higher power and our history. It was the spiritual refuge of Denmark Vesey, who led the largest slave revolt in U.S. history. It was where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. went to speak when he visited Charleston.
Bernard Bowens, an 1199SEIU member at Cape Cod Hospital in Massachusetts, grew up attending the church. "It was like a second home," he says. "As a child, I didn't know a safer place."
Last year at this time, we were in mourning for the victims in Charleston ¬¬- Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Rev. Sharonda Singleton, Cynthia Hurd, Rev. DePayne Middleton, Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson, Myra Thompson and Rev. Daniel Simmons, Sr. - all murdered in a demented attempt to start a "race war."
But our reality is one of becoming accustomed to seeing Black folks' blood spilled as a consequence of racial injustice. The struggle against racism sometimes seems intractable, but because recent movements like Black Lives Matter refuse to be silenced, issues like police violence, mass incarceration and the realities of systemic racism have been brought to light. So we were doubly outraged when blood was spilled in a place so enshrined in our history as Mother Emanuel -- where African Americans learn to fight back not with guns, but with movements, mobilizing ever greater numbers of likeminded people who will stand up for change.
Almost unbelievably, we find ourselves today mourning for victims of yet another hate-fueled act of gun violence. Again, we are grieving lives taken by hate in a space of safety, community and acceptance. Our hearts go out to all families and loved ones of those killed and injured in the attack on Orlando's Pulse nightclub. The loss again hit close to home. Members of our 1199 family are among the dead and wounded: Eddie Jamaldroy Justice, just 30 years old and the cousin of veteran Florida member Anita Williams, is among the dead. You may remember Eddie. The media reported his frantic, heartbreaking texts to his mother.
Our union is founded on the principles of equality and justice. We're committed to the idea that every one of us entitled to build the life we envision for ourselves, no matter who we are or where we come from. No person should live in fear because of who they are or whom they love.
All of these crimes remind us of how we must continually beat back the scourges of hatred and gun violence that poison our society. If we want a safe society, we have to demand that Congress enact common-sense gun laws that save lives. We must be steadfast in our dedication to justice, equality and diversity, not just talk about them but put words into action. If we truly want a society where our differences are celebrated and embraced, we have to build it together. #Hatewontwin