By Karen Stokes
Angry, confused, hurt, sad. These were some of the words that students participating in a prayer vigil at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) used to describe their emotions on the latest shooting tragedy in Charleston, South Carolina. Nearly 50 students from UWM, Marquette, Medgar Evers and Morehouse took part in a prayer vigil to honor people in their lives who were struck down by violence and to try to make sense of what happened last week in South Carolina.
The students present revealed stories about loved ones, how losing them changed their lives and that they were seeking solutions to all the chaos.
That chaos occurred on the evening of Wednesday June 17. Dylan Roof, 21, opened fired and murdered nine church members gathered for Bible study in Charleston, S.C.
The church, Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church is the oldest AME church in the south. The congregation dates before 1820.
A survivor who pretended to be dead during the shooting said when the gunman was being pleaded with to stop, he replied,’No, you’ve raped our women and you are taking over our country, I have to do what I have to do.”
Roof was arrested the following day, 245 miles away in Shelby, N.C., according to a report by CNN.
Six women and three men were murdered. The victims were Tywanza Sanders, 26, DePayne Middleton Doctor, 49, Sharonda Coleman Singleton, 45, Cynthia Hurd, 54, Susie Jackson, 87, Ethel Lance, 70, Myra Thompson, 59, Daniel Simmons, 74, and Democratic State Senator and Senior Pastor Clementa Pinckney, 41.
Aaron Bledsoe ,24, a graduate of Marquette University and a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, shared during the prayer vigil at UWM that Pastor Pinckney was a fraternity brother.
“It hurts to see my people slain by senseless violence. It hurts more that our fraternity brother was slain doing what he loved and was called to do,” Bledsoe said.
“I’m here tonight because I think the assembly of African Americans is a great start to pursuing change.”
Church security is a topic being debated recently by church members due to the recent act of senseless violence in South Carolina. Darryl Williams, pastor of St. Mark AME Church, 1616 W. Atkinson Ave., believes it’s an extreme reaction to carry guns in church or have armed guards.
“I’m not sure if we want to go that far with armed guards. We already have security guards.
Dylan Roof’s purpose was to create fear, a reaction to make us stay at home, the opposite occurred,” Williams said.
And William’s is right. Mother Emanuel church reopened for service on June 21.
South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley announced in a recent press conference that the confederate flag – which Roof is pictured with in a photo from before the shooting – should be removed from the state’s capitol building.
“Today, we are here in a moment of unity in our state, without ill will, to say ‘It’s time to move the flag from the Capitol grounds,’” said Haley.
She’s called South Carolina legislature back into session to make the decision whether or not to officially take down the flag.
“People are more determined to show their faith, we had the same crowd on the Sunday after the shooting,” said Williams.
Rosalind Britton, member of Brentwood Church of Christ, 6425 N 60th Street, had a different point of view.
“I agree with the idea of armed officers in church. I’ve seen situations where they had to remove someone from service who was screaming and threatening to kill someone.
She was immediately ejected from the building.”
“The Lord provides resources and common sense,” Britton said.
In spite of the tragedy, the citizens of South Carolina are coming together. Mamye and Joseph Gardner live in Duncan, S.C. and have seen firsthand how this tragedy has brought people in the state together.
“Last week, a lot of people were in shock. Some people believe Roof wasn’t working alone.
The evening of the shooting, a church in Greenville had a bomb threat called in during a service. People thought it was too coincidental,” Mamye Gardner said.
Through all that, there’s a great sense of unity in the state,” said Ms. Gardner.
“Various churches of different denominations held prayer services.
It’s been beautiful to see. The healing process started when the families of the victims were able to forgive Roof.”
She continued, “There are unity rallies this weekend all over South Carolina. I think people are looking for healing.”
In Milwaukee, there have been several prayer vigils in solidarity for Mother Emanuel AME church.
A circle was formed, candles were lit, and the vigil at UWM offered a peaceful, welcoming environment for students to express their thoughts on the tragedy.
One student said,” I was mad that I wasn’t surprised that this happened. In my head there’s always a possibility of this happening.”
Another student said, “This circle is the beginning and we have to move forward.”
The students continued the conversation following the vigil in the UWM union.