Understanding Orlando a Year After Emanuel

Sign reading "Send some love to Orlando"

Almost a year ago to the day, South Carolina and the nation grieved what was possibly the greatest tragedy in the state’s history. In an act of senseless hatred, bigotry and racism, nine innocent lives were lost in a church in Charleston. Today, Florida and the nation grieve the deadliest attack in the nation’s history since 9/11- another act of hatred and bigotry. Early Sunday morning, forty-nine innocent lives were lost in an Orlando gay nightclub.

Dylann Roof, from his own manifesto, was a proclaimed white supremacist who sought to bring civil discord by traveling to what is arguably South Carolina’s most historical city, its “Holy City,” Charleston, S.C. He entered Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church, and after attending a prayer meeting for an hour, perpetrated an act of violence against nine parishioners. Roof informed friends he had a plan in the works with a recently purchased gun, a .45 Glock handgun, a handgun that was purchased through a lapse in the FBI background-check system.

Omar Mateen claimed allegiance to the Islamic State and praised the Boston Marathon bombers in a phone call to the police.  Mateen had made threatening statements in relation to terrorism as well as extremism. The F.B.I. made investigations into Mateen’s possible link with terrorism, but after ten months, their investigation ended. It is now believed that Mateen’s current wife has told federal agents that she was with her husband when he purchased ammunition and a holster and tried to convince her husband not to make an attack. Mateen legally purchased an assault rifle and entered Pulse Nightclub, where he killed 49 and injured 53.

Yet, to focus on these acts alone or these killers would not be telling the true story. What does become remarkable, out of something unfathomable, is the indomitable strength and support with which Americans respond.

The Charleston Tragedy created an unprecedented platform for discussing race relations in the South and the nation; the Confederate Flag was removed from State House grounds less than a month later. Already conversations have begun on the importance of advocacy, education and support of the LGBTQ+ community.

In the days and the weeks after Emanuel, South Carolina came together in all sorts of ways to understand how to move forward united, rather than divided. Churches rang bells in unity. Citizens marched to meet in the middle of the famous Arthur Ravenel Bridge. Memorials and vigils were held. Musicians gathered and donated time and talent to raise money for victims and their families.

A year after Emanuel, the healing still continues. South Carolinians are using their personal experience with grief to understand a nation’s grief again, after the Orlando Tragedy. Charleston’s Circular Congregational Church was sent 1,000 paper cranes from another city that had suffered a massacre, and a year after the Charleston shooting, the church sent the cranes to Orlando. It is believed that 1,000 folded origami cranes can make a wish come true, but they also serve as a symbol of hope.

“We enter the week of Charleston's anniversary with tears on our faces. For Orlando.” the Church said in a post on its Facebook page.

Hundreds gathered at Columbia’s Reformation Lutheran Church on Monday evening. The congregation was draped in colors of the rainbow, with the altar lit in the colors of the rainbow as well. The congregation prayed for peace, hope and strength as they sang the hymn, “Lord Listen to Your Children Praying.” Each victim’s name was read, followed by a sounding of the church bell. A candle was lit for each victim, and then each person in attendance lit a candle. Candles were raised in silence in memory of the lives lost.

According to WIS TV, two of the victims have been found to have relations in the Midlands. Deyonka Drayton has relatives in Columbia. She met her girlfriend in Columbia before they moved to Orlando. Darryl ‘DJ’ Roman Burt II lived in the Midlands while he was a student at Claflin University in Orangeburg, S.C.

Alana Simmons, the granddaughter of Rev. Daniel Simmons who was slain at Emanuel A.M.E., spoke to the group at Reformation Lutheran, noting the universality of grief, but also the importance of the church in healing. She began the “#HateWontWin” movement, advocating for love through demonstrations of unity.

“It’s important we teach people about each other.” Simmons said. “Experience someone else’s heartache. When you have a relationship with someone that is different, you can advocate for them.”

Simmons then encouraged those present to attend the Hate Won’t Win March for Unity and Thanksgiving in Charleston on Saturday, June 18, 2016.

Vigils continue across the state and the nation, and as the one-year anniversary of the Emanuel Tragedy draws closer, South Carolina remembers and honors the lives that have been lost.