Next Stop? Charleston, SC
For me the drive from Georgia to Charleston, South Carolina is about five hours. I hope soon to set foot in Charleston, the epicenter of one of the worst scenes of domestic violence since Oklahoma City.
I’d like to get there after the media, publicity seekers and politicians have packed their bags, put away their mikes and left, leaving behind a city in mourning trying to return to normalcy, if normalcy is even possible.
Even if I could, I have absolutely no desire to lay eyes on the epicenter of the epicenter, one Dylann Roof; our (I use the word “our” purposefully for reasons you’ll see further down) 2015 incarnation of Oklahoma City bombers Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. We’ve seen enough of his face, one that is now burnished in our “we’re beyond racism” denials and consciousness henceforth and forever more.
Now, why am I going to Charleston and what in the world will I do once I get there?
I can tell you why but, in all honesty, I can’t tell you what I’ll do beyond walking the streets, visiting the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the scene of the massacre and the Old Slave Mart on Chalmers Street.
And I’ll drop in a black barbershop not only to get a cut but, more importantly, to listen to the voices, the word on the street, and the stories of those who’ve been there – and will remain there – long after Dylann Roof indelibly put their city in the headlines and in living and bar rooms worldwide. I will figure out a way to do or to leave something positive.
So like so many others, last week’s massacre left me searching for words. I read so much about this that I stopped reading so much about this. For those who write as a profession or, like me, primarily out of a passion, we struggle with how to comment on a senseless tragedy that is beyond comprehension.
Which takes me now to why I’m going to Charleston, South Carolina.
You see, for some reason I’m drawn to tragically significant historical events. And have always been. Case in point is when I “attended” my first race riot in the Roxbury section of Boston – eh, as a curious onlooker, let me emphasize – right after the assassination of Dr. King. I could feel levels of rage I had not experienced growing up in a small town in Virginia. It took a free concert by the late soul singer James Brown to help cool down a city that was ready to explode.
Case in point number two is my good friend George, the only person in North Jersey I could find who was willing to drive to New York City a week after 9/11, the day the towers came down. Something told me that I just had to be there. And George, a house painter and phenomenal conversationalist, sensing that in me, and without coaxing, leaped into the front seat of my car and we headed up the Jersey Turnpike, through the Lincoln Tunnel, through Chinatown and finally arrived at a scene that I’ll never forget.
Remarkably, we were able to get within 100 yards of the site of twisted metal, crushed mortal, broken glass, and hundreds of brave yellow-helmeted folks engaged in the cleanup. Amid the smoke and unspeakable smells, we got down on our knees, we stared, held back tears and watched quietly as folks laid flowers on the sidewalk, hugged one another and softly read poetry.
Let’s fast forward to 2007 when a small group of us – black, white, Latino and Asian – ventured to Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas where, fifty years prior, nine black students, known later as the Little Rock Nine, elbowed their way through screams, taunts, insults and spit in an attempt to integrate the school by court order. We walked those hallways in silence allowing our imaginations to recreate what it must have been like to be accompanied from class to class – and even the bathroom – by heavily armed national guardsmen. We put ourselves into the heads of their parents who lived the terror of sending their kids off to school while hoping and praying for their safe return.
And a few years later, my youngest son and nephew visited the Oklahoma National Museum near the location of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building that was decimated on April 19, 1995 by a truck-bomb explosion that left 168 people dead. My son and nephew were, respectively age seven and six at that time, so taking them there was something I knew I had to do.
Now back to Roof and why I characterized him as “ours” at the outset. An editorial in yesterday’s Atlanta Journal and Constitution explained it better than I ever could.
“He (Dylann Roof) did not act alone. A national toxic cynicism abetted him. We all stand alongside the Dylann Storm Roof as accessories. We – who tolerate virulent partisanship on all sides, willful misbelief, easily swallowed half-truths or outright lies. Once-innocuous adjectives like “liberal” or “conservatives” have become curses, spat out to extinguish conversation, honest debate or inquiry.
We-who distain, dismiss and condemn those having different experiences or beliefs, no matter how sincerely held. We ignore history. Worse yet, routinely twist it far beyond factual recognition to sit our own prejudices.
“How often has Roof heard urgent pleas from respected men and women to take back our country, to in fact arm themselves to do so? How often has he heard exaggerated tales of black people getting special favors at the expense of whites? Let’s not let Roof become our convenient scapegoat.”
So for me, sitting on the Charleston “do nothing” stool is not an option.The same inner voices that nudged me to the Roxbury riot, the site of 9/ll, to Little Rock and to Oklahoma City, now beckon me to Charleston, South Carolina where I intend to be accompanied by my son Whitney, now a writer, producer and director (see email@example.com (469) 951-2713 if you ever need video expertise).
©Terry Howard is an award-winning trainer, writer and story teller who resides in Douglasville, Georgia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org