I remember June 17, 2015 like it was yesterday. News spread across the nation that a white supremacist opened fired as the faithful folks of Emanuel African Methodist Church (AME) in Charleston, South Carolina gathered for mid-week prayer—as they always had. Nine were killed. Three survived. The nation was left rocking and reeling from the news that one of the nations oldest Black churches and a beacon for justice and love was infiltrated by hate.
I was rocking and reeling. As an ordained clergy person actively involved in church life and worship, I cried out to God, lamenting the loss of life and questioning the rise of white supremacy in America and the complete disregard of sacred spaces. When I was growing up, houses of worship, like schools, used to be safe and holy ground. Now it is not uncommon to hear of synagogues being burned, mosques being bombed, and churches and gurdwaras being sites for mass shootings.
During worship one Sunday, while sitting in the pulpit, an unknown and unkempt white man entered the sanctuary of our predominantly African-American congregation and came barreling down the center aisle. Fear rose up within me. In that moment, I thought about the Charleston Nine—the Reverend Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Sharon Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lee Lance, DePayne Middleton Doctor, Susie Jackson, and the Reverend Daniel L. Simmons Sr.—whose lives were taken as they gathered to pray and praise God. I also silently prayed and pleaded with God for the safety of my husband, daughters, and church family.
I was reminded of this experience during my interview with Rose Simmons, the daughter of the late Reverend Daniel L. Simmons, Sr. who was tragically killed in the shooting. Simmons is one of many surviving family members and survivors featured in Emmanuel, a documentary centered around hate, healing and forgiveness in the aftermath of the shooting in Charleston. In our conversation, Simmons spoke about the widespread grief that grew out of this moment—grief that was dormant in me and is likely still dormant in others across the nation. A gracious and kind soul, when offered condolences on the loss of her father, Simmons extended condolences back with the recognition that Charleston happened to all of us.
Simmons is full of surprises. In describing the moments after hearing of her father’s death, she spoke of an overwhelming sense of peace and joy that came from the Holy Spirit. I was ready to talk about grief, but instead had a powerful conversation on the beauty of Reverend Simmons’ life, the mantle to preserve his legacy, and the importance of healing and forgiveness in a nation divided. It is clear, that Simmons loves her father and is carrying on the work that her father began, work that God has called and strengthened her to do.
But don’t take my word for it; Listen to the full audio of the interview then scroll down to view the trailer for this pivotal documentary. And don't miss your opportunity to see Emanuel, in theaters on June 17th and 19th.
Directed by Brian Ivie and Executive Produced by Stephen Curry and Viola Davis, Emmanuel gives voice to survivors and surviving family members and demonstrates the power of faith and forgiveness. Proceeds from the film will go to the survivors and their family members. Read more about the film here.