“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by good people” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
This past week my heart dropped when I heard the news about the shootings in Charleston, S.C. I wasn’t sure how to feel. I sat there in utter disbelief! A part of me cried and another part of me became very angry. I realize that we live in a world full of violence and people who hate just because, but for me this act actually shook a bit of my world. I consider myself a man of faith, hope and one who looks for the good that can come from a negative situation. I mean after all this page is about looking on the bright side, hence The Upside of Down. But this weekend if I’m honest with you, I struggled to get there, I struggled to find peace and I struggled to find the good coming out. As I looked at the pictures of the now deceased – Cynthia Graham Hurd (55), Tywanza Sanders (26), Sharonda Coleman-Singleton (45), Myra Thompson (59), Ethel Lance (70), Susie Jackson (87), Reverend Daniel Simmons Sr. (74), DePayne Middleton Doctor (49) and Senator Clementa C. Pinckney (41), I feel a numbness and a hardness attempting to consume me. I know I must press through even this, but I confess – THIS IS HARD!
This weekend I stopped at a local restaurant to grab a quick bite to eat. As I was eating my food in the parking lot, minding my own business a group of twenty to thirty something year-old caucasian kids walked past my car heading for the restaurant. They paid me no mind, but for the first time I can ever remember in my 46 years on earth, I was afraid for my life for a brief second. It was a daunting feeling and was hard to shake even after the initial pass. I realize this recent shooting was not a first and unfortunately will not be the last, but I believe the reason that I felt fear and resonate with this particular crime so much is because of the location and the people the shooter chose to kill. Not only did he plot to murder African-Americans Christians, but he chose leaders within that community, minding their own business doing God’s work behind the scenes, while living impactful lives. Even those facts are really nothing new for us, but for me it struck a chord. A cord that will for the rest of my life impact how I make decisions, pray, teach my children and become more vigilant as a father and a leader.
I would rather die knowing that I was fulfilling my life’s purpose than knowing I was safe and not doing anything at all.
I’m always sharing with my children that tomorrow is not promised, so we must live our lives with purpose and as if we may never see one another again. This must remain in our minds each time we leave our home, venturing out towards our day. I love the statement that Malcolm Graham made about his sister Cynthia Graham Hurd, “She was a not a victim. She was a Christian. She was a soldier. She was a warrior. She was with her Maker when she took her last breath.” What awesome words to declare about the life of someone you loved, but more importantly about someone who you knew that statement to be true and accurate.
I am re-examining how I live my life. I will bundle up the fear, anger and pain resulting from this tragedy and redirect that energy to fuel my own life’s work. I will refocus and know at any moment it could end, but I will not be afraid of death, I will not even be afraid of life, therefore as I yet have breath flowing through my lungs and a sound mind, I will not shun from any opportunity to do more, go further and to exploit my God-given abilities.
For sometimes it’s not only the fear of death that causes us to stumble, but the fear of living and being recognized for doing something great.
How many times have you avoided speaking your mind, deferred the answer to someone else or simply walked away from an opportunity, knowing good and well that you were capable, worthy and the right person for the job or task? We all have experienced this at some point on in our lives, but as I read and listen to the family members and loved ones of these nine courageous individuals speak about forgiveness, and declare the amazing contributions that each of them added to their lives and the world, I am inspired. I am inspired about what legacies they leave behind and how each of them will continue to touch all of us that allow ourselves to feel and identify with who they were as human beings (not just African-Americans). And realize that even though their lives were violently taken from them, the songs they sang, the people they taught, the lives they affected and the messages that they preached now touch the world. For that I am thankful, because their spirits and what they stood for can never be killed with a bullet, ignorant opinions, or racist actions. That truth will prevail.
The Bible states is James 4:14b,c – For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appears for a little time, and then vanishes away. Now whether you believe the Bible or not is the question here, but to understand the message is critical. We don’t have much time in retrospect of everything. Life is indeed short and every moment that we have to live, it is crucial that we live with resolve. In these times we cannot afford to waste moments, but we must be about our life’s work. Utilizing and exploiting every gift and talent that we have been blessed with. As I look at the age range of those that died, they represented ones just beginning their life, coming out of college and others near the end their walk. Despite their ages, they each were able to give something significant to their families, communities and now even the world. The world has now seen nine beautiful souls that lived with intention, love for themselves as well as others and their legacies will never be forgotten.
I pray that you never forget that day and never forget the nine that died on Wednesday, June 17, 2015. I pray that as you chose to read this post, you recognize that ALL lives matter. Let’s embrace our children and help them work through this tragedy and like the son (Chris Singleton) of Sharonda Coleman-Singleton stated in his brief news briefing, “Love is always stronger than hate.” Love is truly the strongest force in the world.