On June 17, 2015, nine Black people were killed during a Bible study meeting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church (Emanuel AME) by a visitor (Dylann Roof, now in jail awaiting criminal charges). One of the nine, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, was a pastor of Emanuel AME and was a South Carolina state senator.
[The remaining eight are–Ms. Cynthia Hurd; Ms. Susie Jackson; Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor; Mr. Tywanza Sanders; Rev. Daniel Simmons, Sr.; Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, and Ms. Myra Thompson.]
President Barack Obama, on June 26, 2015, delivered a eulogy for Rev. Pinckney as well as the other victims. Eulogies are tricky speeches–the words must
- provide comfort to the grieving surving family members of the deceased,
- wish the deceased well in their new life in eternity, and
- honor the life of the deceased, in the case of a religious person, like those who worshiped at Emanuel AME, both their religious and secular lives.
The President was able to craft a wonderful speech that was comforting, respectful, and was encouraging of positive change as the response to tragedy. The YouTube video of the speech is presented below.
In closing, I use quotes from the President’s eulogy because it provides advice for the way forward in addressing structural discrimination.
None of us can or should expect a transformation in race relations overnight. Every time something like this happens, somebody says we have to have a conversation about race. We talk a lot about race. There’s no shortcut. And we don’t need more talk.
It would be a refutation of the forgiveness expressed by those families if we merely slipped into old habits, whereby those who disagree with us are not merely wrong but bad; where we shout instead of listen; where we barricade ourselves behind preconceived notions or well-practiced cynicism.
[Author’s Note: Persons, like Dylann Roof in a murder case discussed in this post, accused of a crime in the United States are presumed innocent until proven guilty.]