More than 200 saddened and outraged people gathered at an uptown church on Thursday to mourn the victims of a mass shooting at a black Charleston church a day earlier.
At the Charlotte gathering, which was attended by Mayor Dan Clodfelter and other elected officials, a diverse cross-section of the city’s religious and civic leaders encouraged attendees to turn their hurt and anger into action.
“Most of y’all think it’s safe in (church), but it’s not safe in here. You had evidence of that last night,” said the Rev. Kojo Nantambu, the former head of the Charlotte NAACP. “It’s going to affect you. It’s going to affect your grandchildren. We’ve got to carry this fight to every community out there. We’ve got to change this nation.”
The memorial service at Charlotte’s Little Rock AME Zion Church was one of many across the nation. The killings at Emanuel AME Church especially touched people of faith who mourned churchgoers shot while gathered on a weeknight to worship. At least two other Charlotte churches planned memorial gatherings Thursday.
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Among the dead at the historic black church in Charleston are South Carolina state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, a pastor at Emanuel AME, and Cynthia Hurd, the sister of Malcolm Graham, a former North Carolina state senator from Charlotte.
The suspect in the mass shooting, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, was arrested in Shelby early Thursday. Authorities are investigating the mass shooting as a hate crime.
Speakers encouraged people to not just condemn Roof’s actions but to work to dispel bigotry in all its forms.
“How many more times must we tap the wells of our tears while assembled in shock and in horror?” asked Jay Leach, the senior minster of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Charlotte. “But even in our sorrow, let us be clear. We gather also in complete defiance – defying all those who continue to try to foster division between us.”
Speakers highlighted other events across the nation that had caused outrage and warned that inaction in the face of such tragedies allows more to occur.
“What is your breaking point?” asked Marcelle Vielot, with the Charlotte chapter of the NAACP, as audience members stood and clapped. “What is the straw that breaks the camel’s back that gets you out of the house and into the streets?”