Before Charlotte community members lined up to speak about last week’s mass killing at a black Charleston church, organizers warned the crowd that the conversation in a diverse crowd could get uncomfortable and heated.
But speaker after speaker told the nearly 300 people gathered at Queens University of Charlotte to get used to discomfort because attacking the root causes of racism and bigotry in America would require everyone to take a deep and personal look at themselves.
“We accept the evil, the hatred that is spoken daily, to us and around us,” David Gilliam of Charlotte, told the crowd. “If we address that and we tell all the Uncle Charlies and the Grandpa Johns that you’re wrong ... then we can look to avoid situations like last week.”
MeckMin, an interfaith group with about 100 member congregations, organized Monday night’s two-hour discussion at the university’s Belk Chapel. The organization plans to have a similar discussion about race and faith every Monday through August, alternating between an event near the Myers Park community and in west Charlotte.
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Since the shooting at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church left nine people dead in what appears to be a racially motivated attack, civic leaders and members of the religious community have been trying to channel Charlotteans’ anger and frustration into action that produces positive change.
At a memorial service on Thursday at Little Rock AME Zion Church, organizers encouraged attendees to take political action against bigotry. On Sunday, pastors across the city told their congregations that America’s continuing embrace of racism, hate and violence bears much of the blame.
Monday’s event at Belk Chapel was the largest public gathering in Charlotte on the issue.
Noam Raucher, a rabbi at Temple Israel, said the community had a similar conversation about gun violence after the 2012 mass killing at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. He taught the crowd the Hebrew word “dayenu,” which means “enough.”
“It’s enough of the children dying,” he said. “Enough of people being discriminated against. Enough of the bigotry and hatred and racism in this world.”
Danielle Hilton said that if people in the crowed wanted to spark lasting change, it wasn’t enough to gather at a chapel in south Charlotte.
“I love that we’re gathered in this place,” said Hilton, who is black and said she lives in a majority black neighborhood. “...What would be nice would be to see all these people in my neighborhood, in the places that are frequented by black men, that are frequented by black teenagers. Go into the discomfort. If you feel uncomfortable, then you are on your way.”