One year ago Friday, this country witnessed an attack on a race of people, an attack on humanity. The crime was hate. The crime was racism. It happened in my hometown of Charleston, at the church where my siblings and I sang in the choir as children. On June 17, 2015, in this church, my sister Cynthia Graham Hurd and eight other innocent people were shot dead because of the color of their skin.
The shootings in Charleston crushed the souls of my family, those eight families and countless others. We’ve cried. We’ve prayed. We will never be the same.
I wish I could say America can and will be better, but how many more mass shootings have happened in the past year alone? Each one may shock us, but they aren’t surprising. Not anymore, not as the list of victimized communities continues to grow.
This week in Orlando, another mass shooting – the worst one ever – left another 49 people dead and ripped out the hearts of their families. The crime was hate, hate for an entire class of people for whom and how they love.
To those families of the victims, I feel your pain. The weeks, months and years ahead will be gut wrenching, with no real cure for your pain. No family should have to bear this agony. Not in our country, not in 2016.
What Orlando and Charleston have in common is simple. When you combine hate and ignorance with easy access to guns and the refusal to approve common-sense gun legislation, the result is more innocent Americans shot dead.
As we’ve seen, no place or group of people is safe. First-graders and their teachers. College students and their professors. Worshippers of a variety of faiths – Christians, Jews, Sikhs. Movie-goers. Television news reporters. Service men and women on our military bases.
I refuse to believe this great country of ours can’t change our gun laws. Banning assault files, closing loopholes in gun show sales … these measures can make a difference. Will evil people still kill innocent people? Sadly, yes. We can’t prevent every tragedy. But by doing nothing, we fail to protect even one innocent person who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Hatred, racism and bigotry have no place in our society. In the past year, I’ve traveled the country to share that message with communities. I will continue on my sister’s behalf to push for racial harmony, common-sense gun laws and the protection and uplifting of humanity. I owe that to Cynthia, and to all victims of senseless gun violence.
My family and I take comfort in the work to build a foundation to continue Cynthia’s life’s work – creating a passion for reading and learning, especially among children. We established the Cynthia Graham Hurd Foundation for Literacy and Civic Engagement, which advocates for the expansion of literacy and availability of books in the community. This month – the month Cynthia died but also the month she was born – the Foundation, with the help of its library and media partners, is conducting a two-city book drive in Charleston and Charlotte.
Finally, my family looks forward to the dedication and renaming of a branch of the Charleston County Public Library on Tuesday, June 21 – my sister’s birthday – when the St. Andrews Library will become the Cynthia Graham Hurd Library.
My family and I know the life and legacy of Cynthia will not be forgotten. All who enter her library, one of her favorite places, will remember her. We will not forget.
Malcolm Graham is a former Charlotte City Council member and N.C. state senator who has lived in Charlotte for more than 30 years.