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What happened in South Carolina felt way too personal.

When I heard that a racist gunman entered Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston during a small group Bible study on June 17 and killed nine people, my body went cold.



Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images.

I have spent countless Wednesday nights in the chairs of a small black church, surrounded by 15 or so people — just like them.

Usually that bunch includes a handful of the church's older women, or "church mothers" as we call them. There will be one, maybe two people in their 20s who are holding down the fort for "the next generation."

Then there's the pastor, the associate pastors and deacons, and a few children fidgeting somewhat quietly on a chair next to their mother, grandmother, or auntie who brought them out after a hurried dinner, the only reason for them to ever be out on a school night.

I can imagine how a visitor could come in and sit down and be included in the group without question.

We would offer him a Bible and a seat of his choosing, as there would undoubtedly be many empty to pick from. I could imagine how, despite him not fitting in and potentially being a bit distracting, people would try to engage him in the prayer and discussion because that is what we do: welcome the stranger with love.

Congregants hold hands during a prayer vigil for the nine victims killed at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.

So when I heard about what happened in South Carolina, I felt in my gut the terror and horror that must have ensued when said stranger turned out to be a gunman on a mission to eradicate people who share my skin color.

It all felt so familiar.

I didn't think my heart could feel any more deeply for Mother Emanuel, for the lives lost, for the loved ones left behind, for my people, and for our country...

Then I was forwarded this video from the church service at Mother Emanuel that took place just three days before the shooting.

It isn't the greatest quality (though the audio does get a bit better at 0:18), but for some reason, I couldn't stop watching it:

You see, last Sunday, Mother Emanuel celebrated Children's Sunday.

Children's Sunday in many churches is a day where the church honors its young people by both speaking directly to them and handing over the reigns and allowing them to showcase their gifts and talents during the service.

Here, the girls were dancing to a song by gospel artist Tamela Mann called "Lord We Are Waiting." The lyrics to the chorus are:

"Here in this place, we humbly bow
Our hearts are waiting, speak to us now
There is no time here, only Your presence
Show us Your Glory, speak to us now.
Speak to us now."



Why have I watched this short clip over and over again?

Because I can't get over the fact that before the week was out, just three days after these girls were recorded dancing in a service meant to show the church's support and love for them, one of Mother Emanuel's children, a 5-year-old, would play dead to avoid being murdered in the very same sanctuary.

Photographs of the nine victims killed are held up by congregants during a prayer vigil at the Mother Emanuel AMC Church in Charleston. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.

This is what racism does: It infiltrates even the most sacred of spaces and terrorizes even the most vulnerable among us.

Many have highlighted the irony of such a heinous act of hate and white supremacy happening in a place of worship during a religious gathering.

But I can speak only for myself, as a black woman who claims the historic African-American legacy of being progressive, activist, and religious. The message is clear.

Racism has no boundaries, and hatred has no shame. We can use all the help we can get — divine and otherwise — as we do the work and fight to end racism forever.

These beautiful children were dancing in a place that was founded by the organizer of a slave rebellion and that served as a hub of abolitionist and civil rights activity for hundreds of years.

The steeple of Mother Emanuel AME Church. Image by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images.


They were dancing in a church led by a pastor who only a few months ago stood on the floor of the state Senate to condemn police brutality and who regularly spoke about political participation like this:

A pastor who is no longer with us. Because of hate.

The people of Mother Emanuel have been fighting hatred and racism for generations. Will we join them?

I believe that their cry for God to be with them and to speak to them was not one of religious passivity or weakness but of a recognition of the need for divine strength and wisdom to support them in the massive work that they are called to do on this earth.

That is the work that all of us who believe in freedom and equality are called to do.

More than anything, this dance from a few days before the tragic hate crime was carried out within the church's walls reminds me that hope and beauty always remain.

Each generation will continue dancing even as the fight continues.

Thank you, children of Mother Emanuel. We're all dancing — and fighting — right by your side.

Photo: Jason DeCrow for United Nations Foundation

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