Monday, July 20, 2015

Open Letter To Dylann Roof


It may seem kind of silly to write an open letter to you. You are in solitary confinement. You'll never read this. But maybe somebody who has the same warped thinking as you will. Maybe they won't. Maybe this is just a heartbroken South Carolinian getting it out. I didn't know any of the victims of the mass shooting. I don't know their families or friends. I've been to Charleston countless times. I love my home state of South Carolina. I've never seen such love as I have in the couple of weeks since your "mission". Your plan backfired. You wanted to start a race war. You've reminded us that were are one race, the human race. And the outpouring of love and support our state has seen over the last week has been overwhelming. Sometimes, tragedy inspires beauty. And South Carolina has not allowed your mission of hate to divide us. It has united us.

When you walked through the doors of Mother Emmanuel, a predominantly black church, they didn't look at you, an awkward looking white boy, an outsider. They welcomed you inside as one of them, to escape the sometimes cruel world outside those doors, to find hope in a world of hatred and sadness. You said you almost didn't go through with your plan, as they were so nice to you. Instead, you brought the cruel world that they prayed for inside that church. You took advantage of kindness. In a Snapchat taken just before your rampage, we can see the very members you shot, smiling, totally comfortable in your presence, yet unknowingly sitting in the midst of a cold blooded killer. That video is one I could only watch once, as I saw a glimpse of you, sitting amongst them, as they carried on their Bible study with you in their midst, in their eyes, an equal, moments before you coldly took their lives.

In spite of the warm welcome and gracious people who thought they may be helping you along in life, you saw them as less than equal. You took a gun from your backpack and decided to go through with your plan. You shot many rounds, killing nine and injuring others, and forever changing the lives of the many who knew and loved those lost souls. A six-year-old "played dead" to avoid your bullets. Someone asked you to please stop. You didn't. You ran out of bullets. You planned to end your life. When you realized you were one bullet short to do that, you left. You left a trail of death behind you, and you also left a sobering reminder that hate is alive and well.

For the most part, there doesn't seem to be anyone or anything to blame other than yourself. You used the internet to find like minded idiots such as yourself to fuel your hatred. Rumor has it, it all began when a girl you had a crush on chose a black man to date instead of you. There doesn't seem to be the mental illness defense that many other mass murdering cowards use to try and justify their actions of  evil. I am glad you didn't get the chance to kill yourself. I am glad you will sit in a jail cell. A scrawny kid who isn't such a big threat to those around you on the inside as you were to others on the outside. You will sit through a trial. You will hear from the victims families, the injured. You will see graphic photos of the death you caused. You will be held accountable for taking nine beautiful lives who were showing you love and compassion.

The scariest part of it all is that people like you still exist in our world. I hope and pray that my loved ones never happen to be in the right place at the wrong time, yes, I said right place. In the last 3 years, you and James Holmes went into everyday, normal places, and took many lives. He chose a movie theater on opening night of a highly anticipated midnight release. You chose a house of God. Are we safe anywhere anymore? Maybe not.

I'll never forget being in New York City on the subway alone after midnight a few years ago. I missed my stop and ended up in Harlem. When I saw the sign in the station, my heart sank. I had heard nothing but bad things about Harlem and the people who lived there. But, I had no choice but to keep going up the stairs and out. It was dark. There was a convenience store right across from the stop. I could see four black men under the streetlight. I hesitated, but I walked over to them and explained I was lost. One guy laughed, "Yeah, that's an understatement". They all burst out laughing. Then, another gentleman in their group asked where I needed to be. I told them the station I needed to stop at. They gave me directions. And then, wait for it, they walked me to the entrance of the subway station to make sure I stayed safe. I thanked them and they told me to be on high alert since it was late and I was alone. In my gut, I felt terrible for the moment of hesitation I had. I assumed. I was wrong. Beautiful lesson learned for me.

Love will always outweigh the hatred in our world. While I may not move mountains in changing the world, I can make the biggest difference I have the chance to make right here in my own home as I raise my three beautiful children. I have always taught them that race, religion, and color come in many forms and we're all equal. My oldest kids have learned about segregation and the Civil Rights era from me and at school. They both think that time in history was unjust. In their little hearts, they don't see any difference in themselves, their friends who are black, their Japanese friends, or friends with disabilities. People are people. I hope that they will carry that with them their entire lives, passing that down to their own children one day.

In time, we won't remember you. We will remember and honor the lives you took. We will also remember how our state became one under such tragic circumstances. We will tuck our kids in every night and hope they do not turn from the innocent souls they are into one filled with hatred, or ever encounter a soul who is. Will racism ever go away. No. But, those of us who think racism and violence is pointless and full of heartache outnumber people like you. Too bad you didn't have a TV in your cell to see the thousands who gathered on the bridge in Charleston; black, white, red, yellow, immigrants, every ethnicity you could imagine. You would not have only seen that your race war was a failure, you would have seen the tears from all walks of life were the same transparent tears we all cry in times of sadness. United in grief. Determined to not let you "win".

I am so proud of my state. I stood in line to get t-shirts for my family to honor the dead. I stood in line with people from all over the color spectrum. Poor, rich, middle of the road. None of that mattered. We were all there to pay respect to those who died at the hands of a heartless coward. Their deaths are not in vain.

I took my kids to the site of the shooting. We stood in awe of the outpouring of love in the form of letters, cards, pictures, flowers, and the friendly and united conversation. My son, who is eight, asked me quite loudly, "Mom, how do I honor the ones who died?". A young black man overheard him, bent down, put his hand on my son's shoulder, and said, "You already have, little man". The young man had tears in his eyes. He gives me hope for our future and maybe my own son gave him some hope, too.

I asked my kids in front of the church what they hoped would come from this, and what they wanted to see in their future. This is what they agreed on: "Peace. For everyone to get along and love each other". Then, my son said, "Let's take a picture holding up a peace sign". While their dream my never fully be a reality, may they go into this world with that attitude and be a part of the solution.

May we never forget the Charleston nine. May we never forget their last lesson they taught all of us on earth - to love without hesitation. It sadly cost them their life, but we've all heard the phrase, "What would Jesus do?". And they did. They chose love. To open their doors to someone seemingly in need. You took advantage of that. May they rest in peace.