One year can seem as if it passed in the blink of an eye. It can rush by in the day-to-day chaos that all too often defines our busy lives. One year can slip by unnoticed, as imperceptible as the beating of a heart, the flutter of a loved one’s memory through the mind. I know this because I have lived it.
For me, it seems baffling, almost impossible, to consider that it was a full year ago this week that nine innocent lives were cut down by a savage murderer inside Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
It seems unthinkable that an act of such pure evil and hatred occurred in a space dedicated to brotherhood, love and worship for Almighty God. Yet it happened, and we must remember.
My cousin, pastor Clementa Pinckney, was among the innocents who was targeted that fateful day. He passed at just 41 years of age, having earned two master’s degrees, been elected as the youngest person ever to the state House and four years later become the youngest ever elected to the South Carolina Senate. He accomplished more in four decades on this earth than many achieve in a lifetime.
As I look back today on the events that transpired a year ago, I am struck not by what happened as much as what did not happen. Our community, which could have come unglued, instead came together.
In the wake of that awful event, some issued dire predictions that the racist motives of the killer would lead to more shootings. Still others predicted violent acts of retribution. South Carolina, and indeed the entire U.S., was poised to regress, but that did not happen.
Instead, we recoiled in horror and then we began the process of healing. Some members of the church, men and women of deep faith, had already forgiven the shooter and prayed for him even before he appeared in court for the first time to be held accountable for his actions.
If evil had been allowed to run rampant in the days and months following the shooting in Charleston, then the misguided murderer would have been delivered a second chilling victory. That did not happen. The people of South Carolina and all across America did not choose to debase themselves by giving in to impulses for revenge.
Instead, the targeting of one community became an aberration rather than a precedent. I continue to be horrified at the senseless tragedy that took place. But I am comforted by the knowledge that in the wake of that appalling act there has been relative calm.
Our nation continues to confront serious challenges — that is a fact. But we have always been a country that celebrated vigorous debate. We are a democracy whose citizens enjoy the freedom of assembly and the freedom of expression. In many countries, citizens live in constant fear of their government and face stark realities with little ability to improve their lots in life, but not in America.
Yet terrorists continue to try to make us live in fear. We saw that this weekend in Orlando, where a terrorist killed 50 people and injured 53. It is a reminder that we must remain vigilant against terrorism and continue to fight those who seek to divide us wherever they are. Despite our differences in America, we are able to discuss the things that divide like rational people.
This is an amazing country where the possibilities are infinite. There is truly no limit to what can be achieved by those willing to develop talents and to work hard in the pursuit of excellence.
But at the end of the day, it is people and not the government that must take responsibility for setting the moral course for our country. Building the kind of America that we want and deserve starts at home. Mothers and fathers must be the ones who create the conditions for tolerance, and they have a crucial role to play in guiding the next generation not toward violence, but instead to a place of enhanced compassion and respect.
Looking back today, the main lesson that I draw from the Charleston shootings is that we must continue to be ever vigilant about opposing evil and that despite all of our flaws, even today we truly are one nation, under God.
• Armstrong Williams is a nationally syndicated columnist and sole owner/manager of Howard Stirk Holdings LLC TV.