About a year-and-a-half ago, I decided to change the way I look at life. No longer would I allow feelings of hopelessness to control me. My new goal wasn't just to avoid negativity but to eradicate it.
Today, I view negativity the same way I do mold. Mold doesn't just happen; it needs the right conditions to flourish, like negativity. In order to get rid of mold, you have to remove the conditions that allow it to prosper in the first place. And no ingredient is more vital to the growth of mold than inattentiveness.
Since then I've been compelled to spread positivity in and around Charleston. I felt that this beautiful city was becoming more and more segregated, with each person comfortably oblivious to the needs of their neighbors. So in February, I created a positivity campaign called "Charleston Sticks Together" that would highlight the good that this area and its people have to offer. I started selling T-shirts to spread the message and bring smiles to the faces of people I met along the way. I figured if I could get government officials behind the cause then maybe we could do some real good for the community. I've since reached out to the City of North Charleston, and while nothing has been formalized, we've had productive conversations that I hope will lead to an official partnership.
But the responsibility to spread positivity and racial equality doesn't rest solely on the shoulders of our respective governments. We as individual citizens hold all the power. I mean, to my knowledge, the government hasn't sponsored any concerts for Mother Emanuel. They didn't organize the Unity Chain across the Arthur Ravenel Bridge, set up a scholarship fund on behalf of Tywanza Sanders, or create a benefit yoga event at Sneaker Feet First. The government didn't initiate North Charleston's Positive Ticketing campaign; that credit goes to the local non-profit Metanoia, who brought the idea to the city. Nor can the government take credit for the BACE League, which has found ways to get Charleston's creatives and young professionals civically engaged; that was attorney Elliot Smith's idea. My point is the citizens of Charleston have taken it upon themselves to create the change they want to see, and they haven't waited for permission to do it.
Now, a full month after the senseless violence that engulfed Mother Emanuel, we are returning to a sense of normalcy, and the feelings that brought us together are fading. The good news is that there are still people out here who want to be a part of this positive movement. The bad news is that with all the national news cameras gone, there doesn't seem to be a spotlight on the organizations that are properly equipped to galvanize all of this constructive energy.
A couple weeks ago, I was a part of a stirring conversation that brought together a mixture of people from all walks of life in order to talk about just that: what do we do now? One of the most poignant comments came from Sharon Cooper-Murray, an educator and Gullah storyteller. She told us a story about how a visit to a white church made her face her fears about interacting with people that don't look like her. More importantly, it made her check herself, as the fears she had about being the only black person in a sanctuary filled with white people were based upon thoughts she implanted in her own mind and not by the actions of anyone in said church. She laughed with us about it, but she said that at the time the idea of her being strung up in a tree didn't seem far-fetched. Cooper-Murray ended her point by admitting that her fear was rooted in the unknown.
With that story in mind, she made her final point: there isn't enough physical interaction between people in this city. When we're left to assume what other people are like, we oftentimes make terrible, and incorrect, judgments about them. The beautiful thing that has come from these recent tragedies is that they've broken down the imaginary barriers we put up between ourselves, and we've come together in such a powerful way that the rest of the nation has taken notice. Cooper-Murray suggested that in order to keep these lines of communication open and facilitate long-lasting change, we need to do more things together.
I think that's what scares me about Charleston "returning to normal." Once again, we are erecting those imaginary barriers, those blinders that allow folks like Dylann Roof to grow, like mold, unchecked and undisturbed in the damp and musty dark.
We owe it to the Emanuel Nine — and to each other — to make sure that doesn't happen.