The Benjamin N. Duke Scholars anticipated many challenges during their annual Carolina Summer of Service in South Carolina’s Lowcountry, but finding themselves so close, both geographically and emotionally, to a church massacre was not one of them.
Emanuel A.M.E. Church stands little more than an hour’s drive from Georgetown, S.C., where ten B.N. Scholars, all rising sophomores and residents of the two Carolinas, are working with community partners for ten weeks on projects like improving access to healthcare for veterans, teachings at a summer school for underserved students, and collecting oral histories from members of A.M.E. churches in Georgetown County. The scholars joined their neighbors by traveling to the June 26 memorial service for Reverend Clementa Pinckney. The pastor and State Senator was one of nine people killed during the June 17 shooting. Like many mourners, the scholars were not able to fit inside the College of Charleston’s TD arena to see President Barack Obama deliver the eulogy, but they joined hands with mourners in the streets. B.N. Duke Scholar and Charleston native Gabrielle Stewart shares her thoughts on the tragedy, the community’s resilience and her new sense of history:
GABRIELLE STEWART (B.N. DUKE SCHOLAR) – FRIDAY, JUNE 26 – CHARLESTON, S.C.
As a resident of Charleston, it’s pretty commonplace for me to find myself immersed in history. Whether through wandering across the downtown area and the myriad of historic sites interspersed throughout it, exploring the labyrinth ships in Patriots Point, or simply sitting on the shores of islands like Seabrook and John’s island and conversing with their residents, I constantly find myself encountering remnants of our country’s rich yet convoluted history. I always hear whispers of a national heritage marked by divisions, triumphs, tribulations, and changes. But today, along with my fellow BN rising sophomores, I experienced history in a far more active sense: I experienced it being made. Departing shortly from our Carolina Summer of Service activities in Georgetown, SC, we journeyed south to Charleston bright and early Friday morning to get in line to watch Senator Pinckney’s funeral, where President Obama would be delivering the eulogy. While we ultimately didn’t get in to see the procession, in such a tangible, profound manner, we experienced the monumental power that a city, nation, and its president coming together in solidarity in remembrance of a remarkable man holds. We heard the stories of fellow community members. We sang with strangers in the streets. First-hand, we felt the overwhelming unity that shared compassion and empathy create as they combat tragedy and evil. Against the backdrop of a national Court decision that demolishes restrictions placed on love, the events we witnessed today revealed that love is beginning to permeate our nation, reconciling wrongs, slowly ameliorating tragedy, uniting citizens, and – above all – prompting us to progress towards a better world together.
To read more about the B.N. Scholars’ reactions to the Charleston shootings and their work in the Lowcountry, follow their “BN Carolina Summer of Service/Duke Class of 2018” blog.