The funerals are being completed and the grieving is continuing for the nine members of Emanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston, S.C., who were shot to death June 17 as they studied the Bible, sang and prayed.
Many of us connected to community foundations across the country are trying to move past our shock and profound sadness to recognize that this heinous act has ignited a movement with the potential to confront racism honestly and completely rather than continuing the pattern of denial that has been embedded in America’s history.
As the Charleston families bury their dead; all over the rest of America, those who are horrified by a whole series of events that have taken the lives of African-American citizens are collectively thinking the same word:
“Wednesday’s shooting was not an isolated incident, nor is it unspeakable,” Richard Hendry, interim president and CEO of the Coastal Community Foundation of South Carolina, writes on the foundation’s website. “We encourage everyone to lead or participate in discussions about gun violence, race relations and other systemic factors that contributed to the shooting. This is an opportunity for us to begin a sustained, continuing conversation in our community on issues that transcend this one, horrible event.”
The most recent news coming out of the South has focused on the issue of the Confederate flag. In photographs of the accused shooter, 21-year-old Dylan Roof, that flag is as prominent and chilling as the gun he is brandishing. Already, South Carolina’s Legislature, its governor, national politicians from both major parties and major retailers have called for the flag to be removed from public display, circulation and sale. And all of us who live in Pennsylvania know well that the fealty to that flag is hardly confined to southern states.
Symbols are important. It is time to take legitimacy from a battle flag that was the emblem of those who fought to destroy the United States and to protect slavery.
And we believe community foundations are well positioned to advance the kind of progress that goes well beyond the symbolic.
It is our hope that in the coming months, the Pittsburgh community will have many open, honest conversations about race and racism--about ways in which racism still affects Pittsburgh culture and ways in which we can honestly think, and talk our way to a more constructive future. Those sorts of conversations can be the best ways to ensure that we avoid the sort of trauma that has hit other communities so very hard in recent months.
At The Pittsburgh Foundation, we want to be a part of those conversations, and a force in advancing the sort of dialogue that can find meaning in honest inquiry and careful listening.
Maxwell King is president and CEO of The Pittsburgh Foundation