At the start of his talk at BCSSW to address the shootings that took place at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church in Charleston, South Carolina, the Rev. Dr. Gregory Groover, pastor of Boston’s Historic Charles Street A.M.E. Church, made a confession.
“I had to think hard just to remember that tragic occurrence,” he said. “I had to sit for a long while and remain still and alone, just to be able to recall and zone in specifically to that June 17 … atrocity that devastated us all. And here’s what’s so troubling and embarrassing, the massacre only occurred a little over four moths ago.”
Moreover, Groover argued, he in particular should have had all the more reason to remember the specifics of the violence that took place in that church – Emanuel is a sister congregation to his own, and Groover knew two of those who died on that tragic evening.
Yet, he had to stop and think, because so much, so violent has happened since then.
Unfortunately, racial violence remains an all-too-common occurrence in our country. In his talk, Groover listed a number of African American churches that have been set on fire since June 17, a mere 20 weeks ago, and he cited the repeated instances of police brutality against blacks over the same short time period. The realities were staggering.
“ I do remember that Wednesday night June 17,” said Groover, once he was able to home in on that particular incident of racial violence. “Because like Pastor Clementa Pinckney and others at the Historic Emanuel AME Church I too attended bible study at night…
“I know why Pastor Pinckney and Reverend Daniel Simmons… were there on Wednesday night. Because for them, and for the thousands of AME congregations, and really, for the tens of thousands of African American congregations across the country, church has never been, and in 2015 it’s still never just a Sunday morning experience… We would not survive as a people if we went to church for two hours on Sunday…
“By midweek alone, we as African Americans, are already tired, and spent, and bound up from having to confront every day the many oppressive forms of racism. By midweek we have already been spiritually bruised up, psychologically scarred, and morally injured by having had doors closed in our faces… Having our character always be questioned. And having to prove ourselves simply because of our race.”
As he moved through the course of his talk, Groover, who holds an MSW from Columbia, clearly and compassionately illustrated to those students, faculty, and staff members gathered that the road to racial justice still takes detours; and that, while we have made progress, we still have a long way to go.
He then offered a call to action.
“What must we do as a people who deeply care about justice and improving social conditions of the oppressed, especially in the urban environment? What must we do as social workers and as change agents and as community transformers in response to the Emanuel Church tragedy? We must do something… otherwise it will happen again and again and again until God forbid we become numb to it.”
There is no “one-size-fits-all response” to how we respond to the Emanuel massacre and other acts like it, he explained. But each of us must figure out what we can do to create sustainable action as part of a greater overall mission to usher in true racial and economic justice. And we must address the reality that our mission exists in a world where there are people who still believe that the lives of black and brown people are dispensable. All of this must be undertaken in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Truly bearing witness to the atrocity of the Emanuel Church Massacre means for each of us rekindle and renew that burning call within us to become relentless and passionate activists for racial, social, and economic justice.”