Why Did He Come? – A Poem for Charleston, South Carolina

June 23, 2015

By Sister Larretta Rivera Williams

The Sisters of Mercy join with people across the country in extending our deepest sympathy and prayers for the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, after the June 17 killing of nine church members during a prayer meeting.

This tragedy–and so many others like it–powerfully reminds us to face the racism so blatantly alive in our own society. It calls us not only to pray for those affected by this resulting violence, but to acknowledge the ways in which we are complicit in perpetuating hate speech, hate crime and other more subtle but equally damaging forms of racism.

Sister Larretta Rivera Williams shared this reflection on the shootings in verse:  

The nine victims of the shooting in Charleston, South Carolina. Top row, from left: Ethel Lance, Tywanza Sanders and Cynthia Hurd. Middle row, from left: Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Clementa Pinckney and Susan Jackson. Bottom row, from left: Myra Thompson, Rev. Daniel Simmons and Sharonda Singleton. Photos via Fox Carolina.

The nine victims of the shooting in Charleston, South Carolina. Top row, from left: Ethel Lance, Tywanza Sanders and Cynthia Hurd. Middle row, from left: Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Clementa Pinckney and Susan Jackson. Bottom row, from left: Myra Thompson, Rev. Daniel Simmons and Sharonda Singleton. Photos via Fox Carolina.

Why Did He Come?

Emotions erupted my sleeping soul as pools of sadness filled chambers of my heart.

They say he came to shoot Black people.

Awakened by reports of violence at the historical Emanuel AME Church in South Carolina; fragments of grief pierced an unsettled stomach.

They say he came to shoot Black people.

Charleston, South Carolina…rich history, unique architecture, sweet grass basketry, and southern charm.

Historical beauty stained by slave trade, positioned in a state of Palmetto trees, Myrtle and Hilton Head; capitol dome shadowed by the State, American, and Confederate flags.

They say he came to shoot Black people.

Nine people killed while “keeping their minds fixed on Jesus.” Nine people lifting their eyes to the hills from “whence comes thy help. Thy help comes from the Lord.”

Old and young placing their hands too soon in the Master’s hand. Could this have been his sacred plan?

They say he came to shoot Black people.

A taste of plantation filled my mouth with the stinging salt of a mother’s tears.  A gripping anguish like being ripped from a mother’s embrace to stand solo and sold on the slave stone.

My legs fell weak with the weight of a father’s sorrow caressing his child laid bruised, beaten, and bullet-bled.

A prayer service takes place outside Emanual AME Church. Photo by Stephen B. Morton, AP / via CNN.

A prayer service takes place outside Emanual AME Church. Photo by Stephen B. Morton, AP / via CNN.

They say he came to shoot Black people.

Some say, “It does not matter; the color of your skin.”  It does matter if you have had to worry, hide, defend, or explain. Do you think the nine worried?

They say he came to shoot Black people.

Asphalt darkness bleeds through humanity. But an explosion of God’s glorious light is forever victorious!

Perhaps, in the midst of it all…hope…

They said, He came…

Please join us in praying both for the victims and their families, and in calling ourselves to examine the sin of racism and roots of violence. Please join us in acting in ways that show all lives matter to us. Please join us in being more vigilant and taking action to confront injustice in our communities that leads to violence, of facing and caring for members of our communities who are troubled, who do violence when untreated.  Please join us in taking a critical look at our own actions, our own hearts and how we may be failing to face and remedy this reality in our everyday lives. View resources on dismantling racism and nonviolence.

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  1. Pingback: After Emmanuel AME Church Murders: No Confederate Flags | Race-less Gospel


  2. Renee Yann, RSM

    Dear Larretta, thank you!


  3. Wanda Smith, RSM

    The news of the shooting brought tears to my eyes and a tremendous sorrow to my heart, Larri, your beautiful poem brought tears to my eyes and hope to my heart. Thanks you for sharing your gift of writing and your deep feelings.


  4. Peter Thiele

    The good people of Charleston have proven that racism is in the minority in South Carolina. The lovely affection of this town has been a light for us all. I don’t know why one moment of evil has to focus us all on racial division instead of the unity we are actually seeing.


  5. Fran Repka

    Thank you for your profound words, amidst this tragedy, Larri.
    Thank you also for the call to continue to examen our racism and the roots of violence. We have a long way to go; but together we can get there. God is with us.


  6. Carolyn

    Such element words that address the senselessness of the night. Still in the darkness came the light of hope. May God bless those left behind and may we say no more hate, no more killings.

    Blessings,
    Carolyn


  7. Camille D'ARienzo, RSM

    Dear Larretta,

    “He came to kill black people…” How devoid of humanity…how crude and cruel and callous when the truth is that He came to kill black people made in the image and likeness of God…men, women and children holding the divine promise of enfleshed goodness.

    Thank you, dear Sister, for finding words to express our grief.

    Affectionately,

    Camille


  8. Barbara Edwards

    Larretta, Thanks for sharing. I have been horrified at all the shootings over the last year but this moved me to tears. The example of the survivors – even the sister who said I’m not where I can forgive now but pray to get there – has been a witness to the many that only see Blacks as violent. The power from that church certainly showed the power of Jesus over evil. You are right – we are not all alike. Although I view all as equal, I am aware that because I was born White I never have had to experience daily overt and covert racism. I pray that this is a turning point.


  9. Michelle Gorman

    Thank you Larretta. What can I say? As someone in Sojourners wrote- we need to enter a time of lamentation and acknowledgement of our complicity in racism.


  10. Carolee

    LarrettaThank you for finding words and images to capture the inexpressible depth of pain and fragil yet steadfast presence of hope.

    Thanks for your witness!

    Carolee


  11. Mary Stanton

    Emotions erupted … and stay so raw. It matters; of course it matters. Please continue to share your gift and touch us with your emotions and your words that matter, Laretta. Lovingly, mary


  12. Sr. Fran McManus, RSM

    Thanks for your thoughtfulness, Loretta. Not two weeks before the massacre, I had attended the Anti-Racism training our Mercy Institute is engaging in, calling us to be aware of, identify and dismantle systemic racism. The nightly news, with its count of church fires magnifies the urgency to be attentive and fierce with our mercy and justice, facing down racism. Below is the prayer poem that came out of my insomniac reflection the night of the shooting.

    Emanuel, God with Us…

    A warm June evening
    they come together
    to pray as one,
    welcoming the other:
    a young white one,
    stranger, come
    to study.

    Breaking open the Word
    mightier than any sword,
    they pray and praise,
    savor the sweetness
    of their Savior,
    Amen the text
    written in the heart.

    Studying done,
    the young one
    speaks. His vision
    shaped by lies,
    he claims his mission:

    to prey, to kill blacks
    who, he says, rape
    and take. What
    poverty, what
    possession, what
    old fears petrified
    so young a heart?

    Gun in hand, he fires,
    ends eight, then nine lives,
    selects one to survive,
    a witness to tell the story.

    Once again, blood
    and water flow,
    tears tearing open
    old scabs. History
    repeats itself,
    hate reseeds
    Itself. Over-
    come, we cry:

    Jesus, in these,
    your friends,
    you bleed. Come,
    overcome what
    divides and kills.