Two weeks ago, on June 17, the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston lost nine of its congregation members in a horrific act of violence. The City of Charleston, the State of South Carolina, and the nation have come together to mourn, to support the church community, but also to celebrate the rich, full lives of nine individuals: Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lane, Rev. Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Rev. Daniel Simmons, and Myra Thompson.
We mourn privately and we grieve as a community. We march; we gather in public spaces; we come together in places of worship. In front of the church, in memory of the beloved victims, we leave fresh flowers, sweetgrass roses, hand-crafted crosses, letters, notes, posters, beloved teddy bears, and inspired artwork.
Each day tireless volunteers quietly remove the faded flowers from in front of the church and rearrange the fresh bouquets. In this way, the memorial site remains vibrant. Every day, these same volunteers photograph the site before gathering up the more fragile memorial items and bringing them into the church. In time, the members of the AME Church may want to establish an archive. Stored safely inside, letters from school children, condolence cards, poetry, folk art, signs bearing the signatures of citizens from distant cities, and handcrafted banners are free from environmental damage and are awaiting the moment when a more permanent memorial may be developed. The items, created from of an outpouring of love and raw emotion, celebrate the lives of those lost, provide context for a senseless moment, and offer comfort and strength.