vigilYesterday was the first day of Ramadan, and the plan was for our community to gather for an Iftar - the meal at sunset with which Muslims who have been fasting break their fast. Instead we gathered around a small table with nine candles that were lit as we read the names of each of those killed on Wednesday night at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC.

We were Muslim, Quaker, Jewish, Unitarian, Pentecostal, Presbyterian and Catholic; Palestinian, Canadian, Rwandan, South African and American; black, white, brown and olive-skinned – sixteen of us gathered together to remember and to honor the names of those who lost their lives in this tragic event.

Cynthia Hurd, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson, Depayne Middleton Doctor, Daniel Simmons, Myra Thompson, Clementa Pinkney - the names of the victims flow together for us with the names of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, Timothy Russell, Malissa Williams, and with the names of countless other African Americans whose deaths have not made it into our national consciousness.

One of the women in our community - African American and a Jew - stepped forward to lead the mourners’ Kaddish, a ritual of Jewish Prayer. Together, we recited the prayer softly in both Hebrew and English. Another member of the community, an African woman who survived the Rwandan Genocide but whose parents did not, wept as she shared the words she had written a few hours earlier in her role as Advocacy and Solidarity Coordinator for the World Student Christian Federation – North America:

I was having trouble writing a statement for WSCF-NA because I was not sure if I was ready to represent the organization’s view on solidarity. Everything I wrote sounded un-Christ-like in its vehemence. All I could think was, “they kill us and this makes us hate them”. Then I wondered how such a violent thought could come into such a nonviolent mind.

One young woman shared the Youtube video of Neiel Israel’s “When a Black Man Walks”, that ends with the words “When a black man walks, think of it as a masterpiece, a beautiful song that you may only hear once. Cherish it. You may never hear it again.” Many of us were weeping.

And then, we broke fast together with the traditional date and a glass of water, and slowly we walked back into the house to share a meal. The Muslims stepped away for evening prayer, and then we gathered around the table and shared stories with one another.

It is a fact of all of our lives that we live in a society characterized by white supremacy, where people of color experience racism every day of their lives and where it is abundantly clear that some lives really do matter more than others. White supremacy isn’t just the KKK. It isn’t the action of one misguided young man who is full of hate and who opens fire on people with whom he has just sat in prayer for an hour. It is the water in which we swim. It is a fact of all of our lives, and while some of us benefit and others pay the cost, it injures us all.

The antidote to white supremacy is the formation of community, the telling of the truth, and a shared commitment to give our lives to the work of overturning structures of racism. Our mourning must lead to action. We must show up in the streets (and for those of us who are white or who are outsiders – shut up and take direction) to demonstrate that we will not let this reality stand. When we pray and we fast together, when we share experiences of Iftar or Shabbat or Worship, we are bound together and find renewed strength for the work yet to be done. And when we vigil hundreds of miles from Charleston to remember those who were killed this week at Emanuel AME, we join in a mighty and growing movement that will not be stopped.

Rick Ufford-Chase,
Community of Living Traditions,
Stony Point, NY