Photos by Sophie Winnick
This essay was written by Sophie Winnick, 16, a junior at Wando High School who has worked at Cafe Medley and Obstinate Daughter on Sullivan’s Island. Sophie wrote the essay to help process the senseless tragedy that occurred in June, 2015 in downtown Charleston. For three days she sat in the streets outside Emanuel AME playing with the children, interviewing a reverend and photographing her way through the tragedy.
I’m not a crier. Rarely does a tear escape my eye.
I took this into account as I approached the throng of people snaking towards the tall, white church. The intensity of their despair thickened the already sweltering June heat. The Mother Emanuel AME church stood strong and unwavering as it had for nearly 200 years.
The energy exuding from the crowd felt surreal. Other-worldly. But heartbreaking and tangible.
The beautiful white church looked lonely. Lost, because nine of its innocent members were laid down before it. Yet, I did not cry.
As I walked up to the building, I saw thousands of bouquets lining the ground in front of the church. Handwritten notes with words of encouragement–and love–and faith–covered every inch of the sidewalk.
I read the notes. I took in all the words. My mind tried to process everything, but I felt too lost in my thoughts. I couldn’t cry.
I watched a white woman and a black woman–two strangers—sitting in front of the church next to one another. Suddenly, the white lady grabbed the other woman. They clung to each other in desperation.
They held each other and cried and mourned together for the loss of those beautiful souls.
I stood still as the world spun around me. From one direction came the seraphic voices of a gathering of individuals, singing of togetherness, and support; carrying the weight of despair as one entity. From another direction, the steady voices of news reporters from all over looked the cameras in the eye and spread the word to the world on this tragedy. Those dependable representatives contrasted the wails of everyone else around them. The wails cried out in question, demanding a “why?”. It was too much to take.
I moved toward the accumulating pile of wishes and flowers and love, and put in a bouquet. The air thickened yet again. I felt the loss, and the pain, and the gravity of the situation, and the best way I could express my emotions was through tears. I am not one to cry, but in this moment how could I be embarrassed to shed tears over lives lost and the whirlwind of emotions that surrounded it? These tragedies have happened all over, but there is nothing like when it happens in your city. My city. Charleston is my home, and it hurts deeply to see your city struggle. My city.
In that moment, standing in front of the church, there wasn’t a divide. We were a united force: black, white, and every other color in between.
United because this hurt our city. And it was no longer my city, but our city. It really hit home. I was not embarrassed to cry.