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Let Your Heart Response to Charleston Speak for You

06/18/2015 09:18 pm ET | Updated Jun 18, 2016
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI via Getty Images

During the last few days, people have been arguing incessantly over the meaning of racial identity and who is black or white. Today I'm left wondering who is passing for human. Judging by some of the comments on social media, I suspect there are those who do not understand the question.

My soul bleeds for the victims, their families, and friends in Charleston, South Carolina. It also weeps over the depth of inhumanity displayed the last several hours via online remarks. Not by everyone of course, but by enough people that I am convinced a general lack of empathy has reached epidemic proportions.

Am I the only one who is feeling that? Where is the collective mourning across the color line for those who were violently murdered at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church?

Nothing I have read more powerfully and comprehensively articulates where the focus should be right now than every word written here by Lilly Workneh.

I would expect to see a nation united in mourning; at the very least, vocal solidarity among those who insist they are committed to social justice, anti-racism and human equality. Self-professed Christians, nine people were murdered in a church! Your shared despair and heartfelt condolences should be absolutely deafening.

Instead, I see folks of every hue passionately arguing about gun control, debating whether the killer is mentally ill or racist, folks citing statistics about black on black crime, calls for violence, jokes about the murderer's appearance and critiques of President Obama's statement. Seriously people -- today?

And then there is the silence...

Let's be real. If this had been a historically white church and a black man had murdered nine people at Bible study, the man hunt, mental meltdown and outpouring of sympathy for the victims would rival anything we have witnessed in recent history. Of course in some of those houses of worship, a black man would never have been allowed to hang out for an hour getting to know people before he opened fire. Even hands up in worship, he would have been questioned.

In addition to the horrific, heart shattering loss of innocent lives, something else was lost --trust. As a white member of a historically and predominantly African-American Episcopal Church, I can tell you that my experience from the first day I walked through the front doors was unconditional love and acceptance.

Granted, during my first visit there were a couple of jokes asking if I had wandered into the wrong place and I'm sure a few folks were trying to figure out motive. Beyond that, I was accepted as church family (in the white skin I am in). My white children were also baptized there and they have never known anything else.

To read that Dylann Roof spent an hour in a sacred, historically African-American "safe" space before unleashing pure evil and violence upon those gathered there to worship shreds my soul. So do reports of a five-year-old child playing dead in order to live. Anyone who knows the history of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church is well aware the day he chose was more than likely not a coincidence.

With angry, heartbroken tears in my eyes this morning, I had to answer my 10-year-old son about what was wrong. I told him someone who hates others simply because of the color of their skin killed nine innocent people in a church. Yes, I have those candid conversations with my children. My goal is never to upset them, but I also have a duty to make sure they understand that indifference is unacceptable. They also know that we do not honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day simply because he had a dream and an inspirational speech.

There have been many other horrific moments in the recent past (9/11, the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Virginia Tech, and hundreds of others) where I can remember how kind and compassionate people from every walk of life were to each other after those tragedies. We shared in a collective experience of mourning that knew no color. Most of us walked around with our hearts wide open in the days that followed, made eye contact in a way that said "I feel it too," and went out of our way to be kinder and more compassionate. We held our children tighter and we gave thanks for another day of life.

Why does that not seem to apply universally? I had these same questions as I struggled to understand how every mother in America wasn't outraged and heartbroken watching Dajerria Becton be slammed to the ground.

Today is the day to be heard by those who are hurting most. In the wise words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. " I often get asked why I am so "vocal" about racism. This is one of many reasons why. The first time I read it, it sunk down deep into my bones. Nine people were assassinated for praying while black. If you are one who sends up prayers, positive vibes, whatever you do -- today is the day.

Also, stand strong and call racism what it is -- pure, evil poison. Feeding it to children is one of the worst forms of child abuse. We all begin as a blank slate, closer to God than we will ever be again I think until death. Take the time to read about each victim and ponder it in your heart. See each person as your mother, sister, brother, father, friend. Feel it in your heart. Yes, there is a time and season for everything, including forgiveness. Today is not that day for me.

Our future hope lies in teaching the next generation to be outspoken and defiant as they condemn racism -- in thought, word and deed. It also depends on us teaching our children what authentic compassion and radical empathy look and feel like. Don't preach it, practice it. All of us must refuse to accept the status quo which enables people like Dylann Roof to fester and grow in our society. At some point, he too was a blank slate.

All that matters in this moment however is genuine sorrow for the tragic and violent loss of life. I challenge everyone to break the internet this week with an outpouring of love and compassion for those suffering in Charleston -- and for each other. It's the human thing to do.

That is the call. What is your response?

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