We all have unfinished projects.
One of mine is the documentation of the churches and music of people of color in Charleston.
I grew up in what was then a virtually unknown town on the South Carolina coast. The racial divide was so omniscient that it was invisible to someone growing up in it.
My other mother, our maid, was the most gentle and prescient woman I have known, and remains one of my most important socializers.
I started on my project sporadically, going in and enjoying the music and photographing some of the people, and, though it was years ago, specifically remember going to Emmanuel, as it is a larger church with a full congregation, or at least it was at the time. The music was, for lack of a better term, rockin'.
There are so many debts that this nation and the world owe to the people that were brought to these shores against their will to face a lifetime of slavery. My gratitude is for the music. One could argue that we owe all of modern American music to these people brought here against their will.
The woman who came out to greet the uncertain 18-year-old white boy standing at the door of Emmanuel Baptist Church was gracious and invited me to please come in and join them. What followed was a transformative experience as a stranger was welcomed into a different world, one of close community, with music as an integral part of spirituality, religion, and family.
Another uncertain boy walked into the same church last week. I wonder if he was greeted by someone as gracious and generous as I was. Instead of music with a call and response, which builds such a wonderful sense of belonging, his father gave him a gun for his birthday in hopes that it would engender maturity and responsibility.
This country is founded on this idea that liberty is dependent on the right of individuals to own guns. Arguments about the intent of the founding fathers and the exact meaning of the constitution are brandished frequently, and usually by groups trying to prevent change. But it's fairly certain that the founding fathers did not intend a world in which regular massacres of innocent citizens by unstable teenagers wielding guns became the norm.
Our problem is simple, and the answer equally so: limit the number of guns, and you limit the number of killings. Especially those types of guns that are most designed for mass killing or concealability.
But what a wonderful irony if, contrary to the intent of our deranged shooter, this horrible incident in my hometown led to productive national dialogs about weapons and race in our country? Then maybe their deaths would not be in vain.