To the teacher
On Wednesday night, June 17, 2015, at 8:15 pm, Dylann Roof allegedly asked to join the bible study group at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. He was welcomed in and prayed with the group for an hour before drawing his gun. He then shot and killed nine of the African American worshippers, including the church’s minister, state senator Clementa C. Pinckney. Roof fled the scene of his crimes and was at large for 14 hours. He was captured on Thursday, 200 miles away in Shelby, NC, and extradited to South Carolina.
In the 24 hours after the massacre, a portrait of a young white man emerged that points to extreme racist ideas and inclinations. Combined with the possession of a handgun, these inclinations turned deadly for the nine worshippers on June 17.
In recent weeks Roof had reconnected with his middle school friend Joseph Meek through Facebook. Meek reported that Roof had complained that "Blacks were taking over the world" and that "someone needed to do something about it for the white race." According to Meek, "He said he wanted segregation between whites and Blacks." And though Meek says he didn’t think Roof would follow through on his threats, when he saw the surveillance footage of a young man outside the church on broadcast television Thursday morning after the shootings, he immediately knew it was Roof and called the authorities. "I didn't think it was him. I knew it was him," he said.
In Charleston (and around the country), diverse crowds have gathered to honor the nine people killed at Emanuel AME Church. Hundreds have packed prayer vigils in a show of solidarity with the families and friends of those who were killed. They mourned, sang and prayed together. They sought and provided support, they came together and found connection.
Restorative circles are often called healing circles. Circles are a powerful way for people to come together, share their thoughts and feelings, be heard, mourn and heal together. Below are suggestions for a circle to help students share, mourn and heal following the killings in Charleston.
For guidelines on conducting circles, see our introduction to the process here.
Take a few minutes of silence for the nine people killed at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Go Round on Feelings
Send the talking piece around, asking students to share one feeling in response to what happened at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, on Wednesday. Acknowledge the diversity of feelings in the room. It's normal for people to experience a range of (strong) emotions in response to a horrific attack such as this one.
Go Round on What Happened
Send the talking piece around, asking students what they know about what happened in Charleston, one piece of information at a time, thus building the events together as a group.
When the talking piece comes back to you, summarize what was shared, correct any misinformation that was shared, and add any additional information you think will help students understand what happened.
Additional Go Rounds
Consider sending the talking piece around again, asking one or both of the following questions:
- How do you think the people in Charleston feel about what happened? How do you think this affects the U.S. as a whole?
- If it hasn’t come up yet, ask students what they know about how people in Charleston responded to the massacre in the days following the murders. What are their thoughts and feelings about this?
Reactions to the Massacre: Excerpt and/or Video Clip
Either read the CNN excerpt below about people’s responses to the massacre, and/or show the 2-minute ABC News video below about a vigil on the day after the murders.
The roots of Emanuel run deep in Charleston. Its history is one of perseverance in the face of racial hostility.
It was borne of discrimination, burned to the ground in hate, and rose again.
The Wednesday night attack is just the latest incident of racism against African-Americans. And it's time for the nation to address it, some said.
"There ain't time to cry. It's time to change," said Stephen Grant, 32. "It's time to step up by destroying racism." ...
As a heartbroken community tries to heal, strangers and friends alike are finding ways to help one another.
Reaching out and connecting with others is important, Tracey Pickard, 46, said. And she did her part. As soon as she learned that librarian Cynthia Hurd was among the victims, she gathered her neighbors and took them to buy bouquets of flowers to leave outside the church.
"My immediate gut reaction was to get out and just smile at somebody and be able to talk about it," she said.
The building contractor stopped by the church, together with several children, and left flowers.
They sat in a pile among bouquets of all colors, a quiet reminder of strangers united in grief.
ABC News clip
The clip includes footage of a vigil on the day after the murders:
Send the talking piece around asking students their thoughts and feelings about the excerpt and/or clip they just saw. Charleston people talk about comfort and healing. They talk about connection and being united in grief. What are students’ thoughts and feelings about the community coming together like this in the aftermath of the shootings?
If students viewed the video, you might note that the song mourners are singing in the video, "We Shall Overcome," is considered one the most powerful songs of the past century. According to the Library of Congress, the song has especially deep roots in South Carolina, where it was first used as a protest song in 1945 "when striking tobacco workers in Charleston, South Carolina, sang it on their picket line. By the 1950s, the song had been discovered by the young activists of the African American civil rights movement, and it quickly became the movement’s unofficial anthem." Since then the song has taken on significance around the world as a call for resilience and perseverance.
Family Members Respond
On June 19, two days after the killings, family members of the slain worshippers at AME church attended Dylann Roof’s bond hearing. One after the other, they expressed their pain, anger, and sadness. But they also spoke of their forgiveness of Dylann Roof.
Read the following excerpt from the Washington Post:
The relatives of people slain inside the historic African American church in Charleston, SC, earlier this week were able to speak directly to the accused gunman Friday at his first court appearance.
One by one, those who chose to speak at a bond hearing did not turn to anger. Instead, while he remained impassive, they offered him forgiveness and said they were praying for his soul, even as they described the pain of their losses.
"I forgive you," Nadine Collier, the daughter of 70-year-old Ethel Lance, said at the hearing, her voice breaking with emotion. "You took something very precious from me. I will never talk to her again. I will never, ever hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul."
Send the talking piece around again, asking students for their thoughts and feelings about what the family members of the slain worshippers said.
Read one or both of the following quotes:
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that." (Martin Luther King Jr.)
"The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong." (Mahatma Gandhi)