A prayer service was held at the cathedral on Saturday morning followed by a march to St. Albans Park for the Remembrance #IamAME Rally. There, the AME Ministerial Alliance of New York & Vicinity lit nine candles for the victims.
Cynthia Hurd, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lance, Rev. Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Susie Jackson, Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr. and Myra Thompson were all killed by 21-year-old gunman Dylann Roof last week.
Along with State Senator James Sanders, who said the attack should be viewed as “a massacre not just a shooting incident,” Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke to the grieving crowd, denouncing the attack as “domestic and racist terrorism.”
“In the past year or two in this country, we have powerfully proclaimed the simple idea of ‘black lives matter,’” de Blasio said. “We shouldn’t have to say it, but we will have to until we won’t have to convince anyone of our common humanity.”
Betty Bush Borkin, an 80-year-old from South Carolina who now lives in Queens, stood front row at the rally watching all of the pain caused by chaos in her former home state.
“When I saw what happened, I couldn’t understand it at all,” Borkin said. “I lived at a time where we had to sit in the back of the bus and we had to go to segregated schools, so now I feel deeply saddened by seeing that some things have not changed in society.”
Those who marched said they wouldn’t let Roof’s hatred and racism tear down a church that was born to be accepting and progressive for all people.
“Although we have African in our name, humanity is our family across the world,” said Reverend Marcus Briddell of Bethel AME Church in Westbury. “The atmosphere here today is celebratory, evil shall not overcome.”
Another pastor, Rev. Lisa Williamson of Mt. Olive AME Church in Port Washington, argued that now is the time to look at all of the issues that made an impact on the shooting and to make change for a better future.
Calls for action within New York’s own churches were reiterated from speaker to speaker. While de Blasio expressed shock that gun laws did not change enough after the attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, he was adamant in making this event the one that forces the country to view how we are handling gun laws.
Public Advocate Letitia James argued that there should be plans made in accordance with the NYPD to promote more safety within the city’s places of worship. Among the safety precaution suggestions were that each church should be equipped with surveillance cameras in addition to having a planned escape route in cases of emergencies.
Besides changes to church security, the crowd demanded that cultural changes in the South be made.
Assemblyman Nick Perry led a chant that directed South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley to take down the rebellious Confederate flag. On Monday, Haley called on lawmakers to remove the flag in the state capital.
While much more needs to be done, Briddell summed it up best when he spoke about the future of the church, race relations and gun issues.
“It’s hard to find words, but at the end of the day god is present and able,” he said. “In the midst of turmoil and death, life still happens.”