The air was still and muggy in the SVC breezeway as a crowd of more than 125 people gathered to stand in solidarity with the victims of last week’s shooting in Charleston, South Carolina.
Psychology major Ionia Knott recited a poem she wrote about her feelings about Charleston.
“I’m convinced my country hates me,” Knott wrote. “I’m convinced that like a child of an affair, my country doesn’t even want to see me because every time they look at my face I remind them of their secret shame.”
The crowd reacted to Knott as she spoke, each word reverberating with every syllable.
“I’m always kept hidden, my history is rewritten and devalues my existence and even in death the proper respect isn’t given to call a murderer what he is, a grown man. A racist and a terrorist and do I need to remind you again that I was completely innocent.”
Knott said this recent attack has highlighted the excuses given for people who commit violence against others, specifically those of color. She said what the country needs now is prayer and to stay together.
Dylann Roof’s massacre of nine innocent people, including South Carolina state senator Clementa Pinckney, is another ember in the growing pyre of violence in the U.S. From Charleston, the lethal shots fired in Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church were felt across the country.
Denisela Thicklin, president of the USF chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and one of the organizers for Wednesday evening’s gathering under the breezeway, said discovering the news of the attack in Charleston was difficult to believe.
“It was kind of surreal to me,” she said. “… When I found out there were nine victims it occurred to me ‘OK … this can really happen like anywhere.’ It made me kind of afraid to even go to church anymore and to go out in public in general.”
News of the incident came to many through social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook.
“I heard about it and so I went on social media and I saw a flurry of different posts,” said English major Daniel Sheppard. “Who premeditates things like that? To go inside of a church and take lives of pastors and people who are actually doing good for their community.”
Sheppard said he was more disappointed than surprised with the shooting, citing examples such as Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown in recent years.
“I just want everybody to realize that it doesn’t need to keep being white versus black you know?” Sheppard said. “It doesn’t need to keep being race versus race or culture versus culture or religion versus religion. I feel like we’ve come far enough along in our society to realize that there are good people in every race (and) there are bad people in every race. We just have to channel our energies not to exact revenge on one another when things like this happen but to continue promoting peace and non-violence.”
According to the New York Times, Roof wrote in a manifesto that he intended to incite a so-called “race war” with his actions. At the USF breezeway, groups of people from various ethnicities gathered instead to share the messages of peace and unity within the USF community and around Tampa.
As the ceremony came to an end, people of all backgrounds joined hands and prayed in a moment of silence.