Today in the resistance: Say their names

Two years ago yesterday (June 17, 2015), Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old white supremacist, shot and killed 9 people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. I wrote this poem then, and post it again today. Let us remember to say their names.

On my heart and in my mind today is also the family of Philando Castile as we learn that justice was (again) denied. His life mattered.


“Comfort me,
comfort me,
comfort me,
oh my soul…”

These words sing in my head like desperate pleas
vibrate in my heart like a pacemaker
’cause I need something tonight
to keep this heart beating.

Dear White America,
Tonight I ask for you to say their names:
Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41.  Pastor, state senator, father.
Cynthia Hurd, 54. Librarian.
Tywanza Sanders, 26.  Graduate of Allen University.
John 11: 35.  Jesus wept.
The truth is:
names and numbers are names and numbers
it is undeniable that their names sound like Bible verses.
White man kills and we remember he is innocent until proven guilty.
Believe we can suspend judgment as to motive
when all 9 victims are black.
When they are the most recent addition to a list of black names and faces,
when South Carolina hangs a Confederate flag at the state capital,
we pretend our history is in the past
we pretend this history isn’t bacteria in our drinking water
sickening us all. 

Dear White America:
Read this
and tell me you don’t hear holy verses:
Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45.  Pastor, speech therapist, and track coach.
Rev. Daniel Simmons, Sr, 74. Retired pastor.
Susie Jackson, 87. Longtime AME church member.
Exodus 20:13.  Thou shalt not kill
but the truth is
9 black people were murdered inside their house of worship.
Before the gun has cooled
we try to whitewash the violence to be
less than a massacre
less than terrorism designed to dissolve black lives–
they were praying
in the place that is offered as refuge.
In one of the few remaining spaces
truly known
to be holy.

Dear White America:
read this
and tell me they are not the work of god:
Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49.  University admissions coordinator, mother.
Myra Thompson, 59.  Bible study teacher.
Ethel Lance, 70.  Retired grandmother.
Let me hear their names on your tongue.
You may no longer be complicit by your silence
you may no longer choose to deny
no longer refuse to name
you may no longer refuse to name
their names.

Dear White America,
the fact is:
we will soon come to be known as the country
where black children play dead
to give them the best chance
of staying alive.

These words sing in my head like desperate pleas
vibrate in my heart like a pacemaker
’cause I need something tonight
to still this heart’s grieving.

“…comfort me,
comfort me,
comfort me
oh my soul.”


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