Charleston Reflections, Zach Schwarzbaum

Zach Schwarzbaum, NYU '16

I decided to go to Charleston, though given the events of this past year, the news of the shooting didn’t shock me. But upon my arrival, I was immediately shocked. There wasn’t anger. There was no vengefulness. There was a resounding faith in the goodness of God.

Standing on the sidewalk in front of the Emanuel AME Church, a Reverend spoke about the power of love, the goodness of God, the ease of anger, and the need for forgiveness. The large crowd around him punctuated his words with a mixture of “amens” and “hallelujahs.” But, as I stood there on Calhoun Street, named after John Calhoun, a white supremacist, there was one man protesting. I wondered why he was standing there alone. And as his voice grew louder, muffling that of the pastor, a black woman turned to me and said, “When you get hit and I get hit, the blood is the same.” She wasn’t saying he was wrong. She was saying that now wasn’t the time for that.

This theme of love was repeated in prepared remarks, impromptu songs, and spontaneous prayers. It was the message the people of Charleston sought to convey. God loves us and we are commanded to love our neighbors. The tragedy would unite Charleston and enable it to be a light unto the world. This was a powerful message, but one with which I struggled to connect. Love won’t solve the deeply rooted issues plaguing our country, I thought. How could love bring justice to the nine families whose lives are forever changed, I asked? But these questions were not for now, the people of Charleston taught me. So like everyone else, I put my arms around those next to me and prayed that the power of love would lead us to a brighter future.