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Preston County News & Journal: Courage to forgive could be catalyst for change

On Sunday, inside the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, a chair sat empty behind the podium with a black cloak draped over it. It’s where the Rev. Clementa Pinckney would have been sitting, had a gunman not killed the pastor and eight others Wednesday night. They kept the doors open to what has been dubbed “God’s church.”

Closer to home, many churches in W.Va. held vigils and special services to pray for the victims and the families left behind. And during all the services and gatherings here and around the nation, the predominant message has been forgiveness and a desire for racial and community unity.

On Friday, the suspect, Dylann Roof, appeared at a bond hearing. Families of the victims addressed him and did something many didn’t expect: They said they forgave him. One by one, folks who suffered enormous loss and unspeakable tragedy faced the accused Roof, speaking words of faith and hope and ultimately forgiveness. And it was this courageous and unexpected act that might possibly have a more powerful impact than the horrendous crime itself.

The example set in Charleston is something every community should learn from if we can ever hope to bring about a fundamental change in race relations. America is at a tipping point. The racial divide still exists despite the many strides taken over the last generations. The angry, disenfranchised sub-culture who cling to so-called “Southern Heritage” are not ghosts of the civil rights era. They exist and, in the case of suspect Roof, are from the most recent generation called “Millennials,” or people who were born in the 1990s. But through forgiveness, there is hope, and with hope, change is inventible.

Forgiveness can be the catalyst that could re-ignite the dialogue of racial unity and finally shed light upon the real culprit behind much of the hate and anger people like Roof have displayed.

Those who have fallen from what some would call “mainstream society” have done so because they are not getting quality education and ultimately decent-paying jobs. The American South is the quintessential example of what job loss over a period of decades can do. The once thriving textile and mineral extraction industry, which provided hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs, does not exist anymore. Consider that, according to the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Statistics in May, the national unemployment average was 5.5 percent. Not surprising, South Carolina was at 6.8 percent, Georgia was 6.3 percent, Alabama was 6.1 percent, Mississippi was 6.7 percent, and here in West Virginia the unemployment rate was 7.2 percent.

There is no simple answer that can explain why and heal the pain of what we have witnessed these past few days. Renewed gun legislation and the removal of a flag are certainly easy and visible targets to blame and maybe to change. But ultimately, until people in the depressed South are given a change for better education and employment opportunities, sadly, the Roofs of our nation will continue to exist.

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