Film Emanuel Church

In this June 19, 2015, file photo, police tape surrounds the parking lot behind the AME Emanuel Church as FBI forensic experts work the crime scene, in Charleston, S.C.

Sharonda Coleman-Singleton. Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd. Susie J. Jackson. Ethel Lee Lance. Depayne Middleton. Clementa Pinckney. Tywanza Sanders. Daniel Lee Simmons. Myra Thompson.

Today, on the fifth anniversary of the horrific shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in downtown Charleston, we remember “The Charleston Nine.” They lost their lives while attending a weeknight Bible study inside the historic church. The victims, all African Americans, were gunned down by a young white man.

The shooter was fueled by racial hatred, both in writings and website postings that were revealed during a police investigation. He posted photos of himself with emblems that displayed the Confederate battle flag and touted white supremacy.

Gov. Nikki Haley and lawmakers seized the moment to have the Confederate flag removed from the grounds of the State Capitol in Columbia. It took less than a month for the Legislature to bring down the flag.

Five years later, sadly, it seems we still have a wide gulf when it comes to racial relations in this country. Ahmaud Arbery, a black man, was killed by two white men for jogging in the wrong neighborhood. Breonna Taylor, a black woman, was the victim of a no-knock warrant execution that went terribly wrong. George Floyd, a black man, died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. All of these deaths have occurred since the beginning of the year and, even with eyes on every action, the senseless killings keep happening.

We shouldn’t forget Walter Scott, either. A white police officer in North Charleston shot and killed Scott, a black man, as he fled during a traffic stop. The moment, which occurred two months before the Mother Emanuel shooting, was captured both by the officer’s dashcam and from video shot by a bystander.

Those recent deaths, in particular Floyd’s, triggered protests calling for racial justice and equality throughout the country. Reinvigorated by the seemingly endless cycle of brutality, protesters want the remaining Confederate statues and monuments, and what they symbolize to the African American community, completely removed.

U.S. Sen. Tim Scott has been singled out by President Trump to gather information and influence legislation intended to reform policing in communities around the county. Sen. Scott is well versed in the depth and breadth of this subject to South Carolinians.

Marches and gatherings held by the Black Lives Matter movement in Aiken County have been peaceful. Another one is planned for this Saturday in North Augusta, culminating at the Meriwether Monument that is associated with the infamous Hamburg Massacre.

A documentary about the Charleston church shootings, “Emanuel,” was released last year and is streaming online for free for a limited time. U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, the House Majority Whip, told the Charleston Post and Courier that recent events have made this “one of the most interesting periods of American history.”

Clyburn, the highest ranking African American in Congress, was scheduled to host a virtual discussion Tuesday on the documentary.

“Hopefully after the 17th and after this commemoration, all of us will be better people and better Americans,” the South Carolina Democrat told reporters.

Jennifer Pinckney, widow of Clementa Pinckney, grew up in Jackson and graduated with honors from Silver Bluff High School. She was in Aiken last year for the United Way Women’s Leadership Council Gala and shared her horrifying experience that night hiding in the Mother Emanuel church.

“My strength comes from the Lord, and I’ve come to realize that God gives you exactly what you need to keep going,” she said. Even under the worst of circumstances, “You’ve got to keep on keeping on. Go out there and shape and change your community. Go out there and shape and change South Carolina.”

We can only hope that by the time the next anniversary rolls around for “The Charleston Nine,” the events of recent months will have made a difference and we’ll learn how to forgive like the survivors, change our community and our state, and keep on keeping on.