From Broken to Empowered: How Charleston Defied Hate

June 16, 2017, 8:11 am EST | Share:

CHARLESTON, SC (CAROLYN WILLIAMS, TIM RENAUD) — On the evening of June 17, 2015, one man’s hate rattled Charleston to its core — but it was this senseless tragedy that spurred a community to come together and embrace its differences out of love.

We sat down with Alana Simmons — granddaughter of the late Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr. — to see how she transformed an act of evil into a movement built on inclusion and compassion.

“He really loved his church, loved God and family,” Simmons reflects on her grandfather. “He was just a really great guy.”

Rev. Simmons Sr. was a stern man with an air of leadership, “He was just really strong and had an administrative spirit about him … but he had a real heart of service.”

He resided here in Charleston while most of the family remained in Virginia. But following the tragedy, they ultimately decided to move to South Carolina to be present for the trial.

Because of the move, the Simmons family forged a connection with the other victims’ families and survivors, “It really just kind of helped us see that we are not alone and there are people who truly understand how we feel and where we are.”

It was during this time South Carolina made a lasting impression on Simmons and her family.

Residents from every walk of life pulled together behind the families and rallied the community against a crime intended to cause a racial divide.

“I’d never seen that much support before in my entire life, especially from strangers who essentially had nothing in common.”

Out of the chaotic aftermath came a monumental moment during the first bond hearing when the families came face-to-face with the man who shattered their lives.

“I forgive you.”

Those were the words spoken by the daughter of Ethel Lance, Nadine Collier.

Alana was humbled by Ms. Collier’s words, and believed God taught her something in those three seconds and three words.

She was moved to address the attacker.

“Although my grandfather died at the hands of hate, he lived in love, he preached love and his legacy will be love. So, hate won’t win.”

Little did she know that in those moments, she created a movement as #HateWontWin began to trend across the nation.

Alana decided to establish the official movement through a social media challenge asking people to share an act of love with people from different walks of life.

After the funeral service, President Obama and the first lady met with the families, and like so many other people, wanted to know how they could help.

Alana told him about the challenge and the president offered his help saying, “Well, I’ve got a couple of followers on Twitter I think I could help with that.”

He sent out a tweet, saying he was inspired by the grace shown by the Simmons family and all the victims’ families in Charleston with the hashtag #HateWontWin.

An outpouring of support and donations followed Obama’s message and led to the creation of the nonprofit for the Hate Won’t Win movement.

The movement’s mission is simple: “to pay it forward by giving it [donations] to families, communities and people affected by hate crimes, discrimination or bullying.”

It was after the first anniversary of the Mother Emanuel massacre that the Hate Won’t Win movement and Mother Emanuel partnered for a major event, the Walk for Unity.

Dr. Bernice King, daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., delivered an inspiring speech about what could be done to prevent future hate crimes.

“It was amazing to hear that inspiration from her and celebrate the lives of the victims and survivors and honor them with a true dedication.”

This year’s walk will take place on the two-year anniversary of the Charleston tragedy. The event will begin at 9 a.m. and moves from Marion Square to the Gaillard Center on Mother Emanuel Way.

Mr. Jefferey Robinson of the American Civil Liberties Union will deliver a speech on inspiration and how we can improve race relations in our community, churches and schools.

The goal? To touch more lives and continue to grow every year in honor of the lives lost that fateful day.

To get involved, Alana encourages you to take part in the #HateWontWin challenge and post an act of kindness toward someone in our community.

You are invited to visit the Hate Won’t Win Facebook page and be inspired by how others are paying it forward.

“For us to continue his [Rev. Simmons Sr.] legacy and not just let it end with where and how he died … I think he would be proud.”