When news struck of the massacre of nine black parishoners in Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church by a white man on Wednesday night, Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, was among the many who couldn’t sleep.
Johnston, who is white, represents the northeast corner of the city where more than a quarter of the residents are black. His district also borders the city’s own Shorter AME Church, where Johnston drove late in the night to deliver a message of care and solidarity.
Now, he’s asking other white people to do the same and “blanket these churches with overwhelming expressions of love.”
“As a white American I think we should make a point today to make a small but powerful statement that today we all stand together: and do it by stopping by any AME church in your community and perform a quiet act of service and leave a humble note of thanks,” Johnston wrote on social media, offering the Martin Luther King Jr.-inspired #OnlyLoveCanDoThat as a means of publicizing acts of solidarity.
Johnston’s words echo those of black faith leaders in Denver, including Pastor Terrence Hughes, the vice president of the Greater Denver Ministerial Alliance.
“This is a time to stand up, not just black and African Americans, but all Americans,” Hughes said. “This is when we speak out together, You don’t give in to this kind of mindset, to terror. You stand firm, you stand tall, and you stand together. You pray together, you live together, you work hard together, and most of all, we love together.”
You can read Johnston’s letter to the Shorter AME church, his call to action, and messages on the #OnlyLoveCanDoThat thread below:
Dear Pastor Tyler and the Elders of Shorter AME church,
My heart breaks for those children of God that we lost in your sister church in South Carolina tonight. On a night when old, devastating patterns of racial injustice return like childhood nightmares, it seemed the best thing to do was to get out of my bed and drive over here to make sure this note was the first thing you saw when you walked in the church tomorrow. This white man is driving over to this AME church to tell you how deeply grateful I am that the leaders of your church have helped build this city, and how honored I am that the ancestors of this church have helped build this great country.
For centuries your church has stood for the unconditional love, unfettered hope, and relentless forgiveness that define the American spirit. I want you to know I stand arm in arm with you today in your grief. I refuse to let one deranged man speak for me, and I also refuse to stay silent after his abomination. I drove over just to remind you and remind myself of the words from one of America’s greatest preachers and one of the Lord’s greatest prophets who said that “Hate can not drive out hate, only love can do that.” With that truth in mind, in the wake of tonight’s heartless stabs of hatred, I drove here to reaffirm the overwhelming supremacy of love. And to stand with millions of other white men who are proud to call you brothers and sisters, and who feel compelled now to right the wrongs of generations past by ensuring that these lost loved ones you will not grieve alone, this hollow hatred you will not face alone, and this righteous justice you will not seek alone.
Johnston posted the above letter to Facebook, along with his thoughts about the history of racial violence in America, a wound he says white people have a moral responsibility to help heal.
As a white man I have never been called on to be an ambassador for my race. I was never the only person who looked like me in a college seminar when the room uncomfortably waited for me to speak up on behalf of my people, I have never been the one at the cocktail party confused for “the help.” And when America met Timothy McVeigh or Ted Kascinzki or Dylan Klebold I never for a minute worried that their illness said something about me.
Tonight is different. When a white man walks into a church full of black folks deep in prayer at one of the nations historic AME churches and begins shooting, it has the catastrophic power to reignite a racial stereotype centuries in the healing: the seared image of white man as racial predator. I imagine that if I drove through the parking lot of any AME church tomorrow morning I would inspire the locking of car doors, holding your children a little tighter, faces paralyzed with fear, and for good reason. That was why I couldn’t wait until tomorrow. The history is too long and the hurt is too raw.
As a white American I think we should make a point today to make a small but powerful statement that today we all stand together: and do it by stopping by any AME church in your community and perform a quiet act of service and leave a humble note of thanks. Whether you can sweep a walkway or pull some weeds or collate a bulletin, or ask if you can help and offer a hug and before you go, leave a note on the front door letting them know that you care. By Sunday morning America could blanket these churches with such overwhelming expressions of love that no one could walk through the doors of an AME church without feeling a flood of love and support from white men whose names they don’t know, whose faces they cant place, but whose love they cant ignore.
Then share your small acts of love with the hashtag #Onlylovecandothat
Image of Johnston’s note to the Shorter AME Church via Facebook.