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Charleston Days of Grace: Commitment to Long-Term Social Change Biggest Hurdle for City
9/9/2015 4:14:47 PM

After a prayer at Mother Emanuel, participants marched down Calhoun St. towards Marion Square to continue rally on Saturday. Photo by Damion Smalls

North Carolina NAACP President William Barber III at the podium at Marion Square. Photo by Damion Smalls

Political Analyst Kevin Gray addresses Charleston Days of Grace attendees. Photo by Damion Smalls

Shantel Scott telling the youth to "rise up" to lead social change. Photo by Damion Smalls
By Damion Smalls

Thousands of concerned citizens nationwide converged over the Labor Day Weekend in a spirited rally and conference downtown in an effort to address and combat various social injustices.

Local dignitaries such as Linda Ketner, William Dudley Gregorie, Millicent Brown, Kerry Taylor, and Elder James Johnson were part of a diverse group of advocates who led the march Saturday morning and proceeding sessions to discuss pressing issues in the community. Discrimination, the police system, civil rights, and breaking down barriers between races were the main points of focus.

Groups that included Lowcountry Peace, Charleston NAACP, Greater Charleston YWCA, Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition, Enough Pie, and CharlestonGOOD showed support for the top priorities of Days of Grace, which originated with platforms that the late Sen. Clementa Pinckney was working on before his June 17 death in the Mother Emanuel shootings.

Leonard Riley and Pastor Thomas Dixon of the Carolina Alliance for Fair Employment (C.A.F.E.) were instrumental in organizing the two-day event. Riley, also a member of International Longshoremen’s Association Local 1422, was “happy with the turnout” at the rally after initially being “optimistic” last week about “opportunity for community to heal". He explained that the people of Charleston “need to take advantage of times we’re in” with the relatively new, frank discussions on race going on in Charleston this year.

Dixon remarked that he was “tired of just moments” of the people coming together, but ultimately failing to follow through with plans of action. He feels that the city “needs real change” and have to “keep the conversation going”. “We can’t just forget about Days of Grace when we leave,” he stated.

The march started at Wraggs Square and made a monumental stop on Calhoun Street, pausing for a prayer led by Rev. Norvell Goff at Mother Emanuel AME. Goff’s message of the day was that “we all have to listen to each other” and “love must always overtake hate”.

Once the growing gathering touched down at Marion Square, the divide between the ‘Days of Grace’ event and the usual Saturday Farmer’s Market blissfulness was a site to behold. Gawkers were plentiful as shoppers viewed from a distance the purposeful rally populated by folks hungry to witness what real change sounds like by a multifarious set of speakers.

Live 5 News’ Raphael James was Co-MC of proceedings at Marion Square along with Pastor Dixon. Rev. Joseph Darby led the speeches at the rally off with strong words for Governor Haley, the state of South Carolina, and the perpetrator of the Mother Emanuel shootings. His talking point that the state “is not the poster child for racial harmony” based on SC’s deplorable racial history lit a fire under crowd as Darby’s truths ignited attendees to a roaring applause throughout.

Family members of the Mother Emanuel shootings were given time to address the crowd as well. Tyrone Sanders, father of victim of the killings Twanyza Sanders, remarked that the assemblage reminded him of the ‘Wilmington 10’ protests and the 1969 MUSC worker strike. He spoke of his son with a heavy heart, finding it challenging to put into words the overswell of emotion the day must have brought him.

Johnny Caldwell, College of Charleston graduate and co-founder of the The Movers and Shaker Mix, read the National Action Network-Cuba’s statement of support for ‘Days of Grace’, which relayed their readiness to stand with Charleston, uphold Sen. Pinckney’s priorities, and fight against White supremacy.

”End the war on Black America and U.S. workers” was the theme of North Carolina union advocate Donald Harris’s diatribe. He pledged to “fight against social violence, police violence, gentrification, attacks on education” and other ills the country is suffering from.

Many worker’s rights leagues from around the nation made the Labor Day weekend trip to the Port City, representing states such as California, Washington, and Illinois. They pushed for SC to become a union state and chanted that “workers matter”. The Fight for $15 legion was in full force and among the loudest participants of ‘Days of Grace’.

Rev. William Barber from North Carolina proved to have the most provocative voice of the entire weekend. In both his Marion Square speech and keynote address at the conference, his cadence and delivery made the message incredibly tangible. The NAACP Legislative Political Action Committee Chair “didn’t come here to play”.

Barber blamed a “sick society” for people like the Mother Emanuel shooter and made the correlation of hypocrisy among SC politicians engaging in “political theater” that claimed to “love” Sen. Pinckney, but continue to oppose initiatives he worked hard for in his time in office.

Barber also called out Haley’s narrative after the removal of the Confederate Flag from the state capitol as “not healthy” and that it should be challenged. He unraveled her misguided attempt at justice for the victims of the Emanuel shootings as “problematic”, connecting the Governor’s recent actions as Black people having to “die the right way” for changes to be made. Concerning the lack of Medicaid expansion, discouragement of unions, and rampant classism in the state, Barber exclaimed that Haley “can’t use the flag to cover that up!”

Columbia activist Kevin Gray urged the people to organize locally and “take back our power” by forming citizen review boards, working towards universal healthcare, and improving education for students statewide.

The ILA’s location on Morrison Drive was the venue of the strategy conference. Workshops were held in honor of Sen. Pinckney’s initiatives: voter’s rights, affordable healthcare, quality education, raising of minimum wage, and ending both discriminatory policing and gun violence.

Susan Dunn, legal director of SC ACLU and Muhiyidin d’Buta from Black Lives Matter Charleston directed the ‘Ending Discriminatory Policing’ sessions alongside Campaign Zero activist DeRay McKesson, Red Nino & Brock Sutter of Mass Action Against Police Brutality. The forum allowed for passionate partakers to express their frustration with police departments.

Emotions ran high as guest after guest replayed their experiences with police; a New York mother whose son was killed by cops and subsequently refused multiple settlements the department tried to placate her with without admitting guilt, a North Carolina man that was racially profiled in a stop with no logical explanation, and a few particularly charged up folks that promoted the abolishment of police entirely for our country due to its widespread human rights failures.

Time constraints ultimately affected the mobilization of actions to repel discriminatory policing. Suggestions such as redeveloping underserved areas like Union Heights, using social media to highlight good cops and shame bad ones, collecting data on police shootings, and using independent investigators to probe police forces barely got off the ground, but were duly noted by conference leaders. Everyone in attendance signed a form with their contact information so future talks and updates will keep anyone interested in the loop, though. Refer to Black Lives Matter Charleston to be on the ground floor with these new rebuttals to the status quo.

The surplus of information and viewpoints from numerous voices all centered around molding Charleston into a racially unified place that respects all citizens of all backgrounds. How the shift will be made remains to be seen. To get involved, visit and check the ‘Endorsements’ section to find out which organizations plan to help the city rise above hate and injustice.

Spread the word so this new movement doesn’t fade away. Two happenings this week to take note of are a Black Business Matters session this Sunday, September 13 from 9 am to 3 pm at Local Works on 1630 Meeting Street and the monthly C.A.F.E. meeting is set for the next day 7 pm to 8:30 pm at the ILA Hall. Both are free events.

Rev. Barber’s advice of putting pressure on local and state politicians is something every adult should be doing already. The “boogeyman” status of state legislatures needs constantly put in check and held accountable by indigenous leadership, also known as power of the people.

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