By Kirstie Boone
Like many people in the South, I have a very special place in my heart for Charleston. I will never forget June 17, 2015, when nine precious lives were taken by someone filled with hate and evil. Along with several others, these individuals were in a place of worship, a place they felt safe — Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. After the events of that day unfolded, many wondered how this church, this city and this state would recover from something so heartbreaking. How would we recover from losing these nine special individuals as a result of such a senseless and hateful crime?
Not only would Charleston soon begin to recover, but it would also set an example for cities across the nation in moving forward after a tragedy. Violence was not met with more violence, as Charleston responded with love, faith, hope and forgiveness. Charleston and the state of South Carolina demonstrated that in the face of evil, love always prevails.
Artistic and Executive Director of Columbia City Ballet, William Starrett, set out to honor the Mother Emanuel church by creating the ballet, Emanuel: Love is the Answer which took place in Columbia April 7th and 8th. “I felt it was a time where we needed a positive healing tool of transcendence and unity,” says William. “To me, art and particularly dance is a form of prayer. The extraordinary message of forgiveness coming from families echoing from South Carolina took on an unexpected strength and awareness that inspired me to personally commemorate these important individuals whose lives were taken as they were celebrating their God. I wanted to help use this tragedy to learn that we must embrace our differences and that love is the answer.”
The ballet balanced the sadness of tragedy with the hope for unity that came as a result. During one of the performances, the voices of victims’ families speaking to the court room echoed through the speakers during one of the performances. Over and over, the words “I forgive you” were repeated by the family members. On stage, the dancers expertly portrayed the emotion and heartbreak felt by the victims’ families in this difficult moment. Of those who were killed in the shooting, William says, “I tried to make their voices and lives have even greater importance. We must learn that we are more alike than we are different. Hate is a cancer, and love is the answer.” Later in the ballet, dancers performed to the song “All You Need is Love” and encouraged the audience to clap and laugh. This performance demonstrated the hope and love that were shown in the aftermath of the shooting.
William says that he hopes those in the audience took away a spirit of love from the ballet. “We must live every moment with compassion and kindness. We must celebrate our differences, because they are gifts that we were given when we were placed on this earth. We must use these differences to grow, develop, evolve and become more enlightened. We each have an importance and it starts with us always coming from a positive place of love.”
Though losing these precious nine lives broke our hearts, it did not break Charleston or South Carolina. We, as a united state, demonstrated what it means to love and what it means to believe that the best thing to do in a time of tragedy, despair or confusion is to show unity, hope and love.
For more information on the Columbia City Ballet, visit ColumbiaCityBallet.com.