I find it haunting that two days before Juneteenth, another facet of America's racial history reared its head when Dylann Roof expressed racist motivations, then shot and killed nine members of Emanuel AME's Wednesday night Bible study after praying and studying with them for an hour.
Not only is it a tragedy to see black lives taken in such a hateful way, but as a person of faith I am particularly grieved that brethren were under attack in a place of sanctuary. Some have asked why they didn't try to tackle or detain Roof as he reloaded his firearm. To me, it's simple: they were in a spirit of community, ruminating on God, togetherness and love, when this attack occurred. Their spirits were bent toward trying to reason with Roof rather than become violent -- to appeal to his spirit rather than commandeer his person.
I've also been thinking about my experience growing up black in the South.
I have a close friend -- he's brilliant, artistic, multi-racial and gay. I once asked him if he'd vacation with me in Jamaica. He rejected the idea with amusing gusto, citing the country's reputation for violent homophobia.
Another time, I asked him to come visit me in Columbus. He had a similar response: "Honey, I'm black and gay! You think they're gonna know what to do with me down there?" This time I pushed back.
I assured him that race relations in the South are not what people from the Northeast or West think they are (he's from L.A.). Growing up in Columbus, I was certainly conscious of my race and did experience discrimination, but it wasn't violent and certainly didn't seem to be greater than the racist attitudes I went on to encounter in the Northeast.
I attended a private middle school where I was one of three people of color in my entire grade.
Obviously, I was aware of my difference. But I found a few good friends that made me feel we had more in common than set us apart.
I was part of the first all-magnet class at Columbus High School. There were many races represented in my grade, but our biggest unifier was our devotion to academics (or baseball).
My experiences informed me that while race and ethnicity are important factors over which to bond, there is far more than just that to a person.
Like a love of dance, or theater, or volunteering, or Britney Spears. Superficial? Hardly.
But it seems that way when tragedies like the church shooting strip away the colorful layers of human connection and leave us with the bare minimum.
My friend has come to visit me in Columbus twice now.
Each time he has found something to fall in love with, be it the dance floor of Mixx Ultra Lounge or the Front Porch of the South.
Each time he has been himself and not been met with resistance. Each time he promises he'll visit again.
I pray that our city be reminded of the many elements that unify us. That we never fall prey to such violent, binary thoughts of divisiveness. That we remember that our nation's history may inform our present, but does not have to stifle our future.
Natalia Naman Temesgen is an independent contractor. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.