Kosmos Responds to Racist Killings in South Carolina

by Dot Maver

The time is beyond urgent. The question is burning in our hearts. Do ‘we the people’ of the United States of America share any core values? And if we do, are we a living demonstration of those values? How painful to hear about yet another shooting; yet another young person with a gun recklessly killing people; yet another deep wound that is directly related to the institution of racism in the USA.

Old responses no longer work.

Perhaps the first question is ‘what not to do?’ Let’s not chalk this one up to a mentally unstable person; let’s not make excuses while we ignore the black and white issue; let’s not pretend that by politicians speaking about yet another tragedy it will change anything at all; let’s not do the same old thing regarding policy, process and punishment; let’s not ignore the confederate flag flying at full mast following the death of nine black citizens; let’s not simply shrug our shoulders and pray that the next victims of a senseless shooting are not in our hometown.

So what to do?

In fact, we know what to do. We now know for a fact that it is possible to heal deep wounds and restore justice. We have demonstrated in small pockets of the USA, and around the world, that it is possible to resolve conflict prior to escalation to violence. We know that relationships define society, that education is essential, and that we can build healthy harmonious relationships if we choose. We so often do not choose.

We know that social-emotional learning is as important, if not more important, than academic learning. In the USA, we are pretty advanced when it comes to academic learning. Not so when it comes to social-emotional learning. We tend to consider it soft, even a waste of time. Until we honor the head and heart, the synthesis of academics and social and emotional behavior, we will continue to experience the tragedy of people disconnected from their feelings; disconnected from their sense of responsibility; disconnected from any kind of hope or inspiration or caring or … anything at all. And this leaves lots of room for cruel, dispassionate, unconscionable behavior. Enough.

It is time for a national dialogue, local to national, in which every community and every community member has the opportunity to tell their story, name the values that lead to harmonious relationships with themselves, others and the world around them, and to come together in this country around those shared values that honor and respect Life itself. This transformation leading to right relationship is critical to our collective future.

Let it begin with me, and you, and every one of us taking personal responsibility for ourselves and our community and our country. Let us name those core values. Let us make trauma response a priority, change our attitudes and behaviors, thus changing cultural norms, leading to policy changes that reflect our essence and demonstrate our innate spirit of goodwill: love in action.

A small prayer circle near Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina June 17, 2015. Reuters/Randall Hill

When people gathered and spoke to the young man who killed their friends and family members, there was overwhelming forgiveness offered. They were ‘forth giving’ love to the person who took nine lives. This is the true meaning of forgiveness. We are not separate from one another. The behavior is unacceptable. Yet love prevails. Let all humans love one another unconditionally as we learn to live together harmlessly.

As my dear friend Azim Khamisa has said so many times since losing his son to gun violence, there are victims on both ends of the gun. We can do better than this. We know what to do. Let’s do it. Count me in.

Dorothy J Maver, PhD is Kosmos Associates Project Director, and formerly served as Executive Dot Maver ImageDirector with the River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding. She is a founder of the National Peace Academy USA and Global Alliance for Ministries and Infrastructures for Peace.



To Dylann Storm Roof – from Rhonda Fabian, Digital Editor, Kosmos

Dear Dylann,

I am sorry. The failings of our society that led to such a terrible mistake and resulted in so much suffering are my failings as well. You were blinded by wrong view and we were not there to remove the blindfold and show you the truth about goodness and love and community.

The good people you joined for bible study tried to tell you, they tried to share the news of a forgiving, loving God, but it was too late. Your world view was already deeply distorted by a lifetime of hateful menacing messages that black people were somehow less worthy of life than you. You consumed toxic media and opinions and did not receive or accept the correct information, that would have helped you.

I say I am to blame because I have a son your age and know many other young men in my community. Some of them are troubled, like you. Some of them feel angry and lonely. I have failed to do my part in reaching out to them, showing friendship, giving encouragement, teaching them. I have failed to use the right words when I describe our black brothers and sisters – words like beautiful, courageous, adorable, trustworthy, accomplished, wise, elegant, brilliant, kind – nine words that, in part, describe the nine people you killed. I have failed to help create the right conditions that would enable deep communication and sharing to take place between you and your neighbors you so clearly did not understand. Maybe just one day in deep dialogue before this happened, maybe just one friendship that might have bloomed while volunteering to clean up a park together, or attending a youth retreat, might have helped, might have stopped you.

I could sink to my knees in despair at the tragedy of it, my own complicity in it and lack of action. But that wouldn’t help anyone. There is one thing that holds me up and it is this – the families of the ones you killed; their forgiveness. Many family members have forgiven you publicly, and repeatedly. I can’t remember a tragic crime like this when there has been such an outpouring of love, communal strength and forgiveness. To me, this is like the sun breaking out from behind a terrible dark raincloud. I bow down to these brave and beautiful families. It humbles me and I ask myself if I am capable of such faith and depth of spirit. What if it were my son, or daughter, or husband that was killed?

Five years ago, a beautiful young girl I knew, like a niece really, was murdered by a boy – like you, except he was black. It took me a while, but I forgave him. Like these families, I had to forgive him, to save my own heart from the toxins of hatred. Yes, I forgave him, but I still have not forgiven myself. So you see Dylann, you and I share something in common, we are both holding on to doubt in the healing power of love. It’s really your own worthiness of love that you doubt, not the worthiness of the people you killed.

And so there is a lot of work to do – in my own heart, in my community, to manifest and teach tolerance, love, understanding and forgiveness. I turn to my teachers in Charleston, South Carolina to help show me the way.


Rhonda FabianRhonda Fabian is the digital editor of Kosmos Journal, a media-maker, mother and community activist. She is a founding partner of Fabian Baber Communication, creators of educational media resources since 1990. Rhonda follows a path of mindfulness in the tradition of her teacher, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh.