Charleston Strong Leadership


To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die; and a time to pluck what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal. – Ecclesiastes 3:1-3 

Where were you when you first heard the news of the shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston? It’s the question we ask during such life-changing events. It’s a defining question we ask whereby we put our response into context. It’s how we frame our feelings and try and make sense of the senseless.

On Wednesday, June 17th, 2015, nine of Charleston’s finest God-fearing citizens were gathered in their house of worship. Where they were was by choice. What happened to them was not. Slowly, as the news unfolded before our eyes – the depth, breadth, and severity of the tragedy shocked all of us to the core. How can this be? How can something like this happen here in Charleston?

In the aftermath of the shooting, several things became apparent to those of us who have been blessed to call the Lowcountry home. Living here over the past thirty years I have seen the resilience of the people in trying times before, i.e. Hurricane Hugo. But what happened this past week was different and for different reasons. Here are a few takeaways from my slant as a leadership writer.

Great leaders solicit the best from their people

Albert Einstein said, “Adversity introduces a man to himself.” During these trying days we have not only been introduced to ourselves but we have introduced ourselves to a watching world. And that introduction has caught the attention of the world in a way that has made us all proud. Our leaders stepped up, spoke up, and showed the world what makes us so special.

In the aftermath of the shooting, the leaders of our community such as Mayor Joe Riley, Chief of Police Greg Mullen, Governor Nicki Haley, our clergy and various civic leaders- they called forth the best of the community. Their leadership was calm, tempered, professional, and impressive. They called forth the best from our community and the community responded in a powerful way.

Great people responded with grace

Last Friday I went to Mother Emmanuel AME Church to pray. There I met new friends, Gideon and Ashley who had just moved to Charleston a few months ago from Florida. That they were black and I white, made no difference. We joined hands in the sweltering heat and prayed for our city. It was a way for us to reconcile what we were feeling and do what we felt could make a difference.

The same day across town in a courtroom, family members of one of the victims spoke words of forgiveness and grace to the one who took away what was most precious to them. It was a defining moment in which the curtain into the heart and soul of our community was peeled back and the world got to see what was inside.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subjects and verbs agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

Our community has displayed a heart full of grace and love. It’s been on display everyday outside Mother Emmanuel, in the courtroom, in the TD Arena, and in countless other houses of worship since. We came by the thousands in unity to span the Arthur Ravenel Bridge in solidarity and prayer in remembrance of the nine. In our time of tragedy, evil, and grief, great people stepped up and the greater Charleston community demonstrated uncommon grace.

Great opportunities come from great tragedy

The tragedy at Mother Emmanuel AME was not of our choosing, but how we move forward is. Our grieving process takes on many forms from tears, anger, and many unanswered questions. But in the end, it must serve a higher purpose.

If the measure of our response is proportional to the measure of our grief and sorrow, then I have no doubt that out of our great sorrow will come much good.

In closing, let the names of the victims spur us to not be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good: The Honorable Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, Rev. Daniel Simmons, Sr., Rev. Sharonda Singleton, and Myra Thompson.

We are Charleston, and we will forever be, Charleston Strong!


© 2015 Doug Dickerson

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About dougdickerson

I am Certified Leadership Trainer, author, columnist, and speaker. Husband to Alicia, father to Katelyn and Kara, and "Pop" to terrific grandson Tyson. I am an avid photographer, love the outdoors, and like to travel. I'm passionate about sharing my leadership insights and helping people reach their full potential.
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