Local groups honor shooting victims from Charleston South Carolina

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KALAMAZOO, Mich. -- The events that took place in Charleston, South Carolina, Wednesday that left nine members of a historically black church dead and a nation shocked. No corner of the country was left untouched with grief and mourning, and that includes the West Michigan community, which held several events Friday to mourn the lives lost and call for a change.

Mount Zion Baptist Church in Kalamazoo held a rally, featuring speakers including the church’s Pastor Dr. Addis Moore and Kalamazoo Mayor Bobby Hopewell.

“This has not wavered our faith,” said Moore. “Matter of fact, it’s strengthened our faith. Because God is still our strength. He’s still a present help in time of trouble.”

“No matter what melanin or pigmentation is on our bodies, we are one,” said Mayor Hopewell. “and it angers me that someone would try to take away my oneness.”

“I look at the faces in this audience and there could be nine of you not here right now because somebody decided to take you away from me. And I don’t like that.”

In downtown Grand Rapids, the local chapter of Black Lives Matter joined with Partners for a Racism Free Community at a vigil to honor Wednesday’s victims.

“Racism is everywhere,” said Breannah Alexander, a program administrator with Partners. “Grand Rapids is one shot away from facing a similar fate, and that’s the reality we have to kind of deal with.”

“It’s not the act of one lone shooter,” added Briana Urena-Ravelo of Black Lives Matter, speaking on Wednesday’s tragedy. “It’s the act of someone who’s part of a culture – part of a systemic and cultural issue.”

Both local groups hold regular workshops attempting to ease the issues of race in the community, but both Alexander and Urena-Ravelo agreed, the change will only come when people in the community are willing to change themselves.

“In the end,” Alexander said, “you can’t change what’s happening in these communities until you change the mindset of the people.”

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