It’s been one year since members of Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. were gathered together for a Wednesday evening Bible study that suddenly turned to terror as gunman Dylann Roof opened fire, killing nine parishioners within minutes.
It was just two days later that family members of the victims shocked the nation by speaking words of forgiveness to Roof via closed-circuit television. Possibly the most unbelievable display of mercy came in the form of the now-famous words of Nadine Collier, daughter of slain AME member Ethel Lance:
I forgive you. You took something very precious away from me. I will never get to talk to her ever again—but I forgive you, and have mercy on your soul. . . . You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. If God forgives you, I forgive you.
For survivors and family members, it has been a year of seeking to live out that mercy and forgiveness even as grief remains. Felicia Sanders, who lost both her 26-year old son Tywanza Sanders and her 87-year old aunt Susie Jackson, has been attending Wednesday night Bible studies at the nearby, mostly white Second Presbyterian Church for the last nine months. TIME spoke to Sanders about her decision to forge bonds with those Roof wanted her to hate:
“I wanted to do this for Tywanza. I want to prove that boy wrong. I wanted to show forgiveness and love between the races,” Sanders said last September at her first Bible study at Second Presbyterian. That night, her hands gripped the chair when a young white man entered the room. But she forced herself to embrace this church and these people and unite with them in worshipping the same Jesus.
And then there’s Chris Singleton, the 19-year old whose mother, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, was shot and killed during the Bible study last June. A piece in The Undefeated about Singleton, who now plays baseball at Charleston Southern University, quotes a former teammate of his saying, “You can tell God is way more in his life through all this. You can definitely see it coming out in him.”
Singleton credits his mother’s example for his ability to extend forgiveness to Roof just one day after he took his mother’s life. At a vigil for the victims, Singleton told a BBC reporter, “We already forgive him for what he’s done. And there’s nothing but love from our side of the family. Love is stronger than hate.”
Now, one year later, Mother Emmanuel Church, in an effort to continue showing the kindness exhibited by the family members of the Emmanuel Nine, is marking June 21 as “Acts of Amazing Grace Day.” The idea is to have as many people around the globe taking part in acts that respond to hate with kindness. As per Mother Emmanuel’s website:
“With thousands of acts of grace being performed around the world, we will surely make the world a better place. No act of kindness or grace, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”