Charleston residents come together on bridge to promote peace and unity

Over 10,000 gathered on the Arthur Ravenel Bridge in Charleston on Sunday evening to honor the nine lives lost last week. 

Carlo Allegri/Reuters
People walk in solidarity along the Arthur Ravenel Jr. bridge in Charleston.

Thousands of people came together atop Charleston's largest bridge on Sunday evening to honor the nine victims gunned down last week at Emanuel AME Church. 

Police estimate that between 10,000 and 15,000 people from near and far gathered on the Arthur Ravenel Bridge, which spans the Cooper River and connects the city of Charleston to the suburb of Mount Pleasant, for the Bridge to Peace Unity Chain. Event organizers had expected about 3,000 people. 

Marchers started at both ends of the bridge and met in the middle, cheering and embracing while singing "This Little Light of Mine." They also observed nine minutes of silence in honor of the nine church parishioners allegedly killed by Dylann Roof last Wednesday.

Many participants were Charleston area residents, but others, such as comedian and South Carolina native Stephen Colbert, came from hundreds of miles away to pay tribute. 

“I can’t even process it; I feel like I’m in a movie,” Dorsey Fairbairn, an organizer of the walk, told the Charleston Post & Courier. “The people raised in Charleston are not raised knowing hate – they’re raised in love, and that was obvious tonight. I hope the families feel the honor and the love from this community." 

Fairbairn said the idea for the Bridge to Peace Unity Chain was born out of concern for similar tragedies across the country, especially as she is a mother. 

“I just felt compelled to do something,” she said. “I just feel like this is happening too much in our country and this cannot be the norm.”

Participants spanned all races and ages. One local resident, Khalil Santos, walked with his young son atop his shoulders. He told the Charleston Post & Courier that he wanted his children to understand the significance of the march and what it represents. 

"I want them to understand that hate is not the way to live," Santos said. "I want them to have brighter futures and I want them to see the unity, no matter race or color. We are still united.”

Charleston resident Lauren Bush told the Post & Courier she hoped the event would inspire faith in humanity. 

“It’s going to take a lot more than just holding hands across a bridge, but to see this response, it’s a good start,” Bush said. “We will rise above the hate.”

Every word in the English language fall short of describing what the people of Charleston did tonight. On Thursday we were divided. We were without hope. We were in agony and pain. Our people leaned on each other. We asked one another to heal us; heal our souls for they have been torn apart. We came together- and not just us. People from Georgia; people from Florida; people from hundreds of miles away- They came to help. Our other states held vigils and rang church bells to honor the Emanuel9. Citizens in counties on the other side of the world- Syria, Japan, Portugal, Italy, South Korea- were commenting on every online post they could find to tell those people they were loved. With this help, we could stand again. We became 'the example of love that conquers evil'. Tonight we gathered together to form a unity chain, a bridge for peace, on the Ravanel Bridge. 3,000 were estimated to arrive and complete the link by sunset, yet 15,000 people stood united together at the bases of the bridge, ready for the journey. There were people as far as the eye could see cheering, clapping, laughing and singing as they walked. Our hometown heroes paved the way and kept us safe from passing cars, who laid on their horns to show support as they went by. There was nothing like it. I am proud of this community and honored to call it home for we have defined what it means to be strong. Charleston strong. #CooperRiverBridge #RavenelBridge #CharlestonStrong #iamAME #CharlestonShooting #Charleston #BridgeToPeace #chslove #OneLove #UnityChain

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