On June 17, 2015, nine innocent people were tragically killed at the hands of Dylann Roof, a young white stranger who was invited into the ‘Mother Emanuel’ AME church for Bible study, in a race-fueled massacre.
Two days later, at Roof’s bond hearing, the survivors and victims’ families sent a strong message of unity and forgiveness in their final statements to Roof. This included Alana Simmons, who lost her grandfather Reverend Daniel Simmons Sr. in the shooting.
Alana created the #HateWontWin movement inspired by the show of love that day. “At first, when we realized it was a racially charged murder—that they were murdered in church—I was like, ‘People are going to burn the city down.’ But we got there and people of all different religions, ages, orientations and races were together, focused on healing.” #HateWontWin aims “to advocate for unity through demonstration of God’s love” and features several initiatives to bring people together in a multitude of ways.
The movement started with a social media challenge, the hashtag #HateWontWin, that encouraged people to post a picture of them showing love to someone different to them. The hashtag went viral and was supported by many celebrities and social leaders alike, including President Barack Obama and FLOTUS Michelle Obama. Fellow heroine, Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis, teacher and survivor of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, also supports the movement and promotes a curriculum that teaches empathy.
‘Mother Emanuel’ is the oldest African Methodist Episcopal church in the South. It was co-founded by freed slave Denmark Vesey and went on to hold one of Dr. Martin Luther King’s speeches in 1962. The church’s motto, “We enter to worship, we depart to serve,” is a testament to the efforts of the Charleston massacre’s survivors to promote tolerance and ensure that the victims’ legacy is love. Roof was charged with nine counts of murder and thankfully his attempt to divide the community did not work.
What was your grandfather, Rev. Daniel Lee Simmons Sr, like? Would you like to share a funny memory?
He was a very strong man, both mentally and physically. He lived by his faith. Studying Christianity and serving the AME Church was very important to him. He moved to Charleston when he retired. He loved the city so much he promised my sisters and I a shopping trip, only to turn [it] into an historical tour.
What motivated you to push past your grief and anger and forgive Dylann Roof? How important is forgiveness for personal growth and healing?
I was motivated by my faith to forgive Roof. Forgiveness in any situation is important for personal growth and healing because it allows you to move on and regain your power. My faith teaches me that forgiveness is a requirement because God forgives us daily. Personally, I wanted to show Roof that we are not the people he thought we were and he doesn’t have the power to control me and how I think, act or feel, no matter what he did.
Can you talk us through some of the initiatives of the #HateWontWin movement?
We have initiatives in the fields of education, politics, media, religion, community and family. Each of them has overreaching objectives that aim to create advocacy for unity, social equity and justice, fostering relationships between people of difference and publicizing the good in humanity. I basically want to witness a culturally cohesive society that de-fuels hate crimes, discrimination and bullying.
Your social media challenge was to post a picture with someone different to you and show them love. How important a role do you feel having a diverse social circle plays for tackling ignorance and racism?
Having a diverse circle is at the center of the #HateWon’tWin social media challenge. Roof was radicalized over the Internet and the social media challenge was created to use that same tool to unite thousands of strangers with millions of differences.
Congratulations on winning the Presidential Citizenship Award! How did that feel?
It’s nice to receive awards and recognition, but I’m at my happiest when I interact with people and communities and they are inspired by my message to take action and be a part of creating the change they wish to see.
What’s next for you and the #HateWontWin movement?
Hate Won’t Win Movement, Inc. is now spinning off to a non-profit organization that will raise funds to honor families and communities affected by hate crimes, discrimination and bullying.