The Reverend Sharon Risher will speak at the Forest Hill Church in Cleveland Heights, on November 16.
You may not know her name, but the subtitle of her book, For Such a Time as This: Hope and Forgiveness After the Charleston Massacre, should resonate with you. The Reverend Risher is no outsider to this horrific event. Among the 9 people killed in the Mother Emmanuel massacre in June, 2015, were her mother, two cousins and a lifelong friend.
That searing first-hand experience led the Reverend Kristine Eggert, Executive Director of God Before Guns, to invite her to Cleveland. Eggert says that the organization “believe[s] that advocacy and activism follow from increased awareness” and “that a message that comes from actual personal experience and tragedy from gun violence and from a woman of color is especially compelling.”
This mirrors Risher’s reason for writing the book. She wants to show readers that her mother, Mrs. Ethel Lance, “was not just a victim, but a real person who faced pain and challenges, yet was able to live a meaningful life.” She continues, “I wanted my story to show the readers that pain and grief can move you to advocacy and activism.”
Risher says that teenagers often ask about her views on forgiveness: “Most teenagers have had instances in their lives where forgiving someone has been painful or challenging. They want to know how do you begin the process and if a person doesn’t want to forgive, whether that’s okay also.” She reassures them that “forgiveness is hard, and not forgiving someone does not make you a bad person.”
Asked about her reaction to the hug that Brandt Jean, Botham Jean’s brother, gave to his killer in the courtroom, Risher acknowledges that her initial reaction was “Not again” and that she saw it as another example of “black people so easily giving forgiveness to someone who has committed the most heinous of crimes, taking a life of someone innocent.”
After serious reflection, though, Risher changed her mind about Brandt Jean, realizing that “he is a person of faith and had more than a year to sit with what forgiveness meant to him on a spiritual level.”
For Risher, gun violence and race are most certainly intertwined. She wants people to remember “that racism is very much an everyday occurrence among Black people and that racism continues to fuel hatred in this country.”
She hopes that people who hear her talk will “walk away thinking of how they are implicit in their own biases and how this affects our country as a whole,” as well as how they need to “plan on making changes in their lives that will have an impact on their communities and their obligations in combating racism.”
For those who are wary of the name of the sponsoring organization, the Reverend Eggert explains that God Before Guns is a “faith-based organization [that is] not religious or doctrinal.” They do not “proselytize or evangelize.” Rather, they simply believe that “humanity is called to honor the sanctity of life and to work to build safe communities.”
God Before Guns likes to conclude its events with a call to action. Eggert expects that the Call this time will likely be about gathering petition signatures for the Common Sense Background Checks Initiative, an effort led by the organization Ohioans for Gun Safety, which God Before Guns endorses.
Tickets for the Reverend Risher’s event are $25 and include luncheon and a copy of her book. If you are interested but unable to attend, Eggert encourages you to explore other ways to become involved by visiting the organization’s website.
For more information, see http://godbeforeguns.org/announcements.html. Tickets must be purchased by November 1.
If you can, please plan to attend. This is exactly the thing we all need for such a time as this.