Leah Joyner, Staff Writer
The Rev. Sharon Risher captured students’ attention with her raw emotion on Sunday morning, sharing how she became an accidental activist when she lost loved ones in the 2015 Charleston shooting at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Risher, a native of Charlotte, N.C., spoke at a lyceum event at the Batte Center.
“From the moment Rev. Risher started sharing her story, she evoked a spirit of passion that was astonishing. It was evident that she was unequivocally devoted to her beliefs,” said senior Tripp Wright.
Risher described the struggle she went through finding out about the deaths of her mother, two cousins, and a childhood friend on that horrific night of June 17, 2015. Since the traumatic event, Risher has spoken up about gun laws in the nation and about her process of grieving and forgiving the shooter for his deed. Her touching testimony moved the audience to rethink ways in which to engage with people who look different from them and with the hope of bringing a positive change to the nation.
“Reverend Risher told her story as though it happened yesterday. She talked about being in the courtroom with her family’s murderer as though she had only just stepped out for a moment to tell you what was going on inside. While the terrible tragedy in Charleston did occur only two and a half years ago, she gave me a feeling that she would always tell her story like this. She would always relive that day with her heart on her sleeve, allowing herself to once again feel every feeling she felt the day her family was killed in hatred,” said freshman Karah Fleming.
In her speech, Risher shared stories about her Christian faith getting her through the tough times in her life. Accompanied by her daughter, Aja, she admitted that it took a long time to forgive the shooter for what he did to her and her family, but she ultimately let go of her anger and gave it to the Lord.
“She didn’t try to tell us that her years of following God made her want to forgive right away. She had to wrestle with God about this time in her life,” Fleming commented. “Though I have yet to face something as difficult as what she was forced to face, her honesty about the battle she had to fight within herself to do God’s will was encouraging.”
Risher has used her story to touch others on CNN, Time Magazine, BBC Radio and other media outlets. She has been a guest at the White House on several occasions when Barack Obama was president. A former hospital chaplain, Risher now spends her time as an activist and is writing a book.
The Reverend’s conclusion to her speech sums up her purpose for speaking out to students and the public: “I didn’t ask for this journey I’m on. I would rather not be standing up here sharing this with you, but here I am. I hope you have heard one thing today that you didn’t know before. Something that will stir your heart to do something always for the betterment of yourself, so you can bring someone along who may not look like you or talk like you. We share this country and we must be the change we want to see.”
Edited by: Brea Childs
Pictured above: The Rev. Risher and daughter Aja Risher