On July 18th, 2015 at the South Carolina State House, I sat down at the table with its worst horrors.
I was covering a Ku Klux Klan rally in Columbia, held about a week after the highly-debated Confederate flag was lowered from State House grounds. The flag was the topic of a national conversation for weeks after nine people were killed at a bible study in an AME church in Charleston, and the accused shooter was seen in photographs using the Confederate flag as a symbol of white supremacy.
I'd covered two rallies before this one, but they didn't feel like this. There were thousands of people at this one. There were passionate, angry, emotionally charged people with opinions they were sharing loudly at this one. There were probably a hundred law enforcement agents at this one. There was a lot of media at this one. The Black Panther Party and the KKK were at this one. This one wasn't just about a flag.
I know my job is cool in that it gives me a front row seat to history. Every day, I learn something new about someone new, about the world we all share and live in together. That world is always changing, and we get to know so much about that as reporters. Even better, we get to share it with you. It is such a full way to experience life. But just like the quote says, your eyes are opened to ALL that humanity is and can be, not just the parts that are easy to love.
The media was placed in a barricaded section between the steps the KKK stood on and the barricades that kept the crowds of protestors away. We watched people tear apart flags, shout hateful, vicious, foul things at one another. Fights broke out in the crowds among people who don't even know each other, but know they aren't alike, and know that they are angry.
You don't want to believe you are part of any sort of humanity with the capacity for such vileness and detestation. But if you're me at this rally, you have a deadline to meet.
And that's what you do. You do your work. You write your script, you tweet out your photos and you do a live report. And then you get to the car with a moment to breathe and think, and the human inside of you comes back. She comes back at full force. She wastes no time.
I cried for at least the first third of my trip home from Columbia and I continued to cry when I got home. Seeing history from a front row seat changes you. Since the shooting in Charleston, I've covered three stories about the Confederate flag, the viewing of State Senator Clementa Pinckney's body at the State House, his burial, an AME church leadership conference, and a KKK rally. The national media goes home and finds what's next, but these stories become part of the fabric of the places we cover here locally... the place where I live. I drive past churches every single day that still say "Pray for Charleston" out front.
I couldn't stop thinking about this day of the rally compared to the day I covered the viewing of Clementa Pinckney's body at the same State House. His casket came up those very steps that the KKK was using as a stage to shout at people from. The reverent, peaceful nature of that day was a stark contrast to the hatred and rage of this one. It seemed wrong.
I left feeling so sad for humanity, which is why I wept the way home. Why are some people so filled with hate? If we have an ability to detest people we don't even know, surely we have the ability to love people for no reason either. I felt so sad for Charleston and for South Carolina, which as a city and a state have been graceful, forgiving, and healing.
Having seen what I saw that day, I wish we'd choose kindness ten out of ten times. I wish we would love each other so damn hard because we're humans and we have the ability to do it. Seeing us do the opposite of that for a few hours at the State House broke my heart.
Scott Pelley, anchor and managing editor of the CBS Evening News, once told me having your heart broken is an occupational hazard in this field, and that he worries for the reporters who don't cry. On this day, he would not have been worrying about me.
I learned so much by sitting at the table with the world's horrors that day in Columbia. I learned that you can't get up and push your chair in because you don't like what's in front of you. It's your responsibility, your honor and your privilege to be there and tell the stories.
You will cry, you will feel it ever-so-deeply, you will count your blessings. And you will hope someone sees the story you did that day and decides that it's time to choose kindness.
You heard it here first,