It’s a simple, straightforward challenge.
But the impact, according to those issuing it to Tacoma this weekend, could be substantial.
On Friday, Alana Simmons will arrive in Tacoma. She is the granddaughter of Daniel L. Simmons Sr., who was one of nine people shot and killed inside Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina last month.
She’ll be here with a purpose, a message and — as mentioned — a challenge.
Hate won’t win.
Those three words have become Simmons’ mantra.
It all started when Nadine Collier, the daughter of Ethel Lance, another of the Charleston victims, stood in court and forgave accused shooter Dylan Roof, who was allegedly in contact with white supremacist groups before the shooting and had been pictured with racist symbols.
In court that day, Roof appeared in a jail jumpsuit via a video feed. The New York Times called Collier’s act of forgiveness a “startling moment of anguish and grace.”
Simmons, who was also in the courtroom, was inspired. She also forgave Roof, as did other family members of victims.
Simmons looked toward the video screen displaying the face of her grandfather’s 21-year-old accused killer and told him: “Hate won’t win. ... My grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate. Everyone’s plea for your soul is proof that they lived in love and their legacies live in love."
Soon, the 25-year-old Simmons had helped to start the Hate Won’t Win Challenge, a movement she tells me is designed to embrace the power of forgiveness and promote “images of love and unity.” It’s a largely social media-based endeavor that asks people to “show an act of love” to someone different than them, then post a picture or video online with the hashtag #hatewontwin.
It’s important to note that the movement is largely social media-based because, this weekend at least, it will be Tacoma-based.
On Saturday, Simmons will take part in the annual 1000 Man Family March and Festival at People’s Park on Hilltop. Now in its fifth year, the event is designed to highlight community and “strong men that are working diligently to provide for their families,” according Tacoma Ministerial Alliance President Rev. Toney Montgomery, whose organization stands behind the march.
Then, on Sunday, Simmons will be at Bethlehem Baptist Church on Tacoma’s East side, helping to issue the Hate Won’t Win Challenge to anyone willing to take it. The whole community is invited, according to Montgomery, and the hope is to pack the church to the point of “standing room only in the parking lot.”
Simmons was glad to accept the invitation to Tacoma.
“They wanted to try to support the movement,” she tells me. “It definitely seemed like we were trying to move in the same direction.”
In the wake of the tragedy in Charleston, reactions to the move for forgiveness have been varied. Largely, there has been an outpouring of people moved and inspired by the gesture. But others have asked important questions.
As Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig wrote in The New Republic, “On one hand, the Christian compulsion to forgive is absolute: and as exemplars of the faith, the families of the Charleston victims are excellent. On the other hand, their forgiveness presents a challenge to the onlooking public: are we ignoring their wishes if we do not join them in forgiving Roof? And what becomes of the discussion of the massacre if the rhetoric turns primarily to forgiveness? Further, why is it always black Christians who are burdened with the task of unilateral forgiveness without expectation of radical transformation?”
None of that is to be lost in all this. As the author concludes, “Admiration of Roof’s victims’ families willingness to forgive should come along with an understanding that their forgiveness is only a starting point after which the hard work of penance must be carried out — not only by Roof himself, but by the aspects of our culture that produced him.”
That last part is where the true weight of what will take place in Tacoma this weekend can come from.
This isn’t about Dylan Roof.
“I won’t lie and say it’s been easy. It’s definitely been difficult,” Simmons said of dealing with the tragedy and the loss of her grandfather. However, she tells me that the positive reaction and public encouragement “really keeps us going” and “makes us feel like we’re making a difference.”
“It’s just been a lot of people who’ve been going out showing love to people who are different,” said Simmons, who works as a music teacher and real-estate agent. “It’s hard to not want to participate in it, if you have a humane bone in your body.”
Of course, it’s one thing to utter the words and take the challenge. It’s quite another to let it resonate within you and change your actions.
According to Montgomery, however, just taking that first step can make all the difference.
“The side of the victors has always been forgiveness,” he tells me. “I think if the community and Tacoma take up this challenge ... that seed will produce a very powerful fruit for the coming generation.”
TWO EVENTS FEATURING ALANA SIMMONS
1000 Man Family March
When: Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., with park festivities afterward until 4 p.m.
Where: Starting at New Covenant Church (23rd & MLK Jr. Way) and ending at People's Community Park.
“Hate Won’t Win” Challenge
When: Sunday, 3 to 5 p.m.
Where: Bethelehem Baptist Church, 4818 Portland Ave. E.