Posted by Live 5 News on Tuesday, August 15, 2017
I’m always proud to be from South Carolina, even when the bad seems to outweigh the good. Sometimes, though, the state really shines. The men and women in this video are an example of what makes the Palmetto State so incredible.
A black man and a white man, the leaders of two groups which oppose almost every part of each other’s agendas, sat down together, drank a beer (they said “a” beer, but I’ll bet they had at least two), and tried something largely discouraged into today’s hostile society. Instead of venting their own grievances and demanding the other change his mind, they listened to each other.
By the time they shook hands and left the bar, something strange and incredible had happened. The two men, James Bessenger of the South Carolina Secessionist Party and Shakhem Amen Akhet of the Charleston Black Nationalist Movement, found common ground. After watching the abomination that occurred in Charlottesville the previous weekend, they realized that both groups call Charleston, South Carolina home. Both groups have family there. The members of both groups have water from the Ashley River and the Cooper River flowing through their veins.
The people of Charleston, and indeed the entire state, came together after Dylan Roof tried to divide the races on June 17, 2015. Extremists on both sides, along with the national “news” media, appeared confused and angry when Charlestonians in particular and South Carolinians in general became colorblind, worshiping together, praying together, and comforting and encouraging each other. Historically, that is the reaction of both the city and the state to tragedy.
Still, it’s been more than a century since the streets of Charleston have seen armed conflict on a mass scale, and both Bessenger and Shakhem are passionate about keeping their city safe. The two men agreed to expand their open discussion to include members of the groups they lead, insisting that opposing members treat each other with the same respect given by their leaders.
They called a press conference, and members briefly talked about issues on camera before Shakhem and Bessenger took the microphone to speak. What came from the meeting of these two groups is remarkable for the state of our nation today. After acknowledging their different views and goals, group members agreed that seeing things from a different perspective is okay. They stated, publicly, that violence is never an acceptable response to someone’s different opinion, and scheduled a debate to show others how to peacefully disagree.
During the press conference, Bessenger and Shakhem were honest about the differences between what their groups want to accomplish. However, both said they wanted to see the other continue working to achieve their goals. Both understand that freedom of speech no longer exists when any group is silenced, even an opposing one.
The men also left no doubt that they would stand together to protect their city and their fellow citizens, whatever color they might be or beliefs they might hold. Together, they issued a strong warning to anyone who thinks Charleston’s rich history makes it a good place to spark a race war.
Members of both groups spend much of their time on the streets, talking to people and pushing their agendas. Their ideas and rhetoric could make them easy targets for agitators looking to provoke violence. In front of the cameras, both men pledged their support to the other, promising to stand with each other if members of one group are physically attacked. They also agreed to work together at an event on the College of Charleston campus, which ended with neither violence nor conflict.
Some have dismissed the unlikely alliance, claiming that neither the Secessionist Party nor the Black Nationalist Movement is large enough to matter. Local press gave the groups and their efforts some attention, but it hasn’t been a big story (if it’s been any story) in the national media. As unsurprising as it might be, they’ve missed the point altogether.
These two men, with radically different perspectives on history and life, sat down and managed to find common ground and mutual respect. They brought together the organizations they lead, even though members work toward opposite ends most of the time. These two street generals pledged not only to avoid violence, but to protect each other if violence comes from outside. They show us all that peace is a real possibility when we listen to each other.
They also show us the abject failures of our elected leaders and our “news” media. Most Americans are too busy trying to enjoy life and liberty while pursuing happiness to be bothered with hating someone for something as trivial as the amount of pigment in their skin. Harmony doesn’t translate to power or ratings, however. Instead of each other, our anger should be turned against the real villains in our nation — those who have so badly and blatantly abused their positions and our trust.
The video above was posted on the WCSC Live 5 News Facebook page. It is long but profound and inspiring. It should probably be required viewing for every single pundit and elected official in the country.
Roy Jeffords is an author, ghost writer, and curmudgeon-at-large. A graduate of The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina, he lives in Texas with his wife and their two boxers. Find him on Facebook at Roy Jeffords, Twitter @royjeffords, and Instagram royjeffords. Contact him at [email protected]