Life in an island town, nestled in the Lowcountry, has a built-in, idyllic charm. Quiet, oak-lined streets, neighbors waving from front porches, carefree kids meandering on bikes, beautiful trails to connect with nature — this community is touted as having a small town, modern-day “Mayberry” feel.
Beneath the surface, however, there’s an undercurrent of racism that has bubbled to the surface in recent weeks. There are subtle examples, slight enough to remain undetected. There are acts of racism left behind in the middle of the night — hate-filled images spray painted on office buildings and playgrounds on Daniel Island and in neighborhoods off of Clements Ferry Road. There are blatant occurrences, such as targeted, inappropriate posts left by a local student on social media accounts that later resulted in expulsion. And there are indicators that racism is here.
Last week, Sherrel Singleton, a Black resident of Daniel Island and mother of a 2-year-old, was harassed by a group of White men while crossing the street in the commercial district in her own hometown.
The community response has come from multiple sources.
Singleton used the Daniel Island Moms Facebook page as a platform to share her experience. In summary, the group of men she encountered shouted obscenities, told her that “Black lives don’t matter,” and screamed from a truck window, “Get off our island, blacky.”
When asked how the comments made her feel, Singleton said, “I felt less than human. I’ve never had to really have anyone call me out on the color of my skin. I have most definitely never encountered someone blatantly expressing so much hate and verbalizing that ‘Black lives don’t matter’ so close to my face. It was dehumanizing.”
Harriet LoPiccolo, a fellow Daniel Island mom, read the post, connected it with other incidents on the island, and couldn’t shake it off. LoPiccolo, a retired White woman, said she “had never led anything in her entire life.” But a spark ignited. Stepping out of her comfort zone, she invited residents to join her in starting a chapter of “Not
in Our Town” (NIOT). According to its website, NIOT is a national movement to “stop hate, racism, and bullying, and build safe, inclusive communities for all.”
LoPiccolo was overwhelmed with support, and a leadership team quickly formed, made up of two white women, LoPiccolo and Heather Hawkinson, and two Black women, Shaunda Campbell and Singleton. The Daniel Island chapter has plans for faith/memorial walks, community meetings, events, and collaborations with local businesses and civic leaders. The group already has about 125 members, with new supporters joining daily.
“Change starts from within. Everyone has to take a look in the mirror and see the world beyond what they see in the mirror,” Singleton said, adding we must change our world even if that means being uncomfortable.
“When a neighbor within our community feels unsafe, it is time for more of us to rise up and create that safe place,” Hawkinson said. “We stop the hate and we build safe, inclusive environments in our neighborhood. We combat the hate with visible, swift responses. We don’t shy away from uncomfortable conversations.”
The first step needed, Singleton said, is to “acknowledge that it’s happening here on Daniel Island. Acknowledge that it’s a real issue that needs real change. Loving thy neighbor as you love yourself needs to be a daily practice in each of our lives.”
NIOT Daniel Island held its first event the evening of June 17 with a city-approved, peaceful march that started at Holy Cross Church with a silent walk down Seven Farms Drive to Bishop England High School. The event coincided with the five-year anniversary of the tragedy at the Mother Emanuel A.M.E Church in downtown Charleston where nine Black church members were gunned down by a white supremacist.
Members of the new NIOT chapter also participated in a peaceful rally on June 18 in Center Park that was organized by Philip Simmons High School student Camille Fei.
Dan Freemyer, lead pastor at Providence Church on Daniel Island, said, “It is my time to listen. I need to hear Black brothers and sisters tell of the racism that they experience. I need to turn over my pulpit and give my platform for them to tell their stories to our primarily white congregants. We need to listen intently and then to join with them in calling for the systemic change that is needed.”
Freemyer is committed to seeking an opportunity to partner his church with a predominantly Black congregation. “If I don’t stand with them, act upon what I’ve heard, and actually do what they advise, then I shouldn’t continue in ministry — because then I’m just part of the problem,” he said.
As a White pastor, Freemyer said that he is going to lean on David Richardson for guidance in the coming months. Richardson, a Huger native, is the church’s minister of music and the only Black minister on staff.
“Instead of turning a blind eye and ear to blatant racism and its microaggressions, we need to see vivid examples and learn to listen to the Black community without offering ‘better’ logic,” Richardson said. “Have the difficult conversations with family and friends and do not leave children in the dark about what they can potentially see as they grow up in America.”
To pave a path toward unity, Richardson has several suggestions, which include: “Research what you post on Facebook and social media outlets concerning the Black Lives Matters movement and racial relations. There is a difference between research and a re-post. If you have to ask if it sounds racist, it probably is!”
People should gain a clear understanding of the definitions of racism and microaggression, and make more of an effort to place themselves in the shoes of the oppressed, Richardson said.
He continued, “If you are a Christian, stop allowing your political influences to minimize the empathy you need to reject and fight racism.”
Marjorie Avent, minister to youth and young adults at Providence Church, added, “We need to listen intently to our siblings of color, and when we get uncomfortable, we need to move in closer and listen harder. We need to amplify and elevate voices of color. The church has a unique opportunity to open its doors and its pulpit to ministers and theologians from other churches and traditions. And we, as predominantly White communities of faith, need to join hands and hearts with Black communities to walk, march, protest alongside them. The church cannot afford to be silent.”
The Daniel Island News reached out to the City of Charleston Police Department’s Team 5 with a series of questions that focused on recognizing and eliminating biases, training practices, and steps in achieving unity. In an effort to provide unified responses city-wide, the team was advised not to answer the questions.
The department issued the following statement: “The Charleston Police Department is currently putting together a message to the public on their website regarding the department’s policies and training as they relate to policing issues that are currently being discussed around the country following the tragic death of George Floyd.
This message should answer many of the questions that have been posed. The message should be up and running on the website sometime next week.”
The local leaders
The Charleston Forum is a community project that was born out of the tragedy at the Mother Emanuel Church. It’s led by a group of community leaders — business owners, educators, historians, clergy, writers, and politicians — and aims “to allow a deeper understanding of Charleston’s racially tangled history and provide solution based ideas.”
The 2020 forum was held as a virtual webinar on June 14. An introduction was provided by Brian Duffy, who described our current social climate as “A Pandemic of Discontent.” He said that there is a resounding agreement that as a community, we want to achieve equality. The goal of the discussion was to “dig into the attitudes and
perspectives that could be holding us back.” Panelists included Dr. Geoffrey Alpert, K.J. Kearney, Dr. Bernard Powers, Brian Hicks, and Dr. Josie White. John Simpkins served as moderator.
Powers, director of the Center for Study of Slavery at the College of Charleston, said that South Carolina’s history is important to understand “so that we can act in the moment we are in right now.” He noted the state’s history of slavery and white terrorism during the Civil Rights movement is deeply woven into our culture, and it’s important to understand the past to break the cycle.
Kearney, a career specialist, added, “Those in power today have a responsibility to know our history.”
Police officers must have a working knowledge of South Carolina history, said Powers. “Recruits come from all over the U.S. and need an understanding of our history so they have a better feel for the fabric of the community.”
Alpert, a criminologist, gave insight about how police forces interact. “Empathy — we don’t see it enough and we don’t understand it well,” he said. “Empathy needs to be stressed in police academies and required in police training.”
Correcting biases during training is key so it doesn’t become proven behavior. Coaching and accountability is important, Alpert said. Police forces have to be built with a focus on protection, not control. Alpert supports immersion for police — putting white officers in Black neighborhoods during training sessions, and peer-to-peer intervention, which allows a police officer to stop the action of another officer if behavior seems inappropriate.
Hicks, a columnist for The Post & Courier, stated, “My biggest concern right now is losing control of this moment.” He said that our nation is seeing the highest support for civil rights; it’s an important moment in history. Protesters need to become voters to make significant change happen, he said.
Kearney added, “We need empathetic leaders who can see the humanity in everyone.”
Dr. White, an educator, noted, “Young people have a lot to say. Give students the tools to be activists. Students have to see their teachers speaking up, defending, There needs to be a greater push for parent involvement. Teachers need more autonomy to make this happen.”
To commemorate Charleston’s 350th birthday, the Charleston Forum conducted a tri-county survey measuring opinions about quality of life, criminal justice, economic opportunities, housing, and education. The results revealed stark differences in the perceptions of Black and White respondents. Visit thecharlestonforum.com
the full 24-page summary of findings.