An Illinois town has its fingers crossed for a surprise upset at Friday’s Nobel Peace Prize ceremony: That the award will go to Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
The historic church’s Wednesday night Bible study became a bloodbath in June when Dylann Roof executed parishioners after sitting with them in prayer. Nine people died that night, including Rev. Clementa Pinckney—also a state senator in South Carolina.
But after the church washed off the blood and prepared to bury its congregants, the community stunned the country with kindness—especially stark in contrast to Roof’s racist hatred. During his first court hearing, grieving relatives of slain church members stood up one by one, and offered their forgiveness to the [alleged] executioner.
Where there was hatred, church members showed true Christian love.
And that, Illinois state Senator Donne Trotter told The Daily Beast, is why a group of officials in Thornton township decided to nominate the church for the Nobel on behalf of Thornton, Chicago, and the Illinois Senate.
Trotter said the nominators were impressed the community’s response to the tragedy, and their faith in leaders who wouldn’t steer them wrong. He joined with Thornton township Supervisor Frank Zuccarelli, who spearheaded the campaign, to advocate for the honor.
A devout Baptist himself, Trotter had known Pinckney, the slain head of the church, for more than 10 years.
“He was not only a colleague,” Trotter said of the fellow state senator. “He was also a fraternity brother.”
Though Pinckney was the younger of the two, “he had such a presence.”
“I can say now, in retrospect, that he helped mentor me in some of the things I have to be doing,” said Trotter.
Because the shooting happened in a church, Trotter said, the initial reaction was more of shock than violent outrage because “it was just so appalling.”
Afterward, instead of violent protests, he said the community followed the lead of church members and elected leaders to trust in the justice system and envelop each other with love.
“They were allowed to keep the tone as one of, ‘Let’s look for justice, but also no further violence’—that there needs to be no negative reaction until the process is worked out,” Trotter said.
“They didn’t react with anger and violence or divisiveness, breaking up the communities and taking sides, and looking at things as us versus them,” Zuccarelli, who led the charge, told The Daily Beast. “The predominant emotion expressed was one of forgiveness.”
“We all sat around and said, ‘We need to think about why” the reaction was like that, he recalled.
And then, someone in the room suggested nominating them for a Nobel Peace Prize.
“None of us had ever been involved in it, but none of us had ever heard of this kind of incident with this kind of response,” he said.
The two men went down to Charleston with 13 other community leaders, planning on nominating the whole city for the award. But after meeting with members of Mother Emanuel, they knew the true heroes resided in the church. Local elected officials agreed instantaneously, Zuccarelli said.
“We’ll be happily surprised if it happened this year,” Trotter said. “Just the idea that has to be acknowledged is that this community, this city, has epitomized what caring is all about.”
But their heroes aren’t likely to have their names called out Friday. After all, the Illinois officials haven’t filed their petitions yet.
“Right now we’re still in the process of collecting information, and assembling the proper information for the application,” Thornton spokesman Melvin Caldwell told The Daily Beast.
A website has been created for supporters of the nomination. They’re shooting for a 2016 deadline, in February, and for now are doing their “due diligence.”