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‘You don’t have to be afraid’

Sheheen urges Junior Leadership grads to fight fear and hate

Posted: May 8, 2017 5:14 p.m.
Updated: May 9, 2017 1:00 a.m.
Martin L. Cahn/C-I

Clinton Washington III (center), of Lugoff-Elgin High School, smiles at someone off camera as he poses with his parents, Clinton and Elease Washington following the April 27 Junior Leadership Kershaw County annual graduation dinner. Clinton received a record of six nominations from his fellow Junior Leadership graduates and ultimately won the 2017 Robert J. Sheheen Outstanding Junior Leadership Student of the Year award. The award recognizes Clinton’s “exemplary leadership qualities during the program year.”

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State Sen. Vincent Sheheen of Camden had a message for the 2017 class of Junior Leadership Kershaw County: Don’t be afraid to face and fight the fear and hate that leads to acts like the one that took the life of one of his best friends.

Serving as the keynote speaker for the 2017 Junior Leadership graduation dinner on April 27, Sheheen recalled being deskmates in the S.C. Senate with State Sen. Clementa “Clem” C. Pinckney. Pinckney was among those murdered during the June 2015 massacre at Charleston’s Mother Emanuel AME Church, of which he was pastor.

“Clem was killed because he was black. Some people say that he was killed in an act of senseless violence,” Sheheen said. “Some people say that he was murdered by a crazy maniac. Some people, I’ve even heard say, that Clem lost his life along with those other church members for no reason at all. But I’m here to remind you as leaders that talk like that sells a sacrifice very short.”

Sheheen said there is a “stark and hard truth” leaders have to realize exists and then work to change.

 

 

 

“It’s a culture that, at its very worst, but all too often, manifests itself in a very quiet division. It also manifests itself as fear and, sometimes, hate. Clem was massacred for very real reasons, and those reasons were fear and hate,” Sheheen said, adding that he wanted to enlist the Junior Leadership students in his fight against those forces.

He said fear and hate appear to be at almost an “all time high” in his life and in the state.

“If we -- and I’m including you, young leaders -- if we don’t face up to those two reasons, we’ll never conquer them. If we, as leaders, pretend that what happened in Charleston, to Clem and his parishioners, was a senseless act, then we’re going to ignore the sickness that infects too many of our people in South Carolina,” he said. “What I want you to share, and I hope you will as leaders, is that you don’t have to be afraid. Because the way you conquer hate is, indeed, love. And the way that you defeat fear is, indeed, by leading with courage.”

Sheheen said too many politicians and political movements “revel in fear and division” to score points.

“And while some political figures may spew hatred toward whomever -- Mexicans or Muslims or migrants or you -- we don’t have to be afraid. There might be some twisted terrorists in some other countries who want to destroy your very way of life, but we don’t have to be afraid,” Sheheen said.

He said he believes the words of President Franklin D. Roosevelt -- “We have nothing to fear but fear itself” -- are truer now than ever because he believes “we are living in the most glorious time” in history.

“So our job as leaders is to face that down. That’s your job as a leader. And here’s the truth, and this is how you fight fear: with facts; because there’s no such thing as a ‘post-fact world,’ people. We live in a real world, full of facts. And right now, in America, we’re living in one of the safest, least violent periods of human history,” Sheheen said. “So, parents, it’s safer now than it was in the ’60s or the ’70s or the ’80s in this country. Let your little kids go play in the park and let your teenagers go out and have some fun; they deserve it. You are hundreds of times more likely to be killed by a lightning strike than a terrorist attack in America, so do not be afraid to go outside and do what you want to do.”

Sheheen said that, in today’s America, there is no civil war, no financial depression nor contagious diseases wiping out the population.

“The disciples of hatred and division, they don’t want you think like this. They want to feast on the fears of our fellow citizens. They want to feast on the fears of being black or white or a migrant or religion…. They use that to win elections,” Sheheen said, adding that such people use them to keep America and South Carolina divided. “But we’re leaders and we will not fall for that.”

Sheheen acknowledged the country and state are divided along racial, political, social, economic and other lines. He said that, sometimes, these divisions can be dangerous.

“And if you don’t believe me, think back to my friend, Clem. Because the last time I saw him was about five hours before he was murdered, in the State Senate chamber as he told me he had to rush back that night to go to his church to lead a prayer vigil,” he said.

Sheheen said it is the divisions Americans should hate and fear.

“I am a leader who does not fear the future. We are leaders, you’re leaders, you are the future, and I and your parents are proud of you,” Sheheen concluded.

At the beginning of his speech, Sheheen, who previously served on the Junior Leadership board and continues to serve in an ex-officio position, recognized the organization’s leaders, Steering Committee Chair Laurie Parks and, especially, steering committee member Ed Garrison.

“Without Ed Garrison, there would be no Junior Leadership in Kershaw County,” he said to a round of applause.

Four students -- Abby Baytes, Camden High School; Sébastien Offredo, Camden Military Academy (CMA); Zach Koeppen, Lugoff-Elgin High School (L-EHS); and Jacob Mathis, North Central High School -- spoke about the importance of leadership.

During his speech, CMA’s Sébastien, of Westport, Conn., talked about how he relied too much on his peers, who never told him he was doing anything wrong. In turn, he never pointed out things they might be doing wrong, including experimenting with drugs.

“On May 11, 2015, I saw how my silence brought upon the worst day of my life. I was called out of my biology class by my assistant principal and he told me my brother was in the nurse’s office. As I was trying to sort out this confusion, I saw my brother, pale, strapped to a stretcher, being carried out by medical personnel through the front entrance of my school,” he said. “My brother was only 14 years old at the time. He was my best friend and here I was wondering if I’d ever hug him again. My brother’s in the audience as my only family member for this graduation today.”

Sébastien’s brother, Yohann, also attends CMA, one year behind his older sibling.

At the end of the program, Parks announced L-EHS’ Clinton Washington as the winner of the 2017 Robert J. Sheheen Outstanding Junior Leadership Student of the Year award. She joked about how Clinton said he might not be able to attend the April 27 function, but that she called his parents to keep the award secret from their son, but make sure he attended. Parks said Clinton received a record six nominations for the award from his peers.

“He is very outgoing and if he doesn’t know you at the beginning of the day, he will by the end. He displays true leadership and positivity in all that he does. He is always leading by example. He is not only a great leader but a fantastic friend. Since our first session, I always knew that I would nominate him for this honor,” Parks read from some of the nominations.

Clinton’s parents, Clinton and Elease Washington, joined their son for pictures afterward saying it was hard to keep the award a secret.

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