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Sheheen’s message is the right one

Posted: May 11, 2017 1:00 p.m.
Updated: May 12, 2017 1:00 a.m.

(I am turning over my column today to a transcript of State Sen. Vincent Sheheen’s speech to the 2017 Class of Junior Leadership Kershaw County, given at the class’ annual dinner on April 27. I do this because I think it is exactly what everyone -- young and old -- needs to hear as we continue to deal with some unpleasant truths about our society while growing into an even better country than we already are.)

I want to talk with you, briefly today, about leaders and about leadership. And I’m going to do that by telling you about a leader that I knew, I admired and who I’ve talked about for the last couple of years.

His name was Clem Pinckney, and he’s no longer with us. He was a gentle man, he was a kind person, he was considerate, he was a gentleman, he was a believer, he was a man of peace. He was also a state senator. He was also a preacher. Those two things don’t always go in common.

I was very blessed to be his seat-mate in the Senate. Clem was murdered about two years ago. He was murdered in his own church in Charleston with eight of his church members. And Clem was killed because he was black.

Some people say that he was killed in a senseless act of violence. 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 other church members for no reason at all.

But I’m here to remind you as leaders, that talk like that sells a sacrifice like that very short, very short. It shirks what is a stark and hard truth we as leaders have to realize. That kind of talks ducks the pain of the reality of the culture in our state that you as leaders have to change. It’s a culture that at it’s very worst, but all too often, manifests itself in a very quiet division. It also manifests itself in fear and, sometimes, in hate.

Clem was massacred for very real reasons. And those reasons were fear and hate. Those were the reasons. And, so, for the last year and a half, when I speak, I try to combat those two forces. And I’m enlisting you in that combat.

Those two forces, it seems like to me, are at almost an all time high in my life in this country and also in this state. And we’re leaders. 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. Because those people who trade in hate, they also feed on feer, and you, as leaders, cannot be afraid.

So, I’m here tell you -- many of you are seniors, some of you are juniors -- you are about to embark in the next year or two, on a new journey. And in that new journey, you are going to be leaders who spread the word around our state and around our country and what I want you to share -- and I hope you will as leaders -- is that we don’t have to be afraid. Because the way that you conquer hate is, indeed, love. And the way that you defeat fear is, indeed, by leading with courage.

Now, we have seen all too many politicians and political movements revel in fear and in division and in loathing and in hatred. We see it every day; all you have to do is turn on the television. And while some political figures, they may spew hatred toward whoever -- Mexicans or Muslims or migrants or you -- we don’t have to be afraid. There might be some twisted terrorists in some other country who want to destroy your very way of life, but we don’t have to be afraid.

Television and the internet blast, everyday, images of crime and violence and death into your living room, minute after minute, in a desperate attempt to capture your attention, but you don’t have to be afraid.

We’re living -- this is the truth -- we are living in the most glorious time in the history of humanity, right now, right here. I’m reminded of the words of the prophet of the New Deal, FDR, because I think they ring truer now more than ever, that we have nothing to fear in this state or this country as leaders, we have nothing to fear but fear itself.

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-facts 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 in human history. That’s fact. Right now, in America, our crime rate is at the one of the lowest levels in the history of the country since we have kept records. That is the truth.

So, parents, it’s safer now than it was in the ’60s, 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 fun, OK? They deserve it.

You are hundreds of times -- fact -- 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. Just stay out of lightning storms.

Right now, in America, we are blessed -- we don’t have any civil war, we don’t have any financial depressions, we don’t have any dreadful contagious diseases that are wiping out populations. We are blessed, people.

Now, the disciples of hatred and division, they don’t want you to think like this. They want to feast on the fears of our fellow citizens. They want to feast on the fears about being black or white or a migrant or a (certain) religion. Fears about differences, fears about change. They use that to win elections. Trust me; I see them up close and personal.

They use it to keep us divided. They use it to sow fear and discontent and disenchantment. They use it to distract us from what really matters. But we’re leaders and we will not fall for that.

We’re pretty divided in this country right now, important to face it, and in this state as well. We’re divided along race, we’re divided along politics, we’re divided ... socially and economically. And these divisions, they can be very 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 a State Senate chamber as he told me he had to rush back that night to go to his church to lead a prayer meeting.

These divisions are dangerous. These divisions are what we should hate. These divisions are what we should fear.

So, I might not be here tomorrow, but I am not afraid of that because I am a leader who does not fear the future. We’re leaders, you’re leaders, you are the future, and I and your parents are proud of you.

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