A memorial to be built outside a Charleston church where nine worshipers were massacred will serve to raise national awareness that racism and hate can be overcome by love and forgiveness, according to one of those leading the campaign to build the monument.
John Darby, chief executive of The Beach Company and a driving force behind the plan for the memorial to the victims of the Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church shooting, spoke after it was announced a committee has chosen an architect to design the structure.
Michael Arad, of New York's Handel Architects, is most noted for designing the National September 11 Memorial that stands close to the World Trade Center.
"Michael brings a wealth of experience on matters such as this, having interacted with ... the survivors and families of 9/11," Darby told the Palmetto Business Daily. "He is a professional in that area and that is one of the things that really attracted us -- he understands grief and understands the message."
Dylan Roof, then 21, shot dead nine people, including the church's senior pastor, on June 17, 2015. Roof was convicted in federal court on multiple counts of murder and sentenced to death.
The announcement that Arad was chosen to design the memorial was made on the anniversary of the deadly shooting.
“Being asked to design this memorial is a humbling and tremendous responsibility,” Arad said after being chosen to work on the Mother Emanuel piece. “I will do my utmost to honor the memory of the deceased and give voice to the injured, the grieving families and the community."
Darby became involved after discussions with his wife and members of two families that still own The Beach Company who all wanted to do something in the wake of the murders.
"What has happened with these shootings is they changed the conversation on racism so the memorial is going to have many meanings," Darby said. "It is not only [to] remember those who lost their lives, and also the survivors, but it is about national awareness of racism and hate being overcome by forgiveness and love."
The construction company opened its doors 70 years ago just a few blocks from the church. They have been near neighbors ever since.
"After the horrible night of the shootings, my wife first suggested doing something," Darby said. "Then several members of the families said we should reach out and offer help."
He added, "We told them (the church) when they were ready, we were available to assist. That led to discussions about a memorial. Then, about a year ago, we got serious and formed a committee, then hired hired consultants and now we have Michael Arad."
What is important to the church and the committee is that the designer studies the situation, reaches out to families and gets to know the church and its deep 126-year history. The families of the victims will be centrally involved, offering feedback before work on the design starts, Darby said.
There is no timeline, the developer added, but he expects a design may be unveiled within four to six months.
"They put in a lot of time to get to this point," Darby said. "At the end of the day we are here to serve the church ... We just want to help and it has been a great experience so far."
He also praised the committee, stating that it is made up of people of many talents, historians, community leaders, the leadership of the AME church, and art consultants.
“This memorial on the grounds of the church will help keep the memory of the Emanuel 9 alive and honor the resilience of the families, survivors and church members,” Rev. Eric S.C. Manning, pastor of Mother Emanuel, said in a statement. “Michael Arad’s design for the September 11 Memorial expresses both the devastating loss of life, while also expressing peace, comfort and hope."
While The Beach Company has contributed to the fund, other companies and individuals have reached out, with funds coming in the last two years since the idea was raised. Tax-deductible donations can be made to the memorial fund online by visiting http://bit.ly/2rsVxL3. Donations by check may be sent to “Mother Emanuel Memorial Foundation” c/o Emanuel AME Church, 110 Calhoun St, Charleston, 29401.