Shippensburg University students and faculty rallied together to promote peace and equality at the United We Stand rally Thursday evening.
The rally was put together by the ACT group, which stands for The Ask. Communicate. Teach Tolerance. They seek to address racial injustices on SU’s campus and create conversation about race.
At the rally, the Rev. Sharon Risher shared her story about why and how she considers herself to be an accidental activist.
“An accidental activist is someone who finds themselves in a life altering experience and springs into action for specific causes or issues,” Risher said.
Risher’s mother, two cousins and a childhood friend, along with five others, were killed in the Charleston, South Carolina, church shooting. She shared with the audience the story of the night of June 17, 2015.
“I understand the story is horrific, but I know that the story has to be told because you see it’s more than just a story,” Risher said. “It’s about humanity and how we begin the journey of understanding each other.”
With a shaking voice, Risher read out the names of the victims. Risher said she continues to say the victims’ names because she wants others to know that hate will not win, and they sacrificed their lives for a greater purpose. After hearing the names, she hoped the audience felt empowered to evoke change.
Risher described one of the most defining moments of her life as when her mother called her when she was about 8 or 9 years old. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was speaking in Charleston and her mother wanted her to hear him speak. Risher compared hearing his voice to hearing the voice of God. After that day, she aspired to speak to people like he did to help others. Now, she believes she was chosen to speak and tell her story.
“Our life experiences, everything that you experience shapes who you are. Not just for today, not just while you’re on this campus, but for the rest of your life,” Risher said.
Forgiveness, Risher said, has been difficult. Through tears, she said she forgave the shooter, and said this was the first time she had voiced her forgiveness aloud.
Despite the world being full of chaos, Risher believes that college students across the U.S. are learning to be productive and live among each other. She said ACT is doing a good job on campus, and they have the courage to talk about the things that nobody wants to talk about.
The goal of her speech was to have the audience hear one thing that they did not know before, and specifically something that would encourage them to do something to better themselves and others.
“Don’t let anything get in your way of being the person that you are, because you are somebody,” Risher said. “You are worthy of every good thing that there is in this world and I want you to go out there and grab it. Don’t let anything stop you.”