Teachers and Guns: A Solution or a Risk?

The movement of three muscles and a fourth of a second are all it takes to fire a gun.

But the consequences can defy numbers.

It is these potential consequences that are part of the argument surrounding a bill that was pre-filed in early January by Republican State Sen. Kevin Bryant from Anderson.

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One year later: Reflecting on community progress since the Emanuel 9 shooting

dsc_0258Mass shooting here. Protest turned violent there. Innocent bystanders killed.

In a church. In a school. In a club, a movie theater, a neighborhood street.

Nine, 20, 50 people.

Mothers, fathers, daughters and sons.

Lives lost.

Flowers are laid, memorials erected. Family photos, baby pictures and sentiments of lives cut short are scattered across the sidewalks and walls that have witnessed horror in the truest form.

But eventually, the sting of tragedy subsides.

The tears dry, the flowers wilt and people begin moving again, rather unchanged.

It’s all too routine.

Over the last three years there have been over 1,000 mass shootings and acts of violence. Some of these acts have divided the nation while others have brought people together, but the reality remains the same: not much has changed, and the violence roars on.

In June of 2015, Charleston was in the national headlines as news of the Emanuel 9 shooting at Emanuel AME Church broke.

However, Charleston was revered nationally for the city’s unity and outward expressions of compassion in the days and weeks following this tragedy rather than its divisiveness. Since then, over a year has passed and the question must be asked:

How has Charleston recovered, learned and progressed from this experience?

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Taking a Stand: Religious organizations unite to push for gun control legislation

“It could have been us.”

For Don Flowers, the shootings of the nine parishoners of Mother Emanuel AME Church on June 17, 2015, hit all too close to home.

“It was at a Bible study, something that happens here every day,” said Flowers, who is the minister of  Providence Baptist Church on Daniel Island.  “I think that that is what shocked us out of this idea that we could sit back and let other people deal with this.”

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What’s it Worth? Examining the validity of standardized testing

He studied for hours. He took every tutoring course. He poured hours of time, energy and substantial amounts of money into test prep, fees and study books. But when he opened up his test scores, all of that preparation suddenly meant nothing, and overwhelming disappointment took hold.

Joe’s* high GPA, participation on the football team, extracurriculars and excellent teacher recommendations all seemed to wither away in the presence of the “inadequate” score in front of him.

This situation is all too familiar for high school upperclassmen across the nation, especially when it comes time to apply for college. With more people applying to colleges and universities than ever, the pressure to perform well on the SAT/ACT is more real than it’s ever been. However, test results that aren’t always indicative of a student’s achievements begs the question: just how important are standardized tests?

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An Embrace of Forgiveness: the AME community’s response to the Emanuel 9 shooting

“Today, I’d like to speak on the subject

of breaking chains,” Reverend Dr. William Swinton bellows from his empowering position at the altar.

His deep, compelling voice echoes throughout the church and personifies the stained glass windows that line the walls. Even on a sulking, rainy Sunday in late August, the vibrant stained glass gleams with a brightness that is matched only by the spirit of the congregation itself.

Pews scattered with men, women and children nod, shout and sway their hands to- wards the ceiling in passionate agreement with the pastor’s sermon. Voices of the old and the young entwine with the sonorous tune of the organ: the true sound of human connection.

This is Ebenezer AME Church in Charleston.

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Shipman Strong: A Family’s Struggle with Heroin Addiction

img_5962At the sound of the doorbell, a grinning, lapping dog bounds to the front door, a young blond-headed boy chasing after him. The foyer is warm and inviting, the fading beams of sunlight on that late September afternoon dancing across the walls, which are lined with pictures. Pictures of blonde-haired, blue-eyed children in jerseys, the number  “22” worn proudly on their chests.

The house is full of life, worn with love. A “home” in every sense of the word.

It’s not what you picture when you hear the words “heroin overdose.”

You might imagine the stories with Not So Happy Endings. You might picture dirty needles, tired souls and illness. And you’re probably thinking about all of the Kurt Cobains, the Janis Joplins. The strung out, hollowed junkies, as thin and pale as paper.

Don’t. Because that’s not who this story is about.  

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A Word on Freedom: My reflection on the 2016 Free Spirit Conference

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Crucial to our history. Coursing through our veins. Sewn into the fabric of every day life in the United States of America. Freedom.

It’s a word so near and dear to our star-spangled hearts, and we accept it without hesitation or any consideration for what this word means in the context of our rapidly developing and increasingly complex world. What it means to the individual. Particularly me — an aspiring journalist and almost-18-year-old, on the verge of being given more freedom in my life than I’ve ever had before.

A week ago I was granted the opportunity to explore this word — freedom — and discover just what it means to be “free.”

This opportunity came in the form of the Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference in Washington, DC. I applied back in February, not really sure what my odds were of being the one student from South Carolina to be chosen as one of 51 representatives and scholarship winners at this conference.

Then came that unsuspecting April morning. I can’t think of an email I’ve ever been more excited about receiving (granted, they don’t  all begin with the word ‘WINNER’ in the subject line). I knew it was a big deal, receiving the award and the trip, but only on a surface level.  I had no idea how much this experience would really affect me.

So starting from day one, the question was posed: Which First Amendment freedom do you believe is most important? Why? How do these freedoms — speech, press, religion, petition and assembly — guide our every day decisions, thoughts and actions?

From the journalist’s point of view, the answers to these questions seem obvious. They guarantee us the right to expose the truth, express our thoughts, practice any faith, publish what you feel…they guarantee us the right to move freely. To allow the human experience to reach its full potential, and to explore what’s right, what’s wrong and what our thoughts are on our own existence and the world around us without hesitation.

But it’s one thing to understand these things about freedom and another to really put this into practice. Not as a journalist, but as a person.

In the beginning of this conference, I didn’t really understand why we were being called “Free Spirit Scholars.” To me, “free spirit” was a term I’d use mockingly to talk about the inflated egos of pseudo-hipster white girls on Tumblr.

But as the week progressed, this term began to make more and more sense. I found myself connected with people from across the country in ways I never had before. What started out as “Hi, nice to meet you,” quickly turned into “Oh my god, you think that too?” into “I’ll miss you so much.”

I spoke with conviction, listened with open ears and an even more open heart. I frolicked around a city I’ve been to twice with people I’d only known for hours, and yet felt so at home. I never once felt like I had to censor my words for fear of judgement, or if I did, I simply didn’t care. It was not a room full of snotty high schoolers — it was a circle of kindred spirits. It was a connection of like souls. For the first time in a very, very long time I was just being me. I was truly free. 

And for that, I am forever grateful.

I’m back home now, the adrenaline of such a packed week in a fast city has mostly resided, and the sauntering way of life in a Charleston summer has returned. I’m back to my cashier job, back to my friends, and nothing really changed in those five days I was gone. But my attitude is different now. I wake up each day knowing exacty how limitless this world is. That taste of real freedom that I experienced — it’s achievable. That can be YOUR life, every single day, if you let it.

The First Amendment is freedom on paper. It tells us what we can do, but it’s up to the individual to actually do it. To push everything aside and do what YOU want to do. Take the risks, make the leaps of faith. Let your guard down and walk into every experience with open arms, bright eyes and a full heart, and allow yourself to be wowed and changed by the results.

So, I’m thankful. Thankful for the 50 new friends I have, and the memories, inspiration and ideas they’ve given me, as well as the confidence to truly believe I can make this world my own.

There’s still a lot to be learned. The future is still uncertain. But the future, while unknown, is bright — because we have the power to make it that way. And that is freedom.