The shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue is all too familiar to brothers Malcolm and Melvin Graham. Their sister, Cynthia Graham Hurd, was one of the nine victims of the 2015 Charleston church shooting. WFAE’s Alex Olgin talked to the brothers about these similar tragedies. Malcolm is in Charlotte. We reached Melvin in Charleston by phone.
Melvin Graham: To The Tree of Life: I'm writing because I know your pain and what you're going through. You are wounded in ways you do not know how you are forever changed. Hold onto your feet and press forward and always remember your loved ones.
Malcolm Graham: This is the first time I heard this letter.
Melvin Graham: Well, I just wrote it last night, and I was going to put it in the mail today.
Malcolm Graham: So, it's the same thing... the thought process is the same. This situation with Pittsburgh...it's the same thing. It's the same incident from three years ago. Nothing about this is different, other than that the perpetrator - one hated African-Americans the other hated Jews.
Alex Olgin: What's it like for you guys to hear about such a similar tragedy in the news?
Melvin Graham: Well, for me it's like watching a movie you don't want to watch but you can't turn away from it because the movie's in your head and you're in the movie. So (it) brings up all those feelings, anxiety and tears, because that was your life and now with someone else's life and you know exactly what they're going through.
Alex Olgin: Melvin you've said if history is any indication you fear that more shootings like these will keep happening. What, if anything, do you think should be done by leaders to try and stop these tragedies?
Melvin Graham: We've got to say 'no more' and mean it. The press has already said it's too soon to talk about this incident in Pittsburgh. 'It's too soon.' He says it all every time. Our politicians will not do anything every time. This is the kind of thing that has to change. I envision a day where the church, the school, have gun racks, and we pull alarms and the teachers run out and the pastor, and the congregation go out and grab the AR-15s to defend the church. What are we coming to?
Malcolm Graham: Yeah. And that was the response of the president, that maybe the folks on the inside should have had something to fight back, and we can't become the Wild Wild West.
Alex Olgin: Malcolm, you mentioned these conversations that happened after the shootings are very predictable. You know, first the victims are talked about and gun control. And then, of course, family members like yourselves are contacted by media. Do you, Melvin, feel like you guys became sort of overnight advocates and not by choice? And how did you deal with sort of the deluge of publicity and requests?
Melvin Graham: If you are forced into the arena of being a spokesperson you have sometimes to say 'enough is enough,' because you can't relive this event so many times.
Alex Olgin: Did you have to do that sometimes?
Malcolm Graham: I think we both probably said 'no more' than we said 'yes.'
Melvin Graham: True.
Malcolm Graham: Because right now even people still call me, and I'm pretty sure still call Melvin, 'I'm doing a documentary about what happened in Charleston. We want your family to participate,' and you're like 'No' because some of it can become very dark. One of the things that I've tried to do, as well as Melvin and my other brothers and sisters, is really this to be the protector of her legacy and her portrayal and how she's portrayed in death. And that was really important to me. And so sometimes it's a lot easier to say no.
Alex Olgin: Do you guys have advice for these family members? I mean you said you know what's going to happen. The media is going to come, it's going be in the news for a while and then it's going to peter out. I mean, just any advice for them?
Malcolm Graham: I think they have to surround themselves with love and support. Embrace their faith. Remember how their loved one lived versus how they died.
Melvin Graham: I would say just know that you are forever changed. No matter how much you want to go back to normal, or people would tell you that you need to go back to normal. You can't. You are forever changed, and just recognize that you've changed. But try to recognize the change that's changing you in a negative way, and try to work to correct it. And accept all the help - all the counseling that's going to be offered to you. All of the advice from professionals on how to deal with this, because you're not going to want to deal with it right now, but you will. It's year three that's passed since my sister's gone. We're working on year four, and now I think I'm starting to heal.