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Daughter of Charleston church shooting victim reflects on how little has changed in 7 years

gracyn with mom.jpg
Courtesy of Gracyn Doctor
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Courtesy of Gracyn Doctor
The Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor with her daughter Gracyn Doctor.

This time of year usually sneaks up on 29-year-old Gracyn Doctor. She always remembers her mother, the Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, one of the Charleston nine who lost their lives seven years ago today. This time of year is a moment of reflection, of pause. It's a moment to gather with family and remember. But this year, she felt it coming on well before, in part because of the constant news of mass shootings throughout the country.

GRACYN DOCTOR: I think it came to my mind a little bit more earlier, like when stuff started happening in other places. It was very triggering, like it was just almost like I was in a way reliving it. And so the anniversary approaching has been on my mind for a little while, and I think it's just stirred up a lot of emotions.

SARAH DELIA: And when we talk about other events going on in the world, I imagine the shooting in Buffalo, the Uvalde shooting. What happens for you when you hear about another shooting that's impacted so many people in a community?

DOCTOR: I like that you asked that question because it really is like whenever a mass shooting happens that we hear about like it's not just necessarily the last two that we've heard about, but every time I hear about a shooting that happens, it makes me so sad, like in a way that is completely different because I begin to think about like the family and, you know, like the after effects and like how much the grief and the loss like affects your life that people don't talk about. Every time I hear about a shooting that happens, my mind goes there and I just get so heartbroken thinking about like, oh, my gosh, how these people's lives have now been changed and uprooted, just ruined. I would never wish for that to happen to anybody else and so when it does, it's just, it's jarring.

DELIA: Being in the media, you being in the media, you covering things, and then having a story that's been covered. I mean, the media can be really insensitive at times of parachuting into communities, especially when there's been a tragedy and giving like a spotlight and then, you know, that spotlight doesn't last very long because they're on to the next shooting or the next tragedy. Can you offer any reflections on what that is like?

DOCTOR: It's been a very interesting thing to see it from both sides, you know, and especially working in like local news versus national news. You know, I am thankful, like for my station, like for even us talking about this because we are keeping this story alive. And that's been one of the things that's, I think, been the most difficult to deal with.

The Charleston church shooting is one shooting that, I mean, people, I'm not going to say they totally forgot, I don't think people forgot about it at all. But I don't think we remember it as often as we should you know, and especially considering the historical context around it. And I even thought about this with the Buffalo shooting, because the Uvalde shooting happened so quickly right afterwards that it was almost like we forgot, not forgot, but like just moved on so quickly, to the next thing when I mean, sometimes you can't help it like those happened back to back. I don't know. I think that is one of the most challenging things because you don't want your loved ones to be forgotten about. And in my mom's case, something that like happened to the Black community, you know, like we were all affected by that and you don't want that to be forgotten, you know. I don't want that to be another like thing that goes down in Black history that we never talk about or never teach about.

DELIA: What lessons did you hope would have been learned by this time, seven years later from the shooting?

DOCTOR: I don't want to sound cliché, but I really wish by now we would have had better gun control, better rules and laws over who is able to have a gun and like how old and all of these things. Because for my mom's situation, it was, you know, like him not getting cleared in three days, you know, and like that's what caused him to be able to get a gun because then it was like, yeah, let's go ahead and you know, and it like it's the things like that not even the think your typical gun laws and so I just wish by now people would take it more seriously. And I don't understand how you can't see that we have a problem. It's happening in so many different communities at this point. It's not even just any one specific community. It's happening to everyone. Everyone is affected by it. And the thing is, too Sarah, it's like I'm already like I'm not even quite over the anger of, you know, what happened to my mom. It's very triggering. It makes me very angry over and over again and just thinking about like how things could have been prevented. That makes you also feel like, I can't even really put it into words because like I think maybe disbelief, just the fact that it's just like, what is it really going to take for something to like change and like stop this from happening? Like, what really is it going to take?

DELIA: Are there any rituals or any annual traditions you found yourself doing over the past seven years to remember your mom?

DOCTOR: I'm all about spirituality and stuff, so I like to set up like a little altar for my mom that just includes, like, her pictures. And I have this sleep shirt that she got me. It was literally the last thing she bought me. And I remember because I, like, begged her for it. It was this Ralph Lauren sleep shirt that is so hot you can't even really sleep in it. And so it was like she was like, "Are you serious?" I was like, "Yeah, mom, I really want to have it." And so she bought it for me and it was the last thing she gave me. And I don't know, I just I don't ever wear it. I don't even I just kind of fold it up and I take it out whenever I'm, like, setting up my alter for her. And then I have a couple other things that were like hers. I have like this little pocket Bible that she used to have, (it's more like a purse Bible because it's a little bigger, can not fit in your pocket). But she carried that Bible everywhere and it was like red. But now it's all like faded and just it's in such bad condition but I treasure it.

DELIA: For people that are hearing you talk about you know your story maybe for the first time maybe they've heard you talk about it before, but like what do you want the general public to know and understand about being, you know, the surviving member of somebody, of a family member who passed away in this very violent way in mass shooting?

DOCTOR: Well, I feel like this is going to sound really crazy but one we are real people. This is real life. This is not a conspiracy, like you may not hear from us on a regular basis or see our faces or even know like who we are. But this really happened to us and it affects us on a daily basis in so many unimaginable ways. You know, it's like losing my mom. I mean, I always imagine losing her would be really difficult, but I'm finding it affecting me in ways that I never expected, you know? And so it is hurtful sometimes when people don't necessarily believe that something happened, you know, and you're like, I literally live through this and I know what it's like trying to come back from it. Just have grace for people because you just don't know what anyone's going through. But some of us are really carrying a lot. You know, we're carrying a lot of stuff that we don't talk about a lot. And it's hard. It really is. But, you know, we're making it through. We're all finding our own ways to honor our loved ones and to just, like, continue living. And so, you know, I don't know, I don't know how I would in that sentence, but that's what I would say.

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Sarah Delia covers criminal justice and the arts for WFAE. Sarah joined the WFAE news team in 2014. An Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist, Sarah has lived and told stories from Maine, New York, Indiana, Alabama, Virginia and North Carolina. Sarah received her B.A. in English and Art history from James Madison University, where she began her broadcast career at college radio station WXJM. Sarah has interned and worked at NPR in Washington DC, interned and freelanced for WNYC, and attended the Salt Institute for Radio Documentary Studies.