One summer, two cities -- two senseless slaughters.
Enter a woman whose passion for both places is forging a tangible bond between them.
Anjenet Brown, a city inspector in Chattanooga, fell in love with Charleston, S.C., while planning her wedding there. It felt personal, two weeks later, when a stranger entered the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston on June 17 and shot and killed the pastor and eight members gathered for weekly Bible study.
A month later, on July 16, senseless violence hit again. This time, it was closer to home.
Gunman Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez went on a rampage in Chattanooga, killing five servicemen and attacking two local military centers. Brown was on Amnicola Highway that day, near the military center that saw the worst of the violence. As she watched the police swarming, she immediately drew the connection between two cities joined in tragedy. She couldn't let go of the thought.
Brown, who will be married in Charleston this Saturday, wanted to reach out.
She wanted to counter hate with love. She wanted to answer death with hope.
"Just to let Mother Emanuel Church know that we're with them, and that we understand," Brown said. "It wasn't our family members, but as a city, we get what they're going through and want to show them love."
Brown contacted the Chattanooga mayor's office, where senior administrative coordinator Molly Cooper supported the idea and connected her with city-county historian Linda Moss Mines. Mines, who is also a history teacher at Girls Preparatory School, invited students there to sign a poster that Mines calls the "scroll of love." The hand-drawn work bears the title "Chattanooga Joined by Love and Pain." About 250 students signed the rainbow-striped art on the color symbolizing their grade.
She also gathered other items from Chattanooga.
Brown steeled herself to call the new Emanuel church pastor to tell him she wanted to visit and express her concern. She expected increased levels of security, and even had her boss prepared to speak on her behalf.
Instead, without hesitation, the pastor asked her to join them for their Wednesday night Bible study. That's what the church members who were killed were doing on that fateful June evening. The warmth of his welcome moved Brown.
"It was hard to keep my voice straight on the phone," she said. "I was blown away that they've stayed so open."
So Brown will visit Emanuel AME in Charleston on Oct. 7, four days after her wedding.
Along with the GPS poster, she's taking a shadow box with a framed flag and pictures of the impromptu memorial on Lee Highway to hang on the wall at the church.
On the shadow box is a brass plate with an inscription that reads, "All the bullets in the world cannot sever the strength of our roots."
Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6431.