The country has been viscerally reminded the last few days that hate lurks in the shadows of so many different communities – and that the violent acts inspired by hate can cross geographic, religious and racial lines in America.
Four Americans with a common connection to that experience – from four entirely different communities -- shared their stories on ABC News Live. They described a culture of fear that has taken hold – and offered reflections on how we can together counter hate and rise above.
Here’s what they told us:
Pastor Alvin Edwards of the Mt. Zion First African Baptist Church in Charlottesville, Virginia, says there’s hope in community: "We know that we, in many ways, as individuals and as a community at large have a target sign on us and oftentimes we start thinking about how unfortunate it is that these events are happening," Edwards said. "The word I like to use is cocooning. We’re staying together and building with each other because we’re afraid of the misunderstandings, the hatred, the fear that exists outside of those four walls. And we know the only things we can control are what happens within our communities themselves."
"I’m a firm believer that when tragedy happens that there’s always hope in the fact that the community can pull together and make a difference and impact the people that are there," he added.
Rabbi Ron Symons of the Jewish Community Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, says building empathy is key: "I don’t need to know you in order to have empathy for you, in order to feel like your experience is a part of the larger human experience and we are connected in that way," he said. "What I need to do -- what we need to do -- is appreciate the fact that when you go back to the longest held values that we have … love your neighbor as yourself, and do not stand idle as your neighbor bleeds."
Rima Imad Fadlallah, host of the "Dearborn Girls" podcast from Dearborn, Michigan, home to the nation’s largest Arab-American community, said we each need to confront hate directly with poise and grace: "I think a lot of times when you’re feeling hatred spewed at you, you feel cornered. It’s really hard to know how you should respond," she said. "I do think there’s room to have a conversation with that person and want to defend yourself ... You don’t need to personally know somebody or have somebody in your friend group who’s different from you or in your family to empathize with those communities. And I think situations like this week happen because people feel as those they only empathize with those communities if they personally have a dog in the fight, and that’s a huge problem."
Pulse Nightclub shooting survivor Brandon Wolf of Orlando, Florida, sees hope in mobilizing around social and political change. "There will be no legislative change until we change our legislators. It's time to get rid of the pathetic and spineless lawmakers," he said. "What strikes me is there are children being murdered every single day in our country, and that's what keeps me up at night. Those kids will never be able to go to a grocery store again without looking for the exit, they are going to live the rest of their lives with anxiety and PTSD and that's a crime in this country."
The one thing we can each do to help counter hate?
Pastor Edwards: "Love your neighbor and be there for them."
Rabbi Symons: "Don’t wait for someone else to be the upstander. Be the upstander yourself, not just in times of tragedy but even in times when someone just needs an extra little bit of help."
Brandon Wolf: "Demand that our lawmakers get back to D.C. and get back to working to protect us."