CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Families of the Mother Emanuel AME victims, and the greater Charleston community turned out Tuesday evening to hear the story of survival.
Sarah Collins Rudolph, Janie Collins Simpkins, and Junie Collins Williams are three women that survived the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963.
However, amidst their survival they lost their sister Addie Mae, and several friends.
The discussion was part of an event by the College of Charleston to raise awareness about the race and social justice issues across our nation.
The program looked at the similarities between the Mother Emanuel AME shooting and the Birmingham church bombing.
"How can somebody come in here and shoot up our church like this when these people came here to worship God," said Simpkins during the forum Tuesday night.
Several similarities were brought up in the discussion of racial violence in some of the country's predominantly African American churches.
Rudolph, Simpkins, and Williams shared their experiences of the violence that took the life of their sister.
The auditorium was filled with students, city officials, and families of the Emanuel nine victims.
"We know you are all hurting, but the whole world hurts with you all," Williams said. "God planned it to be that way. He made us all one. When one hurts we all hurt."
"Our tragedies were so similar and so different," said Blondelle Gadsden, the sister of Myra Thompson, one of the Emanuel nine victims. "So we just wanted to have them reflect on what they went through, to give us an understanding or some sense of where we would be going, or what we can expect to happen as we go through the healing process."
Healing does not come overnight, one of the many messages in tonight's event.
"We still hurt, we're still missing our loved ones, but we have a whole lot of support that they didn't have," Gadsden said. "Hopefully with them working with us, and bringing out the thing that they went through, that they can find some peace."
The three toured Mother Emanuel AME, speaking with members of the church, and connecting with one another and drawing inspiration.
"I thank God for you guys because, y'all are hurting," Simpkins said. "I saw it in the faces of you all, and you can't help but to be hurting."
"I don't know how they do what they're doing," Gadsden said. "I've been able to draw some of my strength from just watching them, and seeing them try to make everyone else understand that things will be alright."
To give an idea of the impact from this program was for the community, audience members were able to ask the sisters questions following their stories.
Many got up to speak, but they didn't ask any questions, they simply gave their overwhelming thanks for being there.
This is the first of a series from the College of Charleston on race and social justice.
Organizers say it's a topic that needs to be discussed to prevent these tragedies from happening in the future.