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One Year After The Charleston Church Shooting, Students Honor One Victim’s Legacy

BuzzFeed News spoke to some of the recipients of the Reverend Pinckney Scholarship Program on the anniversary of the shooting that left nine people dead.

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On June 18, 2015, Altoria Brown’s mother dropped her off at Charleston County School District around 8 a.m. to begin her internship in the Career Tech Education program.

But Brown, then 17, was promptly turned away when she approached the door. School officials had called an emergency meeting due to a recent incident, and told Brown she would have to start her internship the following week.

“I was scared and nervous,” Brown said.

She hadn’t yet heard that nine people were killed in a mass shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church, a two-minute walk away, the night before.

The suspect, Dylann Roof, is awaiting his trial in November. If convicted, he faces the death penalty.

On the one-year anniversary of a shooting massacre that forced the nation to once again confront issues of gun control, racism, and the historical place of the Confederate flag, Brown and nine other black students will continue the legacy of one of the victims from the Mother Emanuel shooting, Sen. Clementa Pinckney. He was also a reverend at the church.

BuzzFeed News reported last year that a group of anonymous donors had given $3 million to establish a scholarship fund for children of the Charleston shooting victims. The recipients, who also included exemplary black high school students from Charleston and neighboring counties, were announced in June.

Each student will receive $5,000 to $10,000 each year for up to four years of college.

Brown grew up in North Charleston and will study criminal justice at North Carolina A&T State University this fall. She also plans to become a teacher, and ultimately open an inner-city boarding school.

Brown told BuzzFeed News that although she did not personally know Pinckney, she was inspired by the way others have remembered him.

“I know that I have to be greater than who I was before, than who I am now,” she said. “I looked at how forgiving his family was to someone who hurt them so much. I want to be as humble as I can be, and open to everyone.”

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Other scholarship recipients, like Kayla Hasty, did personally know Pinckney. They both grew up in Jasper County, and she remembers eating hot chicken with him on a third-grade field trip to the statehouse.

“My god sister was a page in his office a few years ago,” said Hasty, who will begin her studies in physical therapy at the South Carolina State University this year. “I went to visit her at work once when I was 13 or 14 — he had me laughing, always bringing me snacks.

“The way he spoke was as if he’d known you your whole life, even if you just met him."

The scholarship was one step in the effort to keep Pinckney’s legacy alive for future generations, Hasty said, adding that she’s grateful to be part of the first class of recipients.

“When people ask how I got to where I am, this is the story I’m going to tell,” she said.

The anniversary of the Charleston shooting overlapped with yet another massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando that left 49 dead and 53 others injured.

Henry Jones told BuzzFeed News that people in his hometown of Beaufort, South Carolina, continue to heal from the tragedy that took place in their home state while grieving along with the rest of the nation.

“People all around are saying, ‘We are Orlando,’ and, ‘Orlando is us,’” he said. “It doesn’t matter what part of the country you’re from. We’re all standing together for this.”

The recent high school graduate said he was honored to have even been selected as a finalist for the scholarship, likening Pinckney’s legacy to that of Martin Luther King Jr.

“He wanted to change the country and the state of South Carolina so that everyone could have the same opportunities as everyone else,” Jones said.

He plans to put his scholarship toward a degree in physical therapy at the University of South Carolina, Upstate, with the end goal of opening a practice in his hometown.

Caroline Mullis, a program officer for the foundation that organized the scholarship fund, told BuzzFeed News that while South Carolinians continue to grapple with last year’s shooting, the scholarship recipients offer an optimistic glimpse into the future.

“Meeting and working with this first class of Reverend Pinckney Scholars gives us hope that in the years to come, we will see our community keep moving forward to make the progress we aspire to achieve," she said. "It’s a fitting tribute to the life and legacy of Reverend Pinckney."

Tamerra Griffin is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based Nairobi, Kenya.

Contact Tamerra Griffin at tamerra.griffin@buzzfeed.com.

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