Finding Purpose After Tragedy: How a Charleston Victim’s Granddaughter is Showing ‘Hate Won’t Win’

On June 17, 2015, Alana Simmons’s life changed forever when 22-year-old Dylann Roof walked into Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church and shot dead nine Black parishioners, including Simmons’s grandfather, the Reverend Daniel L. Simmons. Two weeks after the shooting, the 26-year-old created the Hate Won’t Win Movement, Inc., which challenges individuals to show acts of kindness to people of different backgrounds. By October, she had left her job as a teacher to head the organization full-time. Through the initiative, Simmons hopes to spread love and show the healing power of forgiveness.

ESSENCE: How did the Hate Won’t Win Movement begin?
My siblings and I came up with what was initially a social media challenge in which we asked people to show acts of love to people who are different by using the hashtag #HateWontWin. In June, after our campaign was endorsed by President Obama, we got a large follower base. We began selling T-shirts and donated the proceeds to communities affected by hate crimes, discrimination or bullying. In October, the foundation became my full-time job.

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How do you plan to implement real change?
I’ve been speaking with various school district officials in South Carolina to ensure that these hate crimes don’t stem from the education system. If the curriculum isn’t focused on more than one culture, it isolates kids and miseducates them on the history and future of our country. Through diversity training programs, we also want to ensure that teachers and administrators are culturally competent.

Any success stories?
We had a teacher from South Carolina’s Dutch Fork Middle School contact us and say she wanted to bring the challenge to the school. The kids came up with service-based activities to do so that they could get to know people outside of their race, religion, social class and neighborhood. After our visit, the kids formed a Hate Won’t Win club, which hosts volunteer events and urges others to take the challenge.

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What have you learned about forgiveness?
I never think that forgiveness is for the other person. Forgiveness is for you. I didn’t want to give this shooter the power to control the way I think, because that’s exactly what he wanted. Forgiveness isn’t a burden for me; it’s more of an expectation.

How has your grandfather’s death given you new purpose?
I’ve always felt passionately about social equity. I know that my grandfather would be proud of everything that has been going on, and I know he’s looking down on me.

This article originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of ESSENCE magazine.

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