When tragedy awakens our sense of gratitude.
by Sharon Smith
There must be hundreds of “thank you” messages on the banner that now belongs to the Charlotte Fire Department. There’s one in neat handwriting that says “Thank you for protecting us!” Another reads “Thank you for your service and bravery.” Someone drew a heart around a simple “thank you.”
The white space filled quickly, as concertgoers grabbed a Sharpie and took turns during SouthPark After Five’s last concert in May. A week prior, the concert was canceled as an apartment building under construction a few blocks away smoldered.
The five-alarm fire killed two workers who became trapped, Demonte Sherrill and Ruben Holmes. Firefighters rescued 15 others in a dramatic emergency response unlike any the city had seen in many years.
And so, on this night — during the first large-scale community event since the fire — the merriment came to a collective stop at Symphony Park. City leaders stepped up to the mic with the support of SouthPark Community Partners, which organized the concert series and now, a community response to the tragedy.
“So please, if you’re willing, please take off your cap … let’s please acknowledge this loss in our community,” Mayor Vi Lyles told the crowd, after sharing a heartfelt tribute to the men who perished. Parents quietly hushed their children and people bowed their heads in a moment of silence.
Then came the first responders. All the firefighters, MEDIC workers, police and deputies who responded to the fire fanned out across the stage as city council representative Tariq Bokhari passionately called out their individual fire stations and agencies. The crowd erupted in rounds of applause and whistles.
A few minutes later, the band was back. The crowd easily settled back into its happy rhythm. And a stronger sense of community was cemented among neighbors who mourned losses and celebrated heroes together. SP
Photographs by SouthPark Community Partners