Michael Hayes

Rev. Sharon Risher, center, visited Berkshire during the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday to share her story of loss, grief and forgiveness. 

The Berkshire community celebrated the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday by welcoming Reverend Sharon Washington Risher to campus on Jan. 21, a visit that concluded this year’s WeWeek.

Speaking in Allen Theater during an all-school assembly, Rev. Risher recounted the loss she experienced on June 17, 2015, when a gunman shot and killed eight people, including her mother, two cousins, and a childhood friend, at the Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

“I was shocked. I was angry, thinking how could this be?" said Risher, recalling her struggle with grief and forgiveness following the shooting. "Forgive? Who had time to even digest what had happened. Here I am, a woman of the cloth, talking about there is no instant forgiveness for me. I wanted time to process my thoughts and be authentic about what I felt.”

Members of COMETRY are joined on stage by Berkshire students following the group's powerful presentation during WeWeek.

It took two years, Risher explained, but eventually her faith allowed her to forgive the shooter.

Today, Risher's energy is spent traveling the country speaking out against gun violence and on the power of forgiveness, inspired, in part, by the encounter she had with Dr. King when she was just a young girl and he was visiting Charleston. Sitting in the rear of a banquet hall and without a clear view of the civil rights leader, Risher heard a voice that made a lifelong impact on her.

“I remember thinking to myself, 'One day I want to be able to stand up and talk to people like that.' I didn't know it then, but that seed was planted in my spirit about being a communicator,” she said.

Filmmaker Taylor Sharp visits Berkshire on Jan. 14 to share his film Hoops Africa: Ubuntu Matters.

In addition to Rev. Risher's visit during WeWeek, students attended a presentation by COMETRY on Jan. 16. The presentation, heralded by students, faculty, and staff as one of the most powerful programs in recent memory, explored vulnerability, compassion, and community spirit.

To kick off WeWeek, Berkshire welcomed filmmaker Taylor Sharp to share his film Hoops Africa: Ubuntu Matters, which explores the concept of “Ubuntu"—an African philosophy meaning “I am, because you are."

"WeWeek is empowering," said Andrii Roman '20. "Hearing the guest speakers talk about overcoming their life-difficulties helped me to better understand how to deal with personal challenges. Becoming resilient and communicative, as well as recognizing one's own flaws are some of the lessons that I have learned, yet I also came to realize that it's not all just about myself. I see it now as a responsibility to care for the community I belong to because it's precisely what I would get in return; Ubuntu matters and so does WeWeek."

WeWeek was created in 2014 by Noah Faison '16 to celebrate diversity on campus.