On April 4, 1968, the world lost a great communicator when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. On that same date in 2015, Walter Scott, a black man from Charleston, South Carolina, who was pulled over for a broken brake light, was killed by white police officer Michael Slager.
During an impassioned May 9 speech, State Senator Clementa Pinckney (D-SC), who also served as senior pastor at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, called for sympathy not only for the Scott family, but also Slager’s.
His words reached far and wide as video of the incident, showing Scott being shot eight times in the back, spurred the national media to descend upon the city.
On June 17, as he was leading a prayer session at his church, Pinckney, 41, was one of nine to be fatally shot in a race crime.
In delivering Pinckney’s eulogy a few days later, President Barack Obama’s comments captured the essence of Pinckney, the essence of a strong message, the essence of PRWeek’s Communicator of the Year:
"Reverend Pinckney embodied a politics that was neither mean, nor small," said the president. "He encouraged progress not by pushing his ideas alone, but by partnering with you to make things happen."
Pinckney’s example allowed the people of Charleston, including those directly impacted by the crime, to react with open hearts rather than anger.
When first facing the accused murderer, Alana Simmons, whose grandfather lost his life in the June 17 shooting, bravely said, "We are here to combat hate-filled actions with love-filled actions. That is what we want to get out to the world."
"Blinded by hatred, the killer could not see the grace surrounding Reverend Pinckney," the president added in his eulogy. "[He] could not have anticipated the way the families of the fallen would respond — in the midst of unspeakable grief, with words of forgiveness."
Pinckney successfully traversed the political and religious worlds because he always prioritized the common good. For example, he was open to the possibility of bringing a casino to the area, realizing the jobs it could generate outweighed any ministerial misgivings about legalized gambling.
As marketing and communications professionals continue to adapt to a digital world, one of PR’s foundational skills remains as rele-vant as ever: To be a great communicator you must be a great listener. You must understand and respect what others need so your message is helpful to them.
It’s a lesson that endures. Anyone aspiring to communicate effectively can thank Clementa Pinckney for providing the ultimate example.