ATLANTA — June 17 will mark two years since a domestic terrorist motivated by racism and hate walked into a black church in Charleston, S.C. and shot to death nine worshippers during Bible study. We told you at the time one of the victims was beloved Clark Atlanta University alumna, Cynthia Graham Hurd. Now, Hurd’s niece, current CAU Women’s Basketball player Nicole Graham, is honoring her aunt’s legacy in a special way. Instead of retiring a framed replica of her #23 game jersey, a tradition for all seniors, Graham will be presented with a basketball jersey bearing the #9, representing all of the victims killed in the Charleston church massacre. The jersey presentation happens during Senior Day, February 23, at 6 p.m., at the final home game of the 2016-2017 season.
“This means everything to me,” said Graham, a first-year graduate student who came to CAU for her last year of NCAAII eligibility specifically to honor the memory of her fallen aunt. “This is truly a dream come true and I know she would be so proud, and to honor her by playing the game I love means everything in the world to me.”
Vanessa Moore, head CAU Women’s Basketball coach, echoed those sentiments. “When Nicole applied to attend CAU in honor of her aunt, I was drawn to her story,” Moore said. “I understood how important it was for her to finish in this place.”
Graham said she still thinks about the moment she first learned her aunt was slain in the attack. “I felt empty and I was just in disbelief,” she continued. “My aunt lost her life for one reason and one reason only, and that is because she was black. That is something I will always struggle with.”
Despite the lingering grief and pain, Graham said there are places around campus, which rekindle warm memories of her aunt. For example, the fraternity and sorority plots always evoke a smile in Graham because her aunt was a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. But the one place at CAU where Graham feels the strongest connection to her aunt is Woodruff Library. Of course, Hurd was a decades-long librarian in Charleston. “She loved books, she loved education,” Graham remarked.
On Senior Day when Graham plays her final home game, she’ll do it with “Aunt Cynthia” and the other victims at top of mind. And, if she could speak to her aunt just one more time, she would offer a simple message. “I would just tell her I love her and I’m sorry this happened to her, and I promise to continue to make her proud.”