Betty Deas Clark had a busy week planned before the Orlando nightclub massacre.
A pastor at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, she is set to commemorate the solemn anniversary of the horrific June 17, 2015, shooting that left nine of her parishioners dead.
Before that, she was slated to travel to Washington for Tuesday’s White House summit on gender equality, where she would’ve been “brushing shoulders with some of the most impressive women” in the nation – including First Lady Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, actress Kerry Washington and tennis legend Billie Jean King.
But once she learned that 49 people had been gunned down in a senseless act of violence, Clark scrapped her star-studded plans for a higher calling.
Instead she flew to Orlando, where she braved the 94-degree heat Monday to offer comfort to those who are grieving.
“I gladly came here instead,” she told CNN outside the First Unitarian Church of Orlando, which has been offering free counseling to hurting residents.
Clark knows the importance of community in times of mourning. In January, she became the first female pastor of the historic Emanuel AME Church, where nine black worshipers were gunned down by a man who said he wanted to start a race war. Although she didn’t join the church until after the shooting, Clark knew some of the victims personally.
Certainly, she saw what her congregation reaped with the outpouring of support from around the world.
She felt Orlando needed much of the same.
“I came here instead because I know the result of people coming and showing their love,” she said. “The privilege of coming and being with them (here) has touched my heart.”
Early Monday, Clark attended a counseling session with 15 to 20 people traumatized by Sunday morning’s massacre at the Pulse nightclub. She said she was honored to offer a prayer and receive a “hug from everyone in the room.”
A spokesperson for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, she also joined other religious leaders in a conference call with reporters Monday to condemn the attack and press for stricter gun control measures.
“I am here in Florida because I care,” Clark said on the call. “I am here in Florida because I know what support can mean when you are going through a tough time.”
Witnessing the nation jolted by yet another mass shooting makes her curious: At what point, she wonders, does the country finally show it’s fed up, that there can be no tolerance for bigots and zealots exacting pain and death on others just because they are different?
“We must bring an end to these acts of violence,” she said. “It makes me wonder when will we as a human race come to a place where we say, ‘Enough is enough’?”