Chris Singleton turns personal tragedy into message of love, unity
By Holly Fisher
No one would have faulted Chris Singleton for wanting to put the events of June 17, 2015, behind him. His mother, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, was one of nine people murdered at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church on Calhoun Street. The tragedy left the Charleston community – and the world – shocked and saddened.
When his mother was killed, Singleton was a college student at Charleston Southern University, focused on professional baseball career. As the world looked to Charleston for a reaction to this senseless crime, Singleton became a symbol of hope.
His willingness to share a message of “love is greater than hate” resonated with the Charleston community and the country. If a young man who’d just lost his mother could speak of forgiveness and love, how could the rest of world not follow his example?
In the more than three years since Singleton’s life was turned upside down, he has continued to share his story with schools, churches and communities around the country while still pursuing his dream of professional baseball.
His message of love and unity is simple, yet his impact is great.
“Some people still have a divided mind,” Singleton said. “I try to share my story and bring people closer together.”
Singleton has traveled to Michigan, Texas, Florida and beyond to share his message. He spent a week in North Dakota speaking to several high schools and youth groups. Just 22 years old himself, Singleton’s words resonate with young people and his wisdom is inspiring to all ages.
He’s eager to book even more speaking engagements and this year plans to start a nonprofit organization that will allow him to visit multiple schools around the Charleston area.
Singleton believes every place need to hear these words of unity and love. It’s why he starts each talk with a challenge. He asks the audience to stand and hug someone who looks different from them and say, “I love you.” Singleton realizes it feels awkward at first, but he also knows it’s a powerful tool.
“It gets people out of their comfort zone and it can change someone’s mind forever,” he said.
Singleton recalls a man who approached him after a talk, admitting he had been racist and had been taught to hate those who were different. It wasn’t until this man had a grandchild of a different skin color that he changed his way of thinking. “He told me he wished he could take back the things he had said about people who looked like his granddaughter,” Singleton said.
Those stories are what motivates Singleton to get on stage and recount the hardest day of his life. It’s not easy to talk about the death of his mother, but knowing he’s making a difference helps him power through any heartache.
“People think because I’ve spoken so many times that I’m numb to it, but sometimes I start to say something and there’s a lump in my throat,” he said. “It’s never easy talking about it. But the reaction from people – people who are struggling – that’s what pushes me through those tough times.”
A new perspective
Just a couple of days after the shooting at Mother Emanuel, Singleton answered questions from the media gathered at the Charleston Southern baseball field. His message to those around the world expressing concern for Charleston was simple yet powerful: “Love is always stronger than hate. So, we just love the way my mom would, and the hate won't be anywhere close to what love is.”
Singleton said his mom was speaking through him that day. “Now, looking back, God was truly using me in that space to really make a difference.”
Singleton would go on to be featured on Today on NBC, ESPN’s E:60, Sports Illustrated magazine, and USA Today. He never envisioned this path for himself, but he has embraced this calling.
“Sometimes in life when you’re faced with something and it’s tough, it changes your perspective on life,” he said.
In early 2017, Singleton’s father also passed away. He has stepped into the father role not only for his 1-year-old son, Chris Jr. (C.J.), but also for his younger brother and sister. He credits his faith with giving him the strength to endure hard times.
“Before my dad died and my mom was killed, I was a believer, but I didn’t have a relationship with God myself,” he said. “When somebody is faced with a disease or a death in the family, they either dive deeper or stray away completely. I was lucky enough to be raised in church, so I dove deeper.”
Building a legacy
In 2017, Singleton was selected in the 19th round of the Major League Baseball draft by the Chicago Cubs. Last season he played more than 100 games in South Bend, Indiana. It was exhausting but a lot of fun, Singleton admitted.
In late February or early March, he’ll head to spring training for a month. He might be assigned back to South Bend or possibly Myrtle Beach, which would put him closer to home. His fiancée Mariana De Andrade (they are marrying this February) lives in their Moncks Corner house, caring for C.J. and Singleton’s younger brother. His younger sister is now a student at Claflin University in Orangeburg.
Before June 17, 2015, Singleton’s sole passion was playing baseball. Life, as we all know, can throw you a curve ball. Strength comes in the reaction and how you rise from tough times.
Singleton constantly reminds his brother and sister, “[Our parents’] lives were cut short, so it’s up to us to leave a legacy.”
To learn more about booking Chris Singleton for a speaking engagement, visit www.thechrissingleton.com.