Chris Singleton on strength, resilience, and his mission of unity
Chris Singleton, a former professional baseball player who is now an inspirational speaker and employee of the RiverDogs, with a portrait of his late mother painted by Ricky Mujica.
Five years ago, my life turned upside down. On June 17th, 2015, 21-year-old Dylann Roof walked into my church and took the life of my mother, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, and the lives of eight others. He murdered my mother and her fellow Bible study friends at Mother Emanuel AME Church solely because they were African American.
My mom was the most selfless, God-fearing woman you could have ever met. I always joked, though, that while my mom was such a smiling, Christ-filled lady, she was also a lioness when it came to protecting her kids. Once my mom took me to a 2004 Atlanta Hawks game—it was the highlight of my childhood, plus we had phenomenal seats right next to their starting forward Josh Smith’s parents. On our way out, I remember my mom walking through downtown Atlanta with her keys held in-between her fingers, making a fist. I asked her why she was doing that and if we were in danger. She said, “No, we aren’t in danger, but I’m not going to let anything happen to my baby.”
“Now, I seek to honor my mom by giving my all in any and everything that I do.”
I’d give anything to have been able to protect her the way she protected me. Now, I seek to honor my mom by giving my all in any and everything that I do. The social media hashtag that I use, #CantLetMomsDown, is my way of sharing that everything I do is a testament to the kind of mother she was and the awesome parents that I had in her and my late father, for whom I was named. My mission now is to teach others to love the way my mom did.
(Left) Most Valuable Mom: Chris pictured with his mom in April 2014 at Senior Night for Goose Creek High School, where he was a standout player before playing for Charleston Southern University. #MyMomIsTheRealMVP was a favorite hashtag for many of his social media posts prior to his mom’s death; (right) Chris as a preschooler with his young mom.
As I sit here at my desk in my new home in Hanahan, I can’t help but think about how much my life has changed since that June night five years ago. All the highs I’ve experienced—like being drafted by the Chicago Cubs; getting married to my high school sweetheart, Mariana; having our son, CJ; and traveling the country speaking to groups of people—are things that I would never have expected after experiencing the lows of losing my mother and then two years later, losing my dad.
I’ve been fortunate to speak to 67 different organizations, colleges, and schools in 2019 and 24 so far this year, and there’s a question I’m always asked: “How are you able to keep the perspective that you have on life at such a young age?”
People think that there’s a mystical power that I possess that allows me to stay so positive after going through some of the most adverse circumstances imaginable. But to me, there’s no secret, no magic. I just feel as though I’ve been through the storm numerous times, and I’ve come to realize that it won’t rain forever.
Often when I travel to speak, I explain to employees of companies or students that we all will experience things that we simply don’t have control over. If you think back on your life, you can easily name four or five things that you didn’t have control over: your parents, your native language, your birthplace, your name, your skin color. Just as we did not choose those things, we will likely face experiences in life that we won’t have chosen either.
I have very vivid memories of June 17, 2015. I was at home when I received a call rushing me down to Calhoun Street, where I discovered that my mom had been taken away from me. These vivid and painful memories are what allow me to keep pushing forward in my mission of unity. I believe what I said after the shootings—that love is stronger than hate. In fact, I know it to be even more true now than I did then.
(Left) Chris with his family in April 2019; (right) Chris at bat for the Chicago Cubs, where he played for their minor league affiliate for two seasons
I also know now that things do, in time, get better—even if they are so bad that you think they never will. A buddy of mine suggested it’s like walking into your house when the lights are off and walking directly to your room without being able to see anything. Maybe you stick one arm out in front of you to keep from running into a wall? I bet most of us have done that. But because you know what it’s like to walk in your house with the lights on, you remember the way. You know where to turn, where to reach for the knob to open your bedroom door.
I believe the same is true when experiencing hardships in life. I remember the nights my family cried after losing my mother. I remember the hard times watching my father take his last breaths. These are the low moments when I thought things would never get better, but my calling now is to share with people my belief that they will.
“I also know now that things do, in time, get better—even if they are so bad that you think they never will.”
Now, I think about this year and dealing with COVID-19—something we didn’t see coming. I think about the lives lost and all the suffering experienced by those both young and old. Some people may be feeling down and hopeless, worrying that there’s no coming back from this, but I suggest otherwise. We will all experience storms—some will be a light drizzle, and others will be a hailstorm—but no matter the severity of the storm, it won’t last forever. If this doesn’t seem like it’s true, hopefully my next sentence will inspire you and change your mind.
(Left) Chris speaking to a school assembly, where he continues to share his message that “love is always stronger than hate.” (Right) To order a copy of Chris’s book, illustrated by Wiliam Luong and published by Friesen Press, visit chrissingleton.com.
On June 17th, 2015, my life was flipped upside down when Dylann Roof walked into my church and killed my mother and eight others simply because they were African American and he wanted to start a racially motivated civil war. Exactly five years later on June 17, 2020, I, Chris Singleton, the son of the late Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, am releasing my first book—a children’s book teaching our youth about acceptance and inclusion of all races and religions in our world. The book’s title: Different: A Story About Loving Your Neighbor.
I can’t wait for you to help me spread this message to love your neighbor. I hope in another five years your test might become your testimony as well. And I hope you will always remember that love is stronger than hate. Tough times don’t last; tough people do.
Charleston magazine honors and remembers Rev. Sharonda Colemon-Singleton and those killed on June 17, 2015—Mrs. Cynthia Graham Hurd, Mrs. Susie J. Jackson, Mrs. Ethel Lee Lance, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, The Honorable Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, Mr. Tywanza Sanders, Rev. Daniel Lee Simmons Sr., and Mrs. Myra Thompson—as well as the survivors, Jennifer Pinckney and her daughter, Felicia Sanders and her granddaughter, and Polly Sheppard