WINONA LAKE — Chris Singleton, a tall and lanky outfielder for the South Bend Cubs, knows a few things about strength and speed. It was no feat of weakness that allowed him to park four home runs with the Chicago Cubs’ single A affiliate in 2018. His quickness allowed him to leg out a pair of triples. But it was his inner strength and the speed in which he composed himself following the worst day of his life that will secure his legacy long after his baseball playing days are over
Singleton’s mother, Sharonda Coleman Singleton, was one of nine people murdered in a hate-infused shooting spree at a Charleston, S.C. church in 2015. Within 24 hours of hearing the news, the young baseball prospect, still a college player at the time, was standing in front of microphones on his home baseball field asking his fellow man to battle such hatred with the only weapon he feels truly works.
“Love is always stronger than hate,” he said. It’s this message that he now spreads through a speaking tour that included Winona Lake’s Manahan Orthopaedic Capital Center on Monday, Jan. 21, as part of the annual celebration to commemorate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Singleton was introduced to the audience of more than 400 by Dr. David Hoffert, superintendent of Warsaw Community Schools.
“In the 31 years of this event, to honor Martin Luther King, Jr., we’ve had many powerful speakers,” Hoffert said. “We’ve been blessed by many local, state, national civil rights leaders and role models. Today’s speaker might carry the most powerful message that I have ever heard of Dr. King’s legacy. In the hardest moments of his life, he stood firm in his character and beliefs. His story started a movement, not only in Charleston, but nationwide and continues to grow to this day.”
Singleton’s powerful message is sought due to his unfathomable strength in being able to forgive the man who killed his mother. When he took the stage at the Grace College venue, he asked everyone in the audience to find someone near them who looks different than they look, give that person a hug and profess their love.
“Somebody needed that hug,” Singleton said. “It’s as simple as that. You see if I would have been able to give my mama’s killer, Dylann Roof, a hug and look at his face and say ‘I love you, man,’ and genuinely mean it in my heart, he would no way have been able to do what he did to my mama…and eight others.”
Roof sits on Death Row for the June 2015 shooting in South Carolina and stated from the beginning that racism was his primary motivation. On the day of the shooting, Singleton said he received a phone call from his mother’s phone, but was shocked when the person at the other end was not Sharonda, but a woman with panic in her voice.
“I remember getting down to the church and there was yellow caution tape everywhere,” he said.
He was taken by police to a nearby hotel, where he received the news that his mother had been shot, and had not survived.
“My strength was tested that day — June 17, 2015 — worst day of my life,” said Singleton. “My strength was tested when I had my 12-year-old brother and my 15-year-old sister crying on my shoulders, and I had to tell them that we would never see our mom ever again…never feel the warmth of her hug, never hear her laugh, never see her smile ever again, all because somebody didn’t like the color of her skin.”
Singleton pointed out an often overlooked and pragmatic element of racism.
“Somebody didn’t like the chemical in her skin, the same chemical that I have that makes me this color right here today…somebody didn’t like it,” he said.
Singleton said that he tries to draw on King’s lifelong message of non-violent advocacy, focusing on love over hate. He said he hopes to relate the same message to a nation that he says is currently embattled, politically.
“I don’t like that people are so divided on everything right now,” he said. “I think it’s up to each and every one of us to unite our cities.”