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Buffalo slayings hit close to home for former baseball player 900 miles away

Chris Singleton speaks to business leaders at the American Theater in Charleston about stopping hate-fueled violence. His mother was murdered in 2015 at Mother Emanuel Church. May 19, 2022
Victoria Hansen/South Carolina Public Radio
Chris Singleton speaks to business leaders at the American Theater in Charleston about stopping hate-fueled violence. His mother was murdered in 2015 at Mother Emanuel Church. May 19, 2022

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Former minor league baseball player Chris Singleton was scrolling through social media when he saw there had been another mass shooting at a grocery store, this time in Buffalo, N.Y. Typically, he'd look away. This kind of news can be tough, personally. But the details of the massacre were frighteningly familiar.

"I was up all night. My wife was next to me telling me to go to sleep, but I couldn't," Singleton said. "I wanted to figure out everything I could."

The 25-year-old wanted to know why 10 Black people had been killed, gunned down while shopping. He kept scrolling and reading from his home near Charleston, S.C.

A white gunman, he learned, had unleashed a hail of bullets on a predominantly Black neighborhood store. Witnesses said they'd seen the suspect, perhaps casing the place, just the day before. And the weapon, a military style machine gun, was inscribed with racists messages and the names of white supremacists.

"You know when I'm seeing that, it's making my stomach turn," Singleton said. "Especially when I see the name Dylann Roof on there and I'm thinking, man this guy was inspired by what happened to my mom."

Roof killed Singleton's mother, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, seven years ago next month. She was one of nine Black parishioners murdered at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston because the gunman wanted to start a race war.

Singleton knows the grief of having a loved one murdered because of the color of his or her skin. He says he's headed to Buffalo this week to speak at schools where children have had family members killed. He remembers the confusion he felt in college after being robbed of his mother and left to raise his two siblings.

"If I can just be of support to them sharing the things that have helped me out, realizing it's OK to cry," he said. Singleton wants the kids to know it's OK not to be OK; that it's OK to share their feelings and be vulnerable.

Then 18 years old, Singleton forgave the killer, explaining he would not let hate win over the love preached by his mother, an ordained minister and high school coach. He has since traveled the nation, trying to stop racist massacres by sharing her story.

"My mom, the most beautiful soul you'll ever meet, was in church and she was praying, y'all, and she was shot six times while she was praying," Singleton said to a group of business leaders in Charleston last week.

As he spoke, just blocks from where his mother was killed, Singleton couldn't shake what had happened the weekend before nearly 900 miles away in Buffalo.

"How many people are thinking these kinds of things?" he said. "It's scary, especially because I'm trying to stop this kind of stuff from happening and it's kind of demoralizing, honestly, you know when it continues to happen."

But Singleton says he won't let another racist attack shake his faith. He still hopes he can change even one misguided mind by setting an example as a Black man who's lost a loved one to racism but does not hate.

He was supposed to visit Buffalo schools last year, Singleton said, but a scheduling conflict left him unable to attend. The suspect would have still been in high school. Singleton worries he missed an opportunity.

"If he would have realized everybody has a family and they're loved, and we didn't choose the very thing that he hates us for. I hope it would change his heart."

Singleton regularly shares that messages in public talks in which he almost always begins by asking people to stand up and look around.

"I need you to go find somebody that looks different than you and tell them that you love them," Singleton said in front of the Charleston crowd.

Emily Lyken was in the audience and admitted she's overwhelmed by so much hate-fueled violence.

"We should be shook by it, but unfortunately it's becoming too regular," she said.

But she was inspired by Singleton's message. Shennice Cleckley was too.

"If his spark can touch all these different sparks, think how a big spark can turn into a flame," Cleckley said.

Perhaps a flame that glows with empathy, and blinds people to their differences.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.