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The murder of nine members of Charleston's historic Emanuel A. M. E. Church -"Mother Emanuel" to many - on June 17, 2015, brought shock, horror, and grief to the city, the state, and the country. That time also marked the beginning of a journey for many Charlestonians.A year out they' continue that journey, down the road to healing, and away from hatred and division toward understanding and unity.

Chris Singleton, Son of Emanuel AME Shooting Victim, Pens Book for Anniversary

Chris Singleton, son of Mother Emanuel shooting victim, shares his new book for children called "Different"
Victoria Hansen/ SC Public Radio
Chris Singleton, son of Mother Emanuel shooting victim, shares his new book for children called "Different"

Five years ago, Chris Singleton was a carefree college student dreaming of playing professional baseball when he got the call that changed his life.

"I'll never forget it," says Singleton.  "I was 18 years-old and I got a call from my mom's phone actually and the lady on the other end was saying 'Chris you got to get down here right now something bad happened.' "

A stranger welcomed to bible study at Mother Emanuel AME Church in downtown Charleston had pulled out a gun while the parishioner's eyes were closed in prayer.  He fired more than 70 rounds leaving nine people dead, including Chris's mom Sharonda Coleman-Singleton.  The white gunman said he wanted to start a race war.  All the victims were black.

The next night, Singleton stunned a broken community as he stood with teammates and coaches from Charleston Southern University and proclaimed, "Love is stronger than hate."  He doesn't know where those words came from.  He hadn't intended to speak.

Life without his mother was a whirlwind.

"My mom was everything to me."

He poured his pain into baseball and played for the Chicago Cubs minor leauge system.  His father died.  His two teenaged siblings moved in with him.  He married his high school sweetheart and the couple welcomed a son.

Suddenly, Singleton had a lot of responsibility.  But he also felt a responsibility to his mom and those words that came so effortlessly; love is stronger than hate.

"After being drafted by the Cubs and playing for a little while my purpose became that's not all I am," Singleton says.  "I'm more than just a baseball player."

So, he started accepting what he had initially turned down, invitations to speak.  He found sharing the story of losing his mom because of the color of her skin gave him a purpose greater than his pain.  He could set an example as a black man who lost a loved one to racism but does not hate.

Singleton now travels the country as a motivational speaker.  He hopes to root out racism one person at a time, perhaps changing the mind of someone who thinks as his mother's killer did.

"When I share, I hope that I can stop one kid who maybe would grow up to be Dylann Roof," says Singleton.  "I'm hoping I would stop one kid that was taught to hate black people that doesn't feel that way anymore after hearing me speak."

Singleton's mentor and high school basketball coach Blake Hall is proud.  But he's not surprised by the words that initially caught the young man who'd lost his mother off guard; love is stronger than hate.

"I think your true character comes out during your darkest moments," says Hall.  "I think through his experiences growing up with great parents and being such a high character person, it might have surprised him but that's who he really is."

Chris Singleton's book "Different" about a boy who moves from Nigeria to Charleston teaches kids to love one another despite their differences.
Credit Victoria Hansen/ SC Public Radio
Chris Singleton's book "Different" about a boy who moves from Nigeria to Charleston teaches kids to love one another despite their differences.

On this, the 5 -year anniversary of his mother's death, Singleton has penned a children's book called, "Different".

"It basically just teaches every kid to love people no matter what their differences are," Singleton says.

He shares his favorite part.  It's when a boy from Nigeria named Obinna who has moved to Charleston confides in a teacher.

"Her eyes were soft, the kind of eyes that seemed to know exactly what you're feeling without you having to say a word," reads Singleton.

"They sat in silence for a long time.  Obinna never be ashamed of who you are Miss Sharonda said.  You are beautifully and wonderfully made."

Miss Sharonda is of course Singleton's mom, his inspiration and teacher.

Victoria Hansen is our Lowcountry connection covering the Charleston community, a city she knows well. She grew up in newspaper newsrooms and has worked as a broadcast journalist for more than 20 years. Her first reporting job brought her to Charleston where she covered local and national stories like the Susan Smith murder trial and the arrival of the Citadel’s first female cadet.