Chris Singleton: Racial Violence, Loss, and Finding Your Way Out
About the Guest
Speaker & baseball pro Chris Singleton speaks about his mother’s death to racial violence—as well as seeking God amidst his gut-wrenching loss.
Speaker & baseball pro Chris Singleton speaks about his mother’s death to racial violence—as well as seeking God amidst his gut-wrenching loss.
Chris Singleton: Racial Violence, Loss, and Finding Your Way Out
FamilyLife Today® National Radio Version (time edited) Transcript
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Racial Violence, Loss, and Finding Your Way Out
Guest: Chris Singleton
From the series: Your Life Matters (Day 1 of 2)
Air date: October 3, 2022
Dave: There was an event that took place in 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina, that I don’t think anyone will ever forget.
Ann: I remember that, too; devastating.
News Report: Nine people killed by a young man, 21 years old.
News Report 2: That a white male, in his early 20s, walked into the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and began shooting.
News Report 3: Mr. Roof is charged with nine counts of murder and one count of possession of a weapon during the commission of the crime.
Woman: [Crying] It hurts me; it hurt a lot of people.
News Report 4: Roof showed no emotion as relatives of the victims addressed him over a video link.
Woman 2: Every fiber in my body hurts. I will never talk to her, ever again; I will never be able to hold her again.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.
That was a day our country was rocked. I remember it because it had an effect on me; it had an effect on people that were there.
Dave: And we have a gentleman in the studio today, who was personally affected. Chris Singleton is with us today, who travels the country as an inspirational speaker, former professional baseball player.
So Chris, I’ve heard you speak. You’re a YouTube phenomenon; did you know that?
Chris: Why, I didn’t know that, man; I didn’t. But I appreciate that for sure, man.
Dave: I’ve watched you in front of little kids, and high schoolers, and even businessmen and women, and one of the things I’ll never forget—I’d love to hear you talk about this—is what you call your five numbers: 1, 70, 50, 9 and 1. Did you see that?—I didn’t even have to look at my notes. [Laughter]
Chris: That was good.
Ann: I was pretty impressed by that.
Chris: That was really good, man; that was.
Dave: When I first heard you say those numbers, I thought, “You’re a baseball guy; you’re talking about your average.” You said “170”; I’m like, “Oh, 170? Is that what he hit?”
Dave: And then you walked through those numbers, and it’s really life changing. So help our listeners understand: “What do those numbers mean?”
Chris: I call it my struggle moment, man. Those numbers, to me, they keep me going every single day. There was 1—1 person who was misinformed and misled to hate people that look like me; and unfortunately, this 1 person walked into my church, Mother Emanual AME, and fired over 70 bullets. During Bible study that night, over 50 of those bullets entered bodies. He took 9 lives, and 1 of those lives happened to be my hero, my mom.
Those numbers to me—when it gets tough, being on the road; when it gets tough, being away from my family—those numbers lock me back in, and they keep me going to keep spreading the good word.
Dave: Yes, so can you take us back? You get a phone call; you’re what?—18 years old?—17?
Chris: Yes; 18 years old, just finished my freshman year of college. I had a pretty good freshman year, playing at this mid-major school.
Dave: Pretty good; I mean, you even beat Clemson.
Chris: Yes, we did.
Dave: Isn’t that the first time in school history?
Chris: First time in school history to beat Clemson, man. I was—
Dave: Did you do anything in that game?
Chris: I did; I had a great game, man.
Dave: I already know this. [Laughter] I’m trying to let you tell everybody how great you are.
Chris: Thank you for telling me—I owe you—I like that, man. We beat Clemson—four hits, a diving catch—and the coolest thing for me—my mom was such a baseball mom; she was a teacher at my high school—she was on the intercom the next day: “Did y’all see my baby last night? He had such a good game.”
Chris: Phenomenal freshman season.
But I call it “the unthinkable” is what happened to me and my family—because we see stuff like that on TV, and in the newspapers, or on our phone, we’re scrolling; but we never think it will happen to us—that’s what that night, June 17, 2015, was for me. I get a phone call: “Come down to our church, because something bad happened.” Ultimately, I get down there; and I realize that it wasn’t just something bad—but it was the unimaginable—that my mother and eight other people were shot and killed.
Ann: So Chris, you have two younger siblings.
Chris: I do; I do.
Ann: Do they go to the church with you?—or the hospital?
Chris: I went straight to my church—this is fresh—and somebody said, “Chris, get down here”; so I went down to my church. They put us in this hotel—is what they had us in—at this time, you see all the social media stuff coming to your phone. Everybody’s calling you, but nobody is telling you anything. You just know something bad has happened.
I didn’t tell my brother and sister to come down there because I had no idea of the severity of it. Ultimately, though, that night, I had to tell them that Mom was gone. It wasn’t just me—I had my high school sweetheart, my wife now, who was there with me to help me break that news to them—it was really, really rough for us in that moment.
Dave: If I remember right, you got a call from your mom’s phone.
Dave: So you almost think it’s her.
Dave: But it’s not, so you have no idea. You get down there. When they say your mom was gone—because not everybody was killed; nine were killed, and she’s one of them—do you remember thinking, “What do I do?” What was your first thought?
Ann: Were you angry?—were you sad? Walk us through your emotions.
Chris: Yes; first of all, when I got down there, I was just extremely anxious. I didn’t know what was going to happen. We’re in a hotel room, but it’s actually like a conference room in the hotel. Everybody in there is screaming, and all this stuff is happening there; police in and out.
Ann: Give us the details of what happened. Someone walked in—
Chris: Yes; this guy walked in with eight magazines of bullets, with hate in his heart—his mission of starting a race war—and he fired all those bullets in my church because of the color of their skin. That’s what happened; but that night, I didn’t know why it happened or what was going on. I just knew that my mom went to Bible study; and later on that night, there was a coroner there.
I always mention that I hope people are privileged enough to not know who the coroner is—because I was 18, and I didn’t know who she was—but she said to me, “Chris, can you describe your mom?”—is what she asked me to do. Ultimately, I thought, “Well, is she asking me to describe this because my mom is hurt so bad?—or is she asking me this because she’s trying to confirm that my mom’s okay?”
I described my mom; and finally, she said, “Chris, it’s confirmed your mother’s been taken away.” So when I heard that, it’s like you go numb. Telling my brother and sister is probably one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to do in my life.
Ann: How old were they at the time?
Chris: Little brother: 12; little sister: 15—so middle school, high school—telling them that our hero, our mom, was no longer with us.
Ann: And your dad?
Chris: Dad wasn’t there that night; he wasn’t doing too well. I called him, and I called other people. I actually called my high school basketball coach. That’s why I got such a great relationship with him, because we think—sometimes, as educators, you just think you’re doing what you’re doing; maybe you’re making an impact—but when my dad didn’t answer— my friends were calling me, and this and that—and a third [call I made], I called my coach.
So for me, that night was rough; it was really rough. There was no sleep that night. My little brother, who was 12—I actually slept in the bed next to him—and he’s crying himself to sleep. For a period there, I didn’t give myself any time. I just started thinking, “What do I have to do for them?” We always hear: “Chris, be strong,” “Stay strong”; and so I thought being strong meant never crying. I thought being strong meant never showing any emotion. So there was a small period of time, where I thought strength was being a robot. Life has a funny way of letting you realize that’s not strength; that’s just being fake.
I’m grateful that God gave me the wisdom to be a real man, and show emotion—and finally come back down to earth—and figure out that: “Hey, we’re all human; we all go through things,” and showing emotion doesn’t mean you’re weak; it just means you’re a human being.
Dave: You had to keep it together. In some ways were you the dad to your siblings?
Chris: I always say I was like a father figure; but I realized, really quickly, that being a father figure wouldn’t work for them—because I’m saying: “Hey, make sure you do this,” “…do that,” “…straight A’s,” “…this, that, and the third,”—and it’s like, “Chris, if you don’t get out of my face, man,…” [Laughter]
So I realized I just have to be big brother—because father figure wasn’t going to cut it—but definitely taking care of them. I always told them, “Hey, we want to make Mom proud; we can’t let Mom down. Let’s just do what she wants us to do, whether she’s here on earth or not. We know that she’s rejoicing and in a better place.”
Ann: Did you know the other victims that were killed that night? Did you know any of them?
Chris: Absolutely; Mother Emanuel, you know, we’re a small church—I always joke that the average age at Mother Emanuel had to be like 65—it was an old church; right? [Laughter] So the young families, we stuck together. Everybody’s like a grandma/grandpa, or auntie/uncle; so when you did well at your game, everybody in the church knew. When you got a scholarship to play in college, everybody in the church knew; they celebrated you.
Ann: —like a family.
Chris: Oh, man, for sure; it was a family. I knew everybody that lost their life that night, for sure.
Ann: Oh, so I’m just wondering: “Here you are, this young man. This person walks in to start a race war. How are you not enraged? Did you get to the point, where you’re sad—you said you were in shock—did you get angry?
Chris: Sometimes, people ask me, “Chris, would you change a thing?” Well, absolutely I would; I want my mom here with me. But I know, for a fact, that God put forgiveness in my heart; because there’s no way in the world that I could have said that I forgave my mother’s killer.
The way that I describe it is, when I forgave my mother’s killer, a reporter kind of rushed me and said, “Hey, Chris. How do you feel about it?” I remember she was from the BBC; she said, “How do you feel about all these things happening? What do you think about the killer?” I said, “I already forgive him. Our family already forgives him.” My sister looks over at me, like, “We what?”; right?
For me, I described it as being on autopilot. You know, you’re driving home sometimes—and you don’t even know if you turn left or right—but you just get into your driveway. You’re like, “Man, I don’t know what stoplight I was at; I don’t know what stop sign; I was on autopilot.” That’s what it was for me when I forgave my mother’s killer, and I know why now. I know why—because forgiveness wasn’t just for me that day—it was for so many people, who were like, “Man, if this guy and these families can forgive, how can I not?” I’ve just seen so much good come from it.
I was upset then that my mom was no longer here; I’m still upset that my mom won’t see her grandsons play T-ball; I’ll forever be upset. But I think, “angry” and “having anger”—no, I don’t feel that in my heart right now; I haven’t ever.
Dave: Do you remember a process of walking through, like you said, the anger to the forgiveness? Was it instantaneous, or did it take a while? What was that like?
Chris: No, man. I think, when I first lost my mom, we didn’t know that she was killed because of the color of her skin. We just knew that a guy walked in and did that; right? It was just a mass shooting. We didn’t know why the mass shooting happened. I was just devastated that my mom was gone—I thought it was just a mass shooting that happened—I didn’t know the reasoning behind it or nothing like that.
I immediately looked at my brother and sister, and said, “Man, our mom is who feeds us. What are we about to do?” I had no idea—I didn’t know anything about car insurance; didn’t know anything about health care—I didn’t know anything. I was blessed to have a mom that took care of all that stuff, and so I didn’t know. Immediately, I’m trying to figure out: “How are we eating on Tuesday night?” “Who’s driving to school for the next five years?” “What’s going to happen?” So that’s what the process was for me, initially.
Now, when things died down—the media went away and all that stuff happened—then I was able to sit down and think, “Man, my mom was really killed because she’s black; that’s a terrible way for somebody to go.” I’m so grateful that, in that time, I think God was molding me; because me, personally—man, if it was just up to me, I would have been like, “Hey, this happened; I want to play my sport, and that’s it,”—but God had other plans for me. I didn’t see that at the time, but I see that now.
The process for me of forgiveness is simple—I think you have to say it out loud; right?—“I forgive Dylann Roof. I forgive him for taking my mother’s life.” And I think there’s got to be something on the other side of that forgiveness. As a believer, there’s something on the other side of salvation for us: when we die, we know there’s eternal life.
So for me, on the other side of forgiveness, I think, “Man, now I don’t have to think every single young white male is racist,”—that’s on the other side of forgiveness for me. On the other side is: “Now, I don’t have to be nervous when I walk into a room; and I can have the door behind me and not be scared,” on the other side of forgiveness. So there has to be something on the other side of it, when you talk about the process of it.
But initially, man, God put it on my heart. I’d be giving myself way too much credit, saying, “I did this and that in processing it.” No; God put it on my heart: “That happened; and now, I know why.”
Ann: I’m listening to you, thinking, “Man, this faith!” You’re 18 years old; and yet, you have this foundational faith. How did that come about?
Chris: Yes, I was raised in the church; but being raised in a church doesn’t mean anything.
Chris: It just means you have—you don’t have a choice—that’s what that means; right? [Laughter] So I went to church, like any other kid would; but I say there’s a crossroads, when you go through something really tough, especially when your mom is murdered while she’s praying/praying in church.
Ann: She was praying.
Chris: Yes, in Bible study.
You can say, “Hey, my mom was murdered in church; there’s no way God is real,”—you could say that—or you could say, “God, I don’t know how in the world this happened or why it happened; but I know only You can get me through it.” I went with the latter; and because I’ve gone with the latter, that’s where my faith has been strengthened, ten-fold.
I’m super practical about things; because if your mom is murdered, while she’s praying, you could say, “Man, Chris, how could she be killed if she’s praying to the God that you serve?” I said, “God, I don’t know how; I don’t know why, but I know only You can get me through this mess.” God has come through, time and time after again, so I think my faith has definitely strengthened after it. I used to read my mother’s Bible; she used to read it from cover to cover. She was one of those types of people—every year, read cover to cover—she would highlight things.
For me, finally reading the Bible by myself, not just trusting my pastor to do it or my mom to do it—me reading myself—I read her Bibles. Reading those Scriptures, that’s when I found my faith, not just relying on my mom or my pastor; but I found a relationship for myself.
Dave: Was there ever a moment, where you struggled with the: “How in the world does my mom, or anybody, go to a church, sit in a Bible study, pray, and lose their life?” Did you ever struggle with: “God, what are You doing?”
Ann: —or did your siblings?
Chris: I never struggled with the how, because I think there’s, obviously, good in the world—but there’s some real bad in the world, unfortunately; right?—there are some people, who want to do evil things; I realize that. We have the gift of free will; so some people are going to use it, and it’s going to be cursed. I never struggled with the how, but I always struggled with the why, like, “Why did my mom have to go?” She was a track coach—would take you home from school after practice, and say, “Hey, did you get a meal?” If not: “Let’s go to Wendy’s®,” or “…Hardee’s®—or something—"real quick.” I struggle with the: “Why?” “Why my mom?”
As far as my faith, I’m so grateful that I didn’t go the other way—but my brother had a point in time, where he said, “Chris, you know, man, I see you’re real strong in your faith, man. But come on, now; come on, now; Mom was praying, and that’s the same God that you’re praying to?”—so he really struggled with that for a while.
I struggled with it, being big brother; I said, “Man, if my brother gets in a car accident, I don’t know where he’s going right now,”—you know what I’m saying? I really struggled with that; but there was a guy, who was a chaplain for the Patriots—his name is Jack—he used to be [with the Patriots]; he’s with the Texans now.
Dave: I know Jack.
Chris: Yes, I asked Jack about it. I said, “What am I supposed to do? My brother/he says, ‘God’s not real.’ He’s telling me all this stuff; I’m supposed to be leading him.’” He said, “Chris, don’t push him right now. You push him right now; he’s never coming back.” But he definitely had that struggle with: “Mom was praying, and she got killed; so it’s tough for me to believe.” He definitely had that.
Ann: I’m interested like, when you called your basketball coach, what did he say to you?
Chris: This is a guy, who has been there through everything for me. I always say this: “He’s actually the first white person I ever heard say, ‘I love you,’ to me; and he truly meant it too.” He poured into us; talking to him was all about encouragement. Sometimes, it’s not about what you say; but it’s about being able to pick up the phone and just hear somebody’s voice.
Even today, I’ll text him every now and then, and just say, “Hey, thank you for all you’ve done for me in my life.” He’s always like, “Man, I love you, Chris.” Being present sometimes is more important than figuring out the right words to say. Some people ask me, “What should I say to this person?” Sometimes, the words aren’t going to cut it; but just being there lets them know that you care about them.
Dave: You were still in college at the time; right?
Dave: So help us understand: you’re actually going back to school and playing baseball.
Ann: I know, Dave; I’m still worried about: “How did your brother and sister get to school?” and “How did they get fed?”
Dave: Yes; did your dad—was he just AWOL?—he just wasn’t part of the—
Chris: He struggled, man. I would say, in my mind, my dad struggled with alcohol pretty bad; so in my mind, I said, “Man, this is going to get my dad back on track. Losing my mom, he’s got no choice but to step up to the plate.”
Dave: That’d be a wake-up call; yes.
Chris: It’d be a wake-up call is what I was thinking; but no, it was too much for him. He was really sick. My aunt/she actually stepped up to the plate, and they moved in with my aunt for a year. It was rough for them; they didn’t want to be in Atlanta. They wanted to be in Charleston, where we’re from. So for about a year/year and a half, they lived there until I got drafted by the Cubs.
My whole college career after that was: “Hey, I’m going to make my mom proud.” She was always the baseball mom; “I’m going to get drafted for my mom.” I always have this hashtag; it says, “Can’t let moms down.” Every post that I make says, “Can’t let moms down.” That was my goal, being an athlete in college. All I wanted to do was just play sports.
I would get all the interviews: “Hey, Chris, do you want to do this?” “…do that?” “I’ll do it, but baseball is my thing; that’s what I do.” That’s how life was for a couple years after I lost my mom.
Dave: So tell us about—you get drafted—you’re playing baseball; you’re married.
Chris: Yes, married.
Dave: Do you have any kids at home, at that time, when you were in the minor leagues?
Chris: I did. Yes, I had my little man: C.J./Chris, Jr.
Dave: So he’s at home; you’re on the road, trying to make it to the bigs.
Dave: You’re not playing baseball now.
Dave: Walk us through the end of that.
Chris: I always say, “Anybody who is married to an athlete, they have to be superwoman; because your [husband’s] gone a lot.” I was gone seven months out of the year; and at home, was not just our son, it’s my little brother and my little sister.
Ann: They lived with you.
Chris: They lived with me. Yes, they lived with us; so my wife is literally like superwoman.
Dave: Your wife is superwoman.
Chris: Oh, she is; she is.
Dave: You have your brother and sister living with your wife, and you’re gone.
Ann: As soon as you got married, did they come to live with you?
Chris: Yes; we’re 21—we might be 20; we might be 20 at the time—and they’re teenagers. We’re like—it’s hard—[Laughter]—but we got through it; let’s just say that.
Dave: I’m guessing you got a phone call or two from your wife.
Chris: Oh, my goodness; yes. I got the phone calls: “Hey, Chris, this happened,” “…that happened.” I’m always trying to be man in the middle: “Hey, let’s just love everybody; okay?” [Laughter] So I got those; but I’m chasing my dream, playing baseball. I played a couple of seasons. I loved the Cubs, man; I got drafted by the Cubs.
The first time I remember going to a therapist was when I was playing in the minor leagues, because I struggled with my sport. Everyone was like, “Oh, Chris; you’re letting your sport get you down, man. You’ve been through so much—you’ve been through all this—and you’re letting baseball hurt you?”
I was saying, “Man, baseball’s been the one thing that I could have an escape from all the stuff I was going through.” When I wasn’t having the success, it was tough for me, man, mentally. I started seeing a therapist—it was free therapy—which was super eye-opening for me. I went for about a year; and then, I ultimately, in 2019, I got released by the Cubs.
I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I was speaking in the off-season; I was getting opportunities. When I got released, I immediately made a social media post: “Hey, I’m done playing ball; but I’m going to continue this mission of teaching love, teaching how we can come together in practical ways.” So that’s what I started to do, and God has blessed it ever since.
Dave: So you’ve been doing—you said earlier—150 or so engagements a year.
Chris: Tone that down—about 100—to be honest with you, coming up pretty soon. My wife and I actually sit down every year—we talk about how many days I can be gone—we’ll go on a couple’s trip in December. We’ll say, “Baby, how many days are you thinking this year?”
I want to make sure that I don’t become a public success and private failure. One of my favorite mentors, Inky Johnson, said that; and that stuck with me. I never want to become a person, where I’m speaking on a stage one day, and somebody asks my wife—they say—“Oh, man, Chris is a great guy.” And my biggest fear is that she says, “Well, no he’s not. Maybe he’s a good guy to you, but he’s not a good guy to us.” That’s a fear that I have—I have nightmares about that—so I will never let that happen.
Shelby: That’s Dave and Ann Wilson with Chris Singleton on FamilyLife Today. Stick around; you’ll want to hear what Chris has to say about being on the same page as your spouse in just a minute. But first, Chris has written a children’s book called Your Life Matters. You can get a copy at FamilyLifeToday.com or by calling 800-358-6329; that’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, if your house is anything like mine, then you’re getting the family ready for all things fall—you know, like hooded sweatshirts and pumpkin spice everything—well, now, you can add to that FamilyLife’s newest resource called “Gospel in a Pumpkin.” It’s a free download with activities, pumpkin face stencil sheets, and a guided script to help your kids learn about what matters most while you get your hands gooey—and decimate—I mean, really, just decorate some pumpkins. You can download “Gospel in a Pumpkin” for free today at FamilyLifeToday.com.
And if you think the world needs more families, talking about the gospel around the kitchen table during this season, would you give to FamilyLife and make more resources like this available for more families? You could partner with FamilyLife by giving today at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can donate over the phone by calling 800-358-6329; that’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Alright; here’s Chris Singleton on the importance of sharing the same mission, as a married couple.
Chris: Everybody says the cliché: “Answer: ‘Hey, why do you do what you do?”—“Oh, my family.” Everybody says that; right?
Chris: But you know, being gone 150 days a year, I’m not with my family a lot. So for me, I always say, “Hey, Baby, this is the mission…” If she didn’t see fruit from that mission, she’d be like, “No; you staying home.” But I take screenshots of every DM that I get from somebody, saying: “Chris what you did today changed my heart,” “What you did today makes me think I can keep going.” I’ll save all those so she knows, “Hey, he’s not out there twiddling his thumbs; he’s trying to do the good work.” She believes in my message and my mission.
Ann: I was going to say, “You can’t do it without her, either.
Chris: No way.
Ann: “You guys are a great team; you’re in a team ministry.” I love that you’re sending those to her; because you’re saying, “Look what we are doing—
Ann: —“for the kingdom and for unity in the body [of Christ].”
Chris: I love it.
Shelby: Now, tomorrow, Chris Singleton will be back with Dave and Ann to talk about how we are all valuable, and that finding the individuality of those around us can fight the division between us; that’s tomorrow.
Audio clips at the beginning of today’s episode came from Charleston County Government and Voice of America.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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