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His mom was killed in a racist attack in Charleston. Now he's helping Buffalo


Former minor league baseball player Chris Singleton knows grief. His mother was murdered in a racist attack. He's since dedicated himself to stopping hate-based violence. He's now heading to Buffalo to support grieving families there. South Carolina Public Radio's Victoria Hansen has this report.

VICTORIA HANSEN, BYLINE: Chris Singleton was scrolling through social media when he saw there had been another mass shooting at a grocery store in Buffalo. Typically, he'd look away. This kind of news can be personally upsetting. But the details of the massacre were frighteningly familiar.

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

HANSEN: What the 25-year-old wanted to figure out was why 10 Black people had been killed. He kept scrolling and reading from his home near Charleston. A white gunman had unleashed a hail of bullets on a predominantly Black neighborhood store. Witnesses said they'd seen the suspect the day before, perhaps casing the place. And the weapon - a military-style machine gun - was covered with racist messages and the names of white supremacists.

SINGLETON: When I'm seeing that, I'm - it's making my stomach turn, especially when I see the name Dylann Roof on there. I'm thinking, man, this guy was inspired by what happened to - you know, to my mom.

HANSEN: Singleton's mother, Sharonda, was killed seven years ago next month by Dylann Roof. She was one of nine Black parishioners murdered at Mother Emanuel AME Church because the gunman wanted to start a race war. Then 18, Singleton forgave the killer, explaining he would not let hate win over the love his mother, an ordained minister, preached. He has since traveled the nation trying to stop racist massacres by sharing her story.


SINGLETON: 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.

HANSEN: On this night, Singleton speaks to a Charleston crowd just blocks from where his mother was killed, yet he can't shake what's happened nearly 900 miles away.

SINGLETON: How many other people are thinking this kind of thing? It's scary, especially because I'm trying to stop this stuff from happening. And it's kind of demoralizing, honestly, you know, when it continues to happen.

HANSEN: But Singleton says he won't let another racist attack shake his faith. He's now headed to Buffalo to speak with schools where children have lost family members. He remembers the confusion he felt as a college student, robbed of his mother and left to raise his two siblings.

SINGLETON: And so if I could just be of any support to them, just sharing the things that have helped me out, with realizing it's OK to cry.

HANSEN: Singleton 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 but couldn't make it. The suspect would have still been in high school. Singleton worries he missed an opportunity.

SINGLETON: If he would have realized that 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.

HANSEN: It's a message he shares during public talks.


SINGLETON: I need everybody to stand up. I need you to go find somebody that looks different than you and tell them that you love them.

HANSEN: Listening to Singleton in Charleston, Emily Lyken admits she's overwhelmed by so much hate-fueled violence.

EMILY LYKEN: I mean, we should be upset about it. We should be shook by it. But unfortunately, it's just becoming too - like, too regular.

HANSEN: But she is inspired by Singleton's message. Also moved by the talk is Shennice Cleckley.

SHENNICE CLECKLEY: If his spark can touch all these different sparks, think about how big the spark then turns into - a flame.

HANSEN: A flame that glows with empathy and blinds people to their differences.

For NPR News, I'm Victoria Hansen in Charleston, S.C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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.