Forgiving His Mom’s Killer: Chris Singleton #89

Warwick Fairfax

October 26, 2021

Chris Singleton’s young life changed in a horrifying instant in 2015, when his mother was shot to death along with eight others in the Mother Emmanuel Church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina. Singleton made headlines nationwide in the days after the tragedy when he announced he had forgiven the shooter – a white supremacist who targeted the predominantly African-American congregation in the hopes of starting a race war.

Singleton has dedicated himself since then to emphatically, dramatically denying the killer’s twisted hope – speaking coast to coast about the power of forgiveness, inclusion and getting to know, understand and love those who look and think differently than we do.

To learn more about Chris Singleton, visit www.chrissingleton.com

Highlights

  • Chris’ early life (3:10)
  • How he was “privileged” growing up (4:31)
  • His dad’s alcoholism and its effect on the family (5:13)
  • The day his mother was shot to death (9:06)
  • What went through his mind in the days after his mother’s murder (12:03)
  • How he forgave his mother’s killer (13:27)
  • Why forgiveness isn’t saying “It’s all OK” (19:49)
  • Chris’ work to pursue racial reconciliation (27:33)
  • The problem of listening just to respond (33:42)
  • What he says to people who say he shouldn’t have forgiven his mother’s killer (37:03)
  • The other side of forgiveness for Chris (38:30)
  • The surprising way he breaks down audience barriers when he speaks (43:39)
  • Chris’ message of hope (53:59)

Transcript

Warwick F:

Welcome to Beyond the Crucible. I’m Warwick Fairfax, the founder of Crucible Leadership.

Chris S:

Forgiveness is huge and has changed my life, but I don’t believe in forgiving and forgetting, right? I don’t believe you can just forgive and forget and that’s it. No, I’ll never forget that my mom was shot eight times while she was praying. I’ll never forget that, but I can move forward in my life, right? So I’ve forgiven and been able to move forward, not forgetting, but now the mission that I have a simple, is to get people of all different races and religions as well, skin-colored background, everything to live in harmony. So harmony for me and unity for me doesn’t mean we all sit down and listen to the same country song, right? Doesn’t mean we’re all sitting by the campfire listening to Chris Young or somebody. Maybe you want to listen to Chris Brown or Usher.

Chris S:

That’s not what it means for me, but there’s a certain level of respect that we have for human beings because we say, “You know what? Everybody has a story behind their opinion.”

Gary S:

A big mission to be sure, but it takes a big mission to meet a big challenge. And this one was born of a big crucible. Hi, I’m Gary Schneeberger, cohost of the show. Our guest this week is Chris Singleton, a former Major League Baseball prospect, whose young life changed in a horrifying instance in 2015 when his mother was shot to death along with eight others in the Mother Emanuel Church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina. Singleton made headlines nationwide in the days after the tragedy when he announced he had forgiven the shooter, a white supremacist who targeted the predominantly African American congregation in the hopes of starting a race war.

Gary S:

Singleton has dedicated himself since then to emphatically dramatically denying the killer’s twisted hope, speaking coast to coast about the power of forgiveness, inclusion and getting to know, understand and love those who look and think differently than we do.

Warwick F:

Chris, thank you so much for being here. It really is an honor to have you because your message of forgiveness and reconciliation, given what you and your family have been through, it’s hard to really understand and fathom how that could be your message given many would say, “How is that possible?” But before we get to, obviously, what would seem the pivotal moment, that horrendous moment in Charleston in 2015, just tell us a bit about maybe the backstory of yourself and your family, mom, dad. What was life for you growing up, hopes, dreams? What was life pre-2015 like for Chris Singleton?

Chris S:

Yeah, well, first, thank you guys so much for having me on. I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, was born there and raised there until I moved to Charleston in about middle school. And for me, I was coming up and playing sports. Both of my parents were athletes in college and so that had been passed on to me. And I was playing baseball, which I didn’t realize that there weren’t a ton of black kids playing baseball, so we moved to Charleston, South Carolina. But I was playing baseball, absolutely loved it and I fell in love with the sport. And my only two things that I wanted in life when I was coming up in middle school, elementary school, was number one to get drafted by a professional team, didn’t have to be the Cubs, the Yankees or anybody. I just wanted to be drafted by a team.

Chris S:

And number two, I wanted to buy my mom a really nice car. My mom was an educator and she would always see these really nice cars driving by and say, “Man, she’s going to buy herself one one day,” and I was thinking in the back of my head, “No need to mama. I’m going to do it for you.” So that’s all I wanted pre-2015, I was just a baseball player, was raised in the church. So the faith was there, but ultimately, man, I just wanted to play sports, make it to the big leagues.

Warwick F:

Well, that’s a great dream. I often say it helps to pick your genes. It sounds like you had some athletic parents which obviously helped. So what was life like at home? Do you have siblings? How many siblings do you have?

Chris S:

Yeah, man, so life for me, I would say we’ve been throwing the word around privilege I think over the last year too. And so I was pretty privileged growing up, even as a young black man, right? I was privileged because both my parents went to college and I was privileged because I didn’t grow up missing meals by any means, right? And my mother was an educator. My father worked at the school as well in special ed classes where he taught. And so I didn’t really miss meals. My dad was a teacher, but one thing about my father and my home life was that he was a really, really heavy drinker, really, really bad. And so he’s an alcoholic growing up and it put a strain on his relationship with me a little bit, but more so with my little brother and sister.

Chris S:

My little brother, he’s seven years younger than me. My little sister’s four years younger than me. And so growing up, we had a pretty decent life, except for my dad really struggled with alcoholism and he was in and out of prison with multiple DUIs where he’s put people’s lives in danger. But that’s what life was like for me growing up. I used my sport as my getaway and was fortunate enough to have my mom as my number one fan in the stands screaming at the top of her lungs.

Warwick F:

So obviously, for what I understand with alcoholism, sometimes there’s uncertainty as to what dad are they going to have, like the fun dad, “He’s going to play ball with me,” or the dad that’s not quite so fun. And so I would assume, without getting into all the details, was that some of your experience that-

Chris S:

Yes, so for a while, I didn’t know the sickness of alcoholism. I didn’t know anything about it. All I knew was that my dad couldn’t just drink one beer, right? He’d have to drink 20. He couldn’t just have one drink with his buddies. He just would keep drinking. Ultimately, I think I was in eighth or ninth grade and I remember looking at my dad, asking him, “Why are you doing this, right? You’re putting a strain on your relationship with our mom. You don’t have a relationship with my little brother because you’re always drunk around him.” And he looked at me and a grown man, he started crying and said, “Chris, I can’t stop.” And that’s one of my perspective on alcohol changed a little bit for my dad because I felt like even if you really wanted to, he was so sick, that it was really, really tough for him to will himself to not drink anymore.

Warwick F:

Oh, my gosh, he was at almost like not quite a prison of his own making, almost with the disease, I guess, that he knew it was not good for him and his family, but he couldn’t find a way out, which it must have been soul crushing to know what’s happening, but not know how to get out, how to stop.

Gary S:

As we move on to get to this story that brings us here. It’s interesting to hear you say that, Chris, because it’s clearly, and I come from an alcoholic background my own, so I know the instability that that breeds in people and I imagine even more so your relationship with your mom, that was a source of true stability for you as you were growing up. Every boy loves his mom and loves his dad and draws strength from that, but really you hinted at it, you mentioned it. She was at all your games, but the emotional support, the strength that you drew from her had to have been great.

Chris S:

It was huge, man. You’re talking about a mom who ultimately became a single mother of three after my father couldn’t put the bottle down and was taking care of us, still coming to games, taking us to practices and number one fan. And we definitely grew closer for sure.

Warwick F:

So it sounds like she was the rock of your family, that life is uncertain, life as we’ll get into is not fair. In the last couple of years, it’s more evident than ever that life is not fair or just or equitable. But despite all of what’s happening in the world, you felt like your mother was the rock you could depend on. It sounds like she had a strong faith. She was somebody that you probably admired greatly. Is that a fair assessment?

Chris S:

Definitely. She was the smartest person I knew. When she was taken away from me, she was getting her PhD. So she was very intelligent, both in the books and street smarts, right? She’s from Newark, New Jersey, so she grew up in the project, so she knew everything, man. She was that kind of person for us, but she was loving, right? She had a pretty rough background coming up, but man, she still loved us like nobody else. So she was definitely a rock that you speak of.

Warwick F:

So let’s talk about 2015, horrific day for the country, but a horrific day for you personally. So just talk about that day and just in case there’s anybody that doesn’t know, help listeners understand that day, that event.

Chris S:

We talked about it or at least you did a little bit off air, the unthinkable or overcoming something that you never could imagine what happened to you and that’s what June 17, 2015 was for me. I just had a great freshman season playing baseball. I was dating my high school sweetheart for multiple years. We’re married now, my high school sweetheart, so life was really good until that night when I actually got a phone call on my phone. And a lady ultimately told me, “Hey, Chris, you got to come here down to the church right now. Something bad happened.” And so I got and raced down to my church and saw that there was something that wasn’t just my mom didn’t get just in a car wreck or something. I knew it was something huge because there was police cars, there was ambulances, there was yellow caution tape everywhere, halfway up the block.

Chris S:

But I finally got to my church and an officer told me, “Hey, you can’t come inside right now, but I can show you where you need to be.” And he walked me to a hotel room about two blocks away and he looked at me. He said, ‘I can’t tell you anything right now. We don’t have things confirmed, but there was a shooting that happened at the church tonight.” Later on that night, I realized where I found out that my mother and eight other people had been shot and killed at Mother Emanuel Church AME in Downtown. It wasn’t until about a day later that I found out that my mom was murdered because of the color of her skin.

Chris S:

There was a young man by the name of Dylann Roof who wanted to start a race war in this country. And so in his mind, he thought by killing nine people in a historically black church, it would be the divide that we needed or that he thought we needed to start a race war in this country.

Warwick F:

It’s hard to digest … everything you just said, somebody that wanted … Some white supremacist, a neo-Nazi, just from what I’ve read, obviously, had a lot of issues, one would imagine. And there’s your mother, a Bible-believing good mother, good person, she’s going to church to a Bible study. And you tend to think of the church as a safe place. There’s a lot of places that aren’t safe in this world, but the church should be a place of sanctuary, of healing, of hope. And there she is, trying to be that and that happened. There’s probably a million thoughts going through your mind, but what … And at that point, I think you mentioned it was you and your younger siblings, I think you mentioned your dad wasn’t in the home at that point, and so it was you and your younger siblings. What were the thoughts that were flooding through your mind in those first few days?

Chris S:

Immediately after, there wasn’t any thoughts about the first few days. It was just like, “What am I going to do now?” right? We lost our mom. She’s everything. She’s our provider, protector, the priest. She’s everything for our family. And so like most people do, I put up this facade of being super okay, right? I was all right. I cried that night, but the next day, I remember we didn’t really sleep much. But I looked at my brother and sister and said, “Man, I have to show them what strength looks like,” and I realized later that that wasn’t what strength looked like. That was just me faking as if I wasn’t a human being, but that’s what immediately happened after.

Chris S:

I didn’t even give myself time to grieve for myself. I just thought, “Man, my brother’s 12, my sister’s 15 and here I am, 18 about to be 19, and I got to take care of them.” And so my immediate thoughts were, “How do I do things my mom was doing, provide and protect them, be a priest to them?” More than anything, I was just scared.

Warwick F:

So you’re probably thinking, “I don’t have time to complain, be angry, grieve. I got to put food on the table, a roof over the head of my younger brother and sister. I’ve got to be the leader of this family,” and it sounds like your mom was. Do you stuff your anger and grief down like, “I don’t have time for this. I got stuff to do, people to care for”?

Chris S:

I think mainly I was just in so much shock. I didn’t even think about any other emotions. It was just, “What do I do next?” I have no clue what happens next. But I actually forgave my mother’s killer the day after she was murdered. And so when people ask me about how that happened, not even 48 hours after my mom was taken away, I forgave my mother’s killer, I’d be lying if I said that it wasn’t God because it was, right? I can’t even pretend like it wasn’t for that it’d be placed in my heart. Because I’m 18 years old, my mom’s killed and she’s everything to me and I forgave …

Chris S:

And when the words came out of my mouth of forgiving my mother’s killer, I had no clue what I was saying, the magnitude that it would be, but I know now that it was the Lord using me in that time. I used to say it’s my mom speaking through me, right? Because I didn’t know, right? I don’t hear some people say, “God told me this,” and I’m like, “I’d never heard the voice of God, but I felt like, man, that was God speaking through me.” That happened and I didn’t know why, but now I do.

Gary S:

What was the format in which you spoke those words? What was the milieu? How did that come out of you?

Chris S:

So after my mom was killed, there’s actually a prayer vigil at my high school the very next afternoon. And so we all went to the prayer vigil and I remember I didn’t sleep at all the night before. Actually, I slept next to my brother and he couldn’t sleep, so I couldn’t sleep. But we got to the prayer vigil and high school full of people. I remember actually there was a reporter, I think, from the BBC or somewhere. It wasn’t in the US, somewhere else. And they came up to me and they said, “Chris, how do you even feel about your mother’s killer?”

Chris S:

And to be honest, I didn’t even know his name or anything. I didn’t know anything. I just know he just had gotten picked up. And I remember the words came out of my mouth and says, “Hey, we already forgive him.” And my sister is right next to me, she looks at me like, “Are you crazy? What? We forgive who, right?” I said, “We already forgive him for what he’s done.” After I did that, we had a prayer vigil at my baseball college. And at this time, I’m just going where I’m being told to go. I tried to stay off my phone. I didn’t want to watch any TV because I knew what was on the news. I knew what the texts were coming in. I already knew what was coming in. But I remember my baseball coach in college at the time said, “Chris, we have this conference or this press conference for you at our stadium and we think it’d be good for you to go to it.”

Chris S:

And so I went there and then I said, after a ton of questions, I just said, “I think that love is stronger than hate. So if we just love the way my mom would, the hate won’t be anywhere close to where love is.” And after I said those words, I actually was able to sleep that night. The next morning, I woke up and I think there was 16,000 more followers than I had the day before on my social medias and that clip was played all over. And that’s how things escalated in the media after I forgave my mother’s killer.

Warwick F:

That is truly remarkable. There aren’t too many 18-year-olds within 48 hours say, “I forgive my mother’s killer,” and then to say, “Love is stronger than hate.” That is some of the most profound words probably anybody’s ever uttered. To say that at 18, that’s remarkable. As you look back in that, I know you mentioned the hand of the Lord, which makes sense to me, but how did all that happen because that’s not humanly to have some white supremacist kill your mother and try to cause some racial divide to say, “I forgive you,” and that isn’t normal? There aren’t too many people that would do that and still less would they say, “Love conquers hate.” They would say, “Okay, let’s go.” So many wars over the centuries have happened because you take one of mine, I’ll take … They just go at it for hundreds of years. So how did all that happen?

Chris S:

Yeah, man, to be honest, I try to put it into worldly terms all the time when I speak corporately, right? I try to leave God out of it. I should try to, but it’s really hard. I’d be lying if I say-

Warwick F:

This is a faith-friendly place, so you say what’s on your heart.

Chris S:

I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you I didn’t. I prayed right before I gave that press conference with a guy by the name of Pastor John Davis, who’s a pastor of my college. It’s a Christian university, so he’s a pastor of our college. He actually has brain cancer right now, so I’ve been praying for him every single morning, every single night, as we speak, but we prayed, I said, “John, I don’t know what I’m supposed to say,” and he said, “Chris, I think the Lord’s going to speak through you. Just go up there and the God is going to speak through you.” And when I said those words, I didn’t know until probably two years after. Man, you know what? That prayer that we prayed, that’s exactly what happened.”

Chris S:

And so now because of me forgiving my mother’s killer, I don’t constantly think about him. I don’t need to or you know what else that does it? He’s never said, “I’m sorry,” or he’s never apologized for it, but you know what forgiveness does for me, I don’t need an apology. I don’t. Would it be really cool to have one? Yes, because not everybody, their heart’s not in the same place that is for mine, right? I wasn’t the only one that was affected, but I don’t need him to say I’m sorry. I realized the power of forgiveness and why God placed it on my heart. There was a student that asked me a question after I was done speaking one time. They said, “Hey, well, where’s your mother’s killer being held, right? We looked on the news. We saw that he got the death penalty. Where’s he being held?”

Chris S:

And you know what? I said, “I had no idea.” I didn’t know. I couldn’t even answer him. And I realized it was forgiveness that allowed me to be in a space where I’ve moved forward in my life, right? I miss my mom every single day, but moving forward, forgiveness allows me to not constantly think, “I need to get revenge. I need to know what he’s doing every second of every single day.” And so in the moment, I didn’t know how powerful it was, but now I see, man. Forgiveness has freed me from so many different things and I’m grateful to God that he’s done that for me.

Warwick F:

It’s funny, we talk about forgiveness a fair amount on this podcast, Beyond the Crucible, and it’s easy for me, not easy, but I can say this, but it’s only you would be able to understand it far better than I ever could. But this phrase we talk about is that anger and bitterness puts you in a prison in a sense. When you’re angry and bitter, the other person wins in some sense. When you forgive, it takes you out of that prison. And again, I know this will be obvious to you, but forgiveness doesn’t mean that what was done was okay. It doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be consequences, restitution, what have you. So forgiveness doesn’t mean it’s all okay. It’s not okay. It doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be consequences, which I’m sure you would agree, but forgiveness is just …

Warwick F:

I often say forgiveness is more than anything. It’s for you. It’s for Chris. It’s for your brother and sister. Because it’s like your life matters. The last thing I imagine your mother would want is for you to spend your whole life in anger and bitterness. And I don’t know, seek some other outlet, whether it’s alcohol or whatever for your anger. That would be, I’m sure, the last thing she would want for you and your siblings. So I know that probably makes sense to you, but help listeners understand in your words why forgiveness doesn’t mean that it’s okay, but why forgiveness is so important for you and your family.

Chris S:

Yeah, you mentioned it that the quote where it says forgiveness is setting a prisoner free, only to later realize that you, yourself, are the prisoner, because a lot of times people will wrong us and they’ll go living their lives as if nothing happened, whereas we’re the ones holding like, “They don’t even know what they did or they don’t even know what it did to me and they’re living their lives, right?” So forgiveness doesn’t mean, “Hey, I’m letting them off the hook,” which is what people think, “Hey, if I forgive him, I’m letting him off the hook.” No, I’m letting myself off the hook. I don’t have to constantly think about how I’m getting revenge. I don’t have to constantly think about how I can get back at them, or in my case, forgiveness has allowed me to now want to put a stop to what has happened to my mom and to eight others that night, right?

Chris S:

So if I wasn’t able to forgive, there’s no way I’d be in a space to say, “Now I’m taking this upon myself as my mission to spread unity, whether it’s in our schools, in our businesses, whether it’s in our churches.” If I hadn’t been in a place to forgive in my heart, there’s no way I’d be able to do it. But I think the biggest thing that people see with forgiveness, they think it’s a sign of weakness. “Because man, if this person does something wrong to me and I don’t retaliate, that just shows that I’m weak,” is that is what people think, when in actuality, that’s probably the hardest thing to do which is forgive somebody, but it’s also the strongest thing and the most beneficial thing for you and your family because it’s not just about you when you forgive somebody.

Chris S:

Like you said it, if I were to constantly think about getting back on my mother’s killer, I wouldn’t be the husband I am today, I wouldn’t be the father that I am today. I still be constantly thinking, “How am I going to get revenge on my mother’s killer?”

Gary S:

And it’s a great source of strength. It’s a great indication of strength to forgive. I was reading in a story where you gave an interview and you quoted Proverbs 24:24 as a favorite verse of yours and that says, “If you faint in the face of adversity, your strength is small,” and apply to your story, what you’ve just been describing, that was hardly fainting in the face of adversity to forgive, Dylann Roof. It was strength and you showed that your strength was not small in doing that and the thing that, when I heard you, as you described it and I’ve heard this story before, obviously, when I heard you describe that he wanted to start a race war, the thing that gives me hope, that encourages me about your story, that impresses me about your story is that he didn’t get what he wanted from you, you’re being able to forgive him, right?

Gary S:

He wanted to foment this thing and you denied him that. That wasn’t the reason why you did it, but in standing on your strength and following your mother’s strength, I read elsewhere where you said, “If the roles were reversed, your mom would have forgiven if it was you who was in that church at that day. She would have forgiven the killer as well.” You denied him that thing that he said he wanted, and to me, that is both hopeful and extraordinarily strong of you.

Chris S:

It’s also the exact opposite happened, right? So I love where I live in Charleston. I still live here. We’ve got tons of history, both good and bad. When it comes to slavery, that was here. And I think it was 60 or 70% of all slaves came through Charleston at one point. And so there’s definitely tons of bad history here, but I’ll never forget, after my mom was killed, there were people of all different ethnicities, cultures, backgrounds that were locking arms together. We weren’t asking, “Hey, what did they do to deserve this?” or, “What happened before this?” No, there was none of that. We locked arms. We marched together. We said, “Wrong is wrong and hate doesn’t have a place here.”

Chris S:

And so I absolutely love that and it’s almost as if not only did he not get what he wanted by starting the race war, the opposite happened and we all came together.

Warwick F:

That is the best victory when you can oppose what he’s trying to do. It’s easy to get angry and bitter, but you think about what would that do to your wife. I think you mentioned you have young kids do you now or-

Chris S:

Yeah, I’ve got a son and I also took care of my brother and sister for-

Warwick F:

So can you imagine? What tends to happen is if you’re angry and bitter against the world, anger doesn’t just stop in one direction. You’ve experienced what anger can happen through alcoholism. I’m sure your dad didn’t intend to be angry towards your mom and your younger brother and sister. I’m sure it wasn’t his intention, but when you’re angry, irrespective of the cause, what we typically do is we take it out on the people we most love. And so people don’t realize anger and bitterness is like, “I’m just going to be angry and bitter towards white people or towards white supremacists.” “Okay, let’s forget what God would think of it.” Even assuming you could do that, it won’t stop there because anger and bitterness, you can’t chain anger and bitterness, you can’t corral it, you can’t damn it. It flows everywhere and people don’t realize that.

Warwick F:

Why would you want to hurt the people you must love? Which you inevitably would. So you chose, to me, that the bravest and the strongest path, the most godly path, but also the path that most ensured his agenda wouldn’t succeed. So talk a bit about what you do with this whole forgiveness and reconciliation because I think that’s so powerful. There’s a lot of incidents in history of being angry at each other for hundreds of years, whether it’s Protestants and Catholics in Ireland or. There’s many incidents of that.

Warwick F:

Then there’s a few of, as you would be very familiar with, the Nelson Mandela in South Africa and having almost, I forget what he calls it, not reconciliation but he wanted justice, but yet, he wanted to see if, which has not been easy, I do realize, but see if South Africa could come together. He did his level best despite being in prison for many decades. That’s an incredible example of relatively modern day somebody that’s stood for reconciliation and forgiveness. Talk about what that means to you, what your mission around reconciliation and forgiveness is.

Chris S:

Yeah, and I want to be practical for all listeners as well. You know what? Forgiveness is huge and it’s changed my life, but I don’t believe in forgiving and forgetting. I don’t believe you can just forgive and forget and that’s it. No, I’ll never forget that my mom was shot eight times while she was praying. I’ll never forget that, but I can move forward in my life, right? So I’ve forgiven and been able to move forward, not forgetting, but now the mission that I have is simple is to get people of all different races, religions as well, skin-colored background like everything to live in harmony.

Chris S:

So harmony for me and unity for me doesn’t mean we all sit down and listen to the same country song, right? It doesn’t mean we’re all sitting by the campfire listening to Chris Young or somebody. Maybe you want to listen to Chris Brown or Usher. That’s not what it means for me, but there’s a certain level of respect that we have for human beings, because we say, “You know what? Everybody has a story behind their opinion.” So for instance, everybody has a stance on something, right? If you don’t have a stance on it, then you probably haven’t experienced anything that deals with it yet or you weren’t taught to have a stance on it, right?

Chris S:

And I think a lot of people, they ultimately judge people by their stance without realizing, “Hey, there’s a story behind their opinion, just like there’s a story behind mine.” So for a young black man, for me, I share with you guys my story how my mom was shot eight times while she was praying. And so when I say my stance is that I don’t like guns, you know what? There’s empathy in saying, “You know what? I can see why Chris doesn’t like guns because his mom was shot eight times while she was praying. It’s pretty clear, clear and simple, right?” And then when I hear somebody say, “Hey, Chris, I grew up around guns my whole life.” They say, “My grandmother had a gun. My grandfather had a gun, right? My preacher who’s preaching on Sunday mornings had a gun in the pulpit. That’s just the way that grew up, why I love guns.”

Chris S:

You know what? I can understand when he went hunting his whole life and now he still goes hunting and he feels like his grandfather’s still there with him, even though his grandfather’s gone. So going out hunting, shooting guns is a way that he feels spiritually connected. There’s empathy because I know his story behind it, but I think the problem, Warwick, is, and Gary as well, I think when people say, “I see your stance. I see that I don’t agree with you, but I don’t care about your story. I don’t even want to hear about it,” and that, unfortunately, is what happens nowadays. And now what I’m trying to reconcile and get people to live in harmony and just love one another, you don’t always have to like one another.

Gary S:

Right.

Chris S:

You don’t always have to like one another, but there should be a level of respect for one another. And when I say the respect, I think that’s love for me.

Warwick F:

That’s again so profound. I often think it’s a lot harder to hate somebody that you know if you know their story.

Chris S:

That’s good.

Warwick F:

You empathize with them. It’s like he doesn’t mean you have to, as you say, like the same kind of country music or agree on guns. I grew up in Australia which is culturally very different than the US on, for instance, guns. It is not a big divide on that issue in Australia. I get it coming to this country, it’s like, “Oh, okay.” It’s culturally very different, but so much, whether it’s racism, slavery, the Holocaust and Nazi Germany, it’s all because of, “These people are different and I don’t know any of these people and because they’re different, they must be bad,” and it goes on and on. But if you actually meet them, it’s like, “Hey, they’re human. They have fears and hopes and dreams just like me. Just because they don’t look like me or they don’t like the same things I do doesn’t mean they’re bad or anything.”

Warwick F:

I know this sounds childishly simple, but if you can understand their hopes and dreams and fears and maybe become a friend with them, how do you hate a friend? It’s pretty difficult, right? Especially as kids. You can get ingrained over the decades, but I don’t know. It’s, “Hate often comes because I don’t know who you are. I don’t know your story. I know nothing about you.”

Chris S:

And even as people Warwick, I think, we laugh about the same things, right? We joke about the same things. If a guy’s holds his grandson for the first time, it doesn’t matter if he’s in Asia or if he’s in Canada or Australia, he’s going to smile. He might shed a tear, right? Because he’s that proud and that’s a warm feeling. It doesn’t matter where you’re at. I think when we forget that we’re all humans and we laugh about the same things and cry about the same things, when we forget those things, that’s where trouble comes in. And that’s something I’m just trying to remind people. At the core of who we are, we’re more alike than different.

Warwick F:

Well, exactly. It’s like we’re both married. It’s like maybe you’re talking to the guys after dinner and your wife says, “Hey, what about the dishes? Sorry, I got caught up.” It’s like, “I cook. You clean, okay? And many things, that’s the deal.” “Okay, sorry about that. I got a bit distracted.” Well, anybody that’s a husband has been there. It’s a funny thing, but we understand that experience. It’s like, “Dishes aren’t going to do themselves. Come on, let’s get going.” It sounds so simple, but yet so often in the media or in politics, maybe there’s money to be made in division, I don’t know, but it’s like everybody’s yelling at each other. Nobody’s listening.

Warwick F:

You know more about this than I do, but often think, people often say, “You need to understand me, right? I don’t want to understand you. How about we try and understand each other?” Do you know what I mean? It’s like, “I’m right. You’re wrong. You need to listen to me.” Well, even if somebody objectively is “right”, how do you get reconciliation if there’s no communication, there’s no desire to understand each other? Do you know what I mean?

Chris S:

Yeah, what we do a lot of times is we listen, right? We’ll listen, but we listen just to respond. We listen to say, “Hey, I’ll tell you why you’re wrong. I listened to you. Okay, now let me tell you why you’re wrong.” Instead of saying, “You know what? I listened to gain this new perspective, because a lot of times you may be right.” I give this example a lot of times like, as a young black, I keep saying I’m a black man. But you know what? I was very privileged, I think, to be in this country growing up. I think there’s opportunities here that I may not have had if I was somewhere else. I also think I’m very privileged because both of my parents went to college, right? They never missed meals.

Chris S:

And so I don’t know what it feels like to miss meals, right? I don’t know what that feels like. And so if I’m an educator or if I’m somewhere, and let’s just give this example, kids are always skipping in line getting food, every single morning, skipping the line, skipping the line. They’re not in the right, they’re not, but if the kid tells me, “Hey, the reason why I skip the line every day is because I don’t eat dinner because my parents can’t afford for me to have a hot meal.” He may be still wrong for skipping the line, but there’s empathy in me now realizing, “You know what? I don’t have the understanding of what it feels like for my stomach to be turning because I’m hungry.” Even though he’s wrong, this kid shouldn’t be jumping line in the morning because other people are in front of them, there’s understanding because I say, “Man, he must be terribly hungry.” And so I think sometimes we listen, but we’re just listening to tell somebody they’re wrong or pointing out all the flaws, even though they may be right about some points. We’re not thinking about those. We don’t want to say we agree with them on this and that, but want to change that. No. We just want to say, “Here’s where you’re wrong,” and that’s the sad part about it.

Warwick F:

Sometimes, I won’t say being right is overrated, but certainly, let’s say on the marriage front and I’ve been blessed to be married to my wife over 30 years, she’s American, but I met her in Australia, but so often, it’s like you convinced her you’re right and sometimes you are and it’s like, “Well, let me try and understand her perspective and being reconciled.” And again, I’m not trying to apply this too broadly because there is righteousness and justice. I do agree, but sometimes in a marriage setting, being right can be overrated and it’s like, “I’d rather be reconciled than have my point of view be right.”

Chris S:

Sometimes you lose when you’re right anyway, right?

Warwick F:

Right. Exactly. I guess one question I have is, you probably have some people come up to you and say, “Chris, you live in this Pollyanna world of forgiveness. You’re a person of faith. You go to church,” and not a whole lot of people do these days. There might be some who come from tougher backgrounds than you, right? Maybe other young black men who says, “You’re privileged. You have no idea …” There’s always somebody worse sadly or a worse story. Have you had people come up to you and say, “It’s easy for you to …”? I don’t know how it can be easy for you to forgive. That to me, how could you make that claim because what you went through was unthinkable? But do you have people like challenge your forgiveness and reconciliation notion and say, “You know what? That’s good for you, but you’re flat out wrong and the only way we’ll have justice and equity is war”

Chris S:

I’ve heard people say, “Chris, I don’t think you should have forgiven your mom’s killer. I think you let him off the hook.” And I say, “Well, he got the death penalty, so I don’t think he’s off the hook by any means there,” but I do understand where people are coming from. Now, if I were sitting on the sidelines, I forgive him and I just sit back and sip some iced tea and just do nothing, then I can understand why that makes sense. But for me to be on the road 120 days a year away from my family, still talking about this message of forgiveness, of unity, of changing hearts from people that are racist, I still see that in my work now.

Chris S:

Then because I do all those things, then that argument is not credible. Also, I lost both of my parents before I was 21, right? I was 19, taking care of two teenagers. My father died a year after my mom was killed. And so here I am, foreclosed on my house, repossessed car, taking care of two teenagers while still living in college. When people understand the full story, the full spectrum of things, there’s no longer, “Hey, Chris, yeah, you experienced that, but that was it.” No, I’ve probably experienced more than most people have in a lifetime. I just don’t want to stay there. That’s my thing. And I think once they hear the full story, then there’s no longer any people that are saying, “Well, you know what?” or there’s no longer any disbelievers or people that won’t believe in what I’m sharing.

Gary S:

And there’s something powerful about it. I think there’s something … Once you’ve committed to forgiveness, once in that press conference, those two press conferences where you say, “I forgive my mother’s killer,” you have to then live that out. You made that public. And I’ve read where you say that there needs to be something on the other side of forgiveness. And for you, what was that something? You’ve talked about it, in example, but what do you see is what’s on the other side of forgiveness for you that you are walking out and living every day?

Chris S:

On the other side of forgiveness for me is having one of my best friends in the world, Carl Moore, he’s a white guy. People always want to be super politically correct. I call him a white guy. He calls me a black guy. That’s just how we hang out, one of my best friends in the world. I think on the other side of forgiveness is me saying, “I don’t have to hate all white people because a white man went into my church and wanted to start a race war.” Now on the other side of forgiveness says, “You know what? Even though we have different skin colors, I’m not going to look at every single young white male and say they’re Dylann Roof because that’s not the case.” On the other side of forgiveness for me, I say, “You know what? That was just one person that was misinformed and misled to hate people that look like me and made a terrible decision that took my mother’s life.”

Chris S:

And now I say, “Okay, because that happened,” on the other side of forgiveness, “not everybody’s like that.” And I think sometimes, we don’t know what’s on the other side of forgiveness for us. And if we don’t know what’s on the other side, it’s going to be super hard to forgive somebody or forgive yourself if there’s no reward for it.”

Gary S:

And I want to speak to the listener right now who is hearing Chris describe this because that’s a big, big dose of forgiveness that he gave. His crucible was extraordinary. And we talk on this show a lot about people comparing crucibles, right? “Your crucible was worse than mine, so I don’t really know what that’s like,” and in some ways, it’s almost like we need to reverse it. In other words, if your crucible is small, listener, there’s still opportunities to forgive. There’s still something on the other side of that forgiveness. It will look different than what is on the other side of Chris’ forgiveness, by definition, just like your crucible looks different.

Gary S:

But I would think you would agree, Chris, that forgiveness, when a crucible has been caused by someone who has treated you in whatever way is wrong, whether it’s the ultimate way that you experienced or someone cut you off in traffic or hit your car, those smaller “forgivenesses” are important too and there’s something very good and gracious that lives on the other side of those too, right?

Chris S:

I agree, man, and you said when somebody cuts you off in front of a car and I love just that thought because that’s something practical that everybody can do, most people that are fortunate enough to be able to drive. So let’s say somebody cuts in front of you, immediately your emotions are going to rise, you’re upset, you’re angry. Maybe you say something under your breath, but I think something that’s practical that we can all do is say, “You know what? That’s our small crucible, so how do we respond to that?” Let’s respond by staying even keeled and saying, “You know what? Maybe they’re in a rush because X, Y or Z happened. Maybe they’re in a rush because their wives about to have a kid or their husband is about to have surgery,” or whatever it may be.

Chris S:

So I give people the benefit of the doubt until they don’t deserve it anymore and that’s what I try to do in situations like that. And I think that’s something everybody can do. All of our listeners that are listening right now can say, “Hey, the next time this happens to me, I’m going to forgive them. Let’s just see what that does for me because I hear Chris talking about it. I hear how powerful this is supposed to be. Let me see what this does for me and my heart on the small scale.”

Warwick F:

That’s so profound. I often think of forgiveness as a bit like weeding on the home front, whether it’s with your kids or marriage or coworkers. Things are going to tick us off every day. Sometimes you want to bring it up. Sometimes it’s like, “It’s not big enough for me to bring up, but yeah, it’s a wisdom call.” But whether you do or not, just say, “Okay, I’m going to move on here. I’m going to forgive them.” If it’s like a marital issue, you say, “Hey, honey, you said something and you probably didn’t mean it, but it caught me in a wrong way,” and hopefully, she or he will say, “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.” Boom, you move on.

Warwick F:

But what happens if you don’t say anything, it festers. It grows like weeds and what could be a simple little thing, you just magnified to this massive thing. Not everything is that easy, but it’s just forgiveness and reconciliation is a lifestyle and the other sad thing that you know very well is most people, when confronted, don’t apologize. We live in the world of the double down, the triple down. Nobody ever says they’re sorry. It’s rare, but so if it happens, hallelujah, but if it doesn’t, you still got to forgive anyway. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. This message of reconciliation, one of the things I love that you do where you speak is you have people who look differently hug each other. Talk about that because that is a powerful, powerful concept. How did you come up with that and what happened when you did that?

Chris S:

Yeah, man. This was actually preparing for one of my first corporate talks years ago and I’m just thinking, I’m feeling so noncredible at the time. I’m like, “Man, I’m 22, about to speak to this Fortune 500 company. I don’t deserve this.” And I remember, I was like, “What can I do that’s probably never happened before? I want to tell a bunch of people that have been working in corporate America for 25 years to go hug somebody.” And we did that. I made people get up and give somebody a hug that look different than them and I said, “Hey, say that you love them as well. Just say I love you.” You know what, Warwick and Gary? You know what’s the fascinating thing is I would ask people, I would say, “Hey, have you guys heard those three words from somebody that looks different than you before?”

Chris S:

Some people would raise your hand. Some people would say, I haven’t,” and then I would also say, “Well, have you hugged somebody looked differently than you before?” Some people were like, “You know what? I actually haven’t.” And I said, “Well, now you have.” And I just think, man, there’s so many different stereotypes. There’s prejudices that are going on in the world, biases, both conscious and unconscious. And sometimes all it takes is for somebody to give you a hug and say, “You know what? That thing that I was thinking or the thing that I was taught growing up, I can do away with that myth right now by just having this conversation after I hug this guy right next to me at my table.” And so that’s where it started and now I’ve made people, if they say they haven’t done those two things, I force the issue.

Warwick F:

I think that’s such a great example. Sadly, we live in such a divided world, whether it’s in school or in church and not just racially but politically. If you’re a conservative, you probably don’t know any people who are liberal. If you’re a liberal, you don’t really know anybody who’s conservative. Black, white, Asian, Hispanic, whatever the group is, it almost feels like it’s I don’t know if getting worse, but it just seems like we don’t know people who look different and believe different, whether it’s faith or politics. And then we say, “Oh,” let’s just shift it from racial for a moment, “Oh, Republicans are evil,” “Democrats are evil,” or whatever and they have different policies. It doesn’t mean they’re evil people.

Warwick F:

Even in high school, it just saddens me sometimes, it’s normal, I get it, kids that look like one color is sitting at one lunch table and kids look like another. How about just getting up and saying, “I know we haven’t met. Come sit at our table or can I sit at your house?” This probably would take a massive courage for a high schooler, but do you know what I mean? It’s just-

Chris S:

Yeah, and-

Warwick F:

It just seems it’s all very natural not to know people who are different than you, which does not help reconciliation.

Chris S:

I think there’s two things. Gary’s a Cubs fan, I’m obviously a Cubs fan because they’re the only team that paid me.

Gary S:

And they haven’t paid me yet, darn it, just being a fan.

Chris S:

But when you talk about sports, but I just think sports brings people together. I think about the example you just talked about with the high school team. My baseball team was often we had two black kids on my baseball team and everybody else were white kids, but my basketball team was all black. I think we had two white kids on our team. But we all sat together, right? It was just that I was a connecting piece for some of our baseball team, the basketball team to hang out because I was playing both of them, but I love sports because they bring us together, man. It truly happens that way.

Chris S:

But one thing I will say works is that, unfortunately, we put people in a box. I don’t think there’s anybody that could just say, “Hey, I’m a Republican,” or, “Hey, I’m a Democrat and I believe every single thing that has to do with both of these things. Just probably a couple things.” They’re like, “You know what? I don’t know if I agree with that one,” but we have to put ourselves in boxes sometimes or at least society tells us to, and unfortunately, that’s what keeps us divided. And so now I just wish that more people would say, “I want to go out of my way to make sure I have friends that maybe have a different faith in me, just because I want to learn about what their thought processes are, right?”

Chris S:

I know even if I wasn’t a believer, I would want to be one like, “Man, this is a tough place.” You know what I’m saying? Like, “I would want to be a believer.” But I actually have friends that don’t believe, as odd as that is, right? But I do. I actually want to have those friends. Now, I’m never a person that throws a brick of religion at him, right? I try to place faith on them like a blanket like my mom did with me. And so I’m obviously not shying away from my faith, but that doesn’t have to mean I’m not friends with my buddy just because he doesn’t believe that God is real and he hears me praying. Not at all.

Warwick F:

And just because somebody doesn’t believe what you believe doesn’t mean you’re going to run around and say, “Well, what you believe is evil and you’re wrong.”

Chris S:

Exactly.

Warwick F:

Which I think is so some Christians, some people of faith do that which I appall and think it’s wrong and not helpful.

Gary S:

And I love about this conversation. Let me add this. I love about the last five minutes. What I love about this is it extrapolates and adds to your message, Chris, that love is stronger than hate. Because what you’ve just talked about, what you both have just talked about is love is stronger than ideology, right? Love is stronger than your bank balance. Love is stronger than religious differences and love is stronger than skin color. You can find that patch of grass that you both can stand on despite the differences. So yes, love is stronger than hate. That’s the strongest expression of differences, but it’s also stronger than all those other things that may not go quite to hate, but they still keep us apart and that’s what I think is beautiful about your message.

Warwick F:

Absolutely. And what I love about what you’re talking about Chris is having people who look different than each other, hug each other. As you say, if you have empathy for another person, that’s a big first step towards reconciliation. That’s a big first step towards ideally having no more Dylann Roofs or at least not as many. Because those kind of ideas won’t have fertile ground. It’s like, “I hear what you’re saying, but I met Chris, or whoever it is and he’s a good guy. I don’t get it.” Do you know what I mean? It’s like the poison, it’s hard for it to spread, right? Because like, “Well, that’s not right.” Even as a kid in high school, that empathy can build walls to stop that kind of poison spreading, if that makes some degree of sense.

Chris S:

It makes so much sense it. Warwick, I often say like, “If Dylann Roof would have met Chris Singleton in second grade, I’m almost certain that there’s no way that he would be thinking about black people in the way that he was when he took my mother’s life, right?” If we had just been friends as kids … One of the reasons why I started writing children’s books is, because first of all, it’s hard for me to tell my story to younger kids. I feel like taking away their innocence. I don’t want to do that, especially they think their worlds are sunshine and rainbows.

Chris S:

I’m not here to tell them that it’s not, but ultimately, I’m thinking, man, after they read the story that’s going to bring people together, wouldn’t it be cool if there’s a kid that says, “You know what? Now I want Jose to have lunch with me, right?” Now I want Kwan, meet Kwan, come over here and share my fruit snacks with me.” You know what I’m saying? That’s just my hope for the world, especially for our country that I live in the States. But man, I don’t think things would be the same if I would have met my mother’s killer as a kid.

Gary S:

This is a good time. Normally, I say this is the, “Did you hear that? The captain turned on the fasten seatbelt sign,” but because I have a former Cubs prospect here in our interview here, Warwick, I’m going to say the count’s three and two, bottom of the ninth, bases are loaded, two outs. So the game is on the line. It’s going to come to an end here pretty soon, but before those last pitches are thrown, let’s go on a little bit more. Chris, I would be remiss if I did not give you this opportunity to let listeners know how they can find out more about you and the services you offer and the speaking that you do. So how can they find out more about Chris Singleton?

Chris S:

Yeah, so I do keynote talks for companies all across the country and the way that people book me is just through my website, chrissingleton.com. I have this mission of reaching 50,000 students over the next eight months really. And so people can bring me in through social medias. All my social medias are verified. If you just look up Chris Singleton or CSingleton_2, you’ll find me there. But yeah, my mission in this world, it’s a crazy one, but it’s not and that’s just to end racism. And so if you think you’d benefit from a message that’s going to bring people together, I’d love for people to get in touch with me by going to my website, chrissingleton.com.

Warwick F:

Well, Chris, thank you so much. You have such a powerful message, and, boy, that is an incredible vision, ending racism. It’s easy to give up hope. The bigger the goal, the more it can seem so far, but your focus on reaching 50,000 kids and your children’s books, that’s so right on because is it hard to change somebody who’s 50, 60, 70 years old and their opinions? Yeah, frankly, it is. But somebody who’s five or 15, you’ve got a shot. If what you said is so profound, if you could meet a second grade Dylann Roof, maybe history could have been different. So just helping people who look different and I’d say even beyond, believe different, see each other as humans and friends, whether it’s through sport or the arts, that’s a tremendous vision.

Warwick F:

And to me that is possible, if we did a little less screaming at each, a little less trying to convince the other person that we’re right or, “I don’t like your music,” or, “I don’t like what you wear,” or whatever it is, how about trying to get to know them? So I love that vision that you have and I just think it’s … I don’t know. Just in summary, we live in a world where it doesn’t feel like there’s a lot of hope. What message of hope would you give for what is a very broken divided world where there’s often not a whole lot of justice or equity? What’s a message of hope you would give folks?

Chris S:

I think mainly, we talk about life not being fair and we know that, but ultimately, I realized that it’s not about what happens to us. It’s all about response to it. I’m responding with the hate that had happened to me and my family by trying to spread love. If you experience something like that, we can’t control those things, but we can only control how we respond to them. And every single day, I’m trying to go out and respond by loving people like you, Warwick, like you, Gary, and all of our listeners today. And hopefully, you guys will respond to your adversity, overcoming it and bringing people together just as well.

Gary S:

Now, I’ve been in the communications business long enough to know when the last word on the subject has been spoken. I’ve also been a baseball fan long enough to know that that was a walk-off Grand Slam right there, what Chris just said. So, thank you, Chris, for being with us. Thank you, listener for spending time with us on this episode of Beyond the Crucible. Sometimes I do some takeaways from the episode and I’m going to do one here, but it’s going to be in the form of an assignment, if you will, some homework, if you will. And that is to live out what Chris has described, what he does in his speeches.

Gary S:

Now, that doesn’t mean run up to someone you’ve never met before on the street and hug them and tell them you love them because that may be misinterpreted. But in your workplace, in your church, in your social settings, in your sphere of influence, you see people, those people who know of you who you know of that maybe you haven’t spent a lot of time talking to, maybe you’ve just had small amounts of words. Find that person who you have enough of a connection to, but you haven’t really talked to. Go up to that person. And if it’s appropriate, give them a hug and tell them that you love them and see what happens. See if what happens is what Chris has described happens at his speeches all across the country.

Gary S:

That could be the start of not only a friendship for you, but a start of beginning to bring the healing and the hope that we’ve talked about on this episode of the show. So until the next time we are together listener, thank you for spending this time with us and remember the truth that we try to bring across on Beyond the Crucible every week and that is this, your crucible experiences are indeed painful. We know that. Chris’ experience was extraordinarily painful, but as he has beautifully recounted here, it wasn’t the end of his story. In many ways, it was the beginning of his story and certainly the beginning of a new chapter in his story and it can be the same way for you. Your crucible experience, if you learn the lessons that are there and you apply them to your life as you move forward, what comes next can be the best chapter of your story because where it leads you is where it has led Warwick, where it has led Chris and that is to a life of significance.

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