Son of Emanuel 9 victim shares healing process

Chris Singleton is one of many people whose lives changed on June 17, 2015.
Published: Jun. 16, 2023 at 4:50 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 17, 2023 at 5:30 AM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Chris Singleton is one of many people whose lives changed on June 17, 2015. When gunshots rang out at the Mother Emanuel AME Church during bible study, Singleton lost his mother, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton.

“The last eight years, I’ve basically dedicated my life to keep my mom’s legacy alive and our church family as well,” Singleton says.

Since the shooting that claimed the lives of nine churchgoers, Singleton says the tragedy has propelled him to travel and speak publicly about unity and acceptance. He has now written multiple books, his most recent called Stories Behind Stances.

“I think using the pain that I’ve been through to fuel my purpose has helped me tremendously in my life. Whether it’s speaking to kids, whether it’s writing books, all that stuff’s helped me with purpose for life,” Singleton says.

For Singleton and his church family, continuing to heal and remember their lost loved ones is not assigned to one day of the year. He says they lean on each other every day as needed.

“Sometimes…you don’t get over certain things, right. So we’re still working through it, but we’re doing it all together, which is a blessing for sure,” Singleton says.

Alyssa Rheingold Ph.D., is the Director of Clinical Operations at the National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center in Charleston. She says their team immediately offered services and resources to the victims’ families and the entire community following the hate crime that rocked the city.

“Everybody’s unique and different and how they respond to trauma, how they respond to grief, and they need different things,” Rheingold explains.

She says the magnitude of this tragedy can be hard to process and make some affected feel isolated. Her advice to people who want to honor the victims on the yearly day of remembrance is to realize they can’t fix or reverse the loss but to simply see it.

“Acknowledging and remembering can just in itself be important, be healing, you know. Ensuring that we all lean in and take care of each other. I mean, not only was this a mass violence incident, but it was a hate-based mass violence incident and hate continues in our country,” Rheingold explains.

Rheingold reminds everyone in the Charleston and Emanuel community that help is out there and it’s never too late to ask for it.

“For many people, trauma and grief is a lifelong journey. And knowing that no matter how long it has been that there are resources still available, the resources at the National Crime Victims Center their resources at Charleston Dorchester mental health center, " Rheingold says.

Singleton admits his healing process is ongoing. A big part of his life is dedicated to sharing a message of resilience, forgiveness and unity. He travels the country and the world meeting people at book signings and talks. He has even written a children’s book and often speaks to young crowds.

“You never want to take away kids’ innocence, but for me, I always talk about the mission of unity and love and people regardless of if they look chocolate like me or if they’re vanilla, or you know, butter pecan like my mom’s favorite ice cream. So that’s the route that I go with the kids,” Singleton explains.

In his most recent book, he says he aims to share people’s stories in an effort to teach empathy for everyone; especially people who are different.

“So, if people want to know how they can support obviously, you know, helping me out with my message of spreading this unity across the nation and the world by purchasing the book or sharing my stuff on social media,” Singleton says. “But also just being a good person, and leading with love. Because I think that’s the message that we want to come out of everything that happened to our family.”