Chris Singleton stood in front of the building bearing his mother's name on Monday afternoon and asked everybody in attendance to “hug somebody that doesn't look like you.”
As he hugged a middle-aged white man, Singleton said, “I love you.”
“Those three simple words and that simple hug are so powerful,” Singleton said a moment later. “You might just have stopped somebody from doing something terrible to themselves – or even worse, to others.”
Love, from powerful forgiveness to team spirit, was the theme of the day, and the idea that Singleton hopes is carried forward with the Sharonda Coleman-Singleton Baseball Complex at Charleston Southern University.
The complex was dedicated Monday in memory of Coleman-Singleton, Chris' mother and one of nine victims in the Emanuel AME killings in Charleston in June 2015.
Chris Singleton, then a baseball player at Charleston Southern, inspired the world the day after his mother was killed with his message of “Love is always stronger than hate,” spoken on the baseball field at CSU.
Those words are engraved on the memorial outside the Coleman-Singleton complex, with nine palmetto trees representing the nine victims.
Inside the building is a locker room for the CSU baseball team, a players' lounge and team meeting and study spaces.
Chris Singleton said he had not toured the building until recently, when it was completed.
“I was kind of nervous about it the whole time,” he said. “They'd ask me if I wanted to put on a hard hat and walk in the building, but I wanted to wait until it was completely done.
“And now that it is, I'm overwhelmed by how awesome it looks. It exceeds all my expectations, it really does.”
Charleston Southern is still raising money to pay for the $1.9 million structure, which baseball coach Adam Ward said will serve a central function for CSU teams for years to come.
“It's a complex our players can call home,” Ward said. “And with the memorial garden, it tells a story of a community's response to a hateful tragedy.
“The clubhouse environment is a special part of our game,” he said. “It's always centered around that clubhouse, and the relationships you make. Those bonds are often forged in that clubhouse, and that's why I'm so excited to have our players call this Singleton complex a home.
“Since we moved in last Friday, our players are here all hours of the day – studying, taking naps between classes, playing video games upstairs. It's really been fun to see.”
It also will serve as a constant reminder of what was lost that June evening. Jennifer Pinckney, widow of Emanuel AME pastor Clementa Pinckney, another of the victims, was on hand with her two young daughters, as were relatives of others who died at Emanuel AME.
“I think legacy is so huge,” Chris Singleton said. “We all have occupations, but what will people say about us after we're dead and gone? I'm so glad my mom is leaving a legacy behind.”
Chris was accompanied Monday by his younger brother and sister and his fiance. His young son was home with his grandmother.
Chris, drafted last year by the Chicago Cubs, will leave his family soon to report for spring training in Mesa, Ariz., and then perhaps to the Cubs' minor-league team in South Bend, Indiana.
“It's my first full season and my first spring training,” he said. “So I'm excited to go out there and have some fun.”
Last summer, Chris played rookie ball with the Cubs' minor-league teams in Arizona and in Eugene, Ore. It was another chance to spread his message.
“Honestly, it seems like every game, someone came up to me and said, 'I love what you are doing,' ” he said. “I always sign my signature with 'Love is stronger than hate,' and the kids love that, and that's amazing for me. And doing my speaking engagements, I feel like my message is spreading across the country and across the world. I'm really humbled and grateful for that.”
At the close of his speech Monday, Chris Singleton recounted the words he prays every day.
“Lord, will you give me the strength and wisdom so I won't let my mom down today,” he said he prays. “And with this building dedicated today to my mom and my family, I know I'm not letting her down today.”