Sharonda Ann Coleman-Singleton was a mom so proud that she called a friend during a football game to proclaim, “My baby got a sack!” She was a coach so dedicated she spent hours with her students while her own children played their games. And she was a minister so devout that “she prayed until tears rolled down her cheeks.”
Coleman-Singleton, 45, was remembered Thursday before a full house at Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in North Charleston, little more than a week after she and eight others were shot during Bible study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.
Gov. Nikki Haley, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley and North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey were among about 2,000 mourners who attended the funeral. Civil rights leaders Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton spoke.
Coleman-Singleton, a native of Newark, N.J., was a minister at Emanuel AME, as well as a speech pathologist and girls’ track and field coach at Goose Creek High School, and the mother of three children. Her oldest son, Chris, plays baseball at Charleston Southern University.
Coleman-Singleton was “Tookie” to her sorority sisters and track teammates at South Carolina State University, where she was a championship-winning hurdler. She was the Rev. Singleton to the members of Emanuel AME, where she worked with youth and young adult ministries. And she was Coach Singleton at Goose Creek, where she’d worked since 2007.
“That’s what I always called her,” said Joe Hauff, the boys’ track coach at Goose Creek. “I’ll always remember how she touched the lives of her students, her kids as she always called them.”
Riley described Coleman-Singleton as a coach who “taught life lessons.”
“The thought that this woman won’t be a lifelong mentor to her students and children is heart-rending,” Riley said.
As a minister and Christian, Coleman-Singleton was always questioning, said the Rev. Steve Singleton, a family friend.
“Was Jesus left-handed? Was he really six feet tall?” She wanted to know,” the Rev. Singleton said.
Haley addressed Coleman-Singleton’s children — sons Chris and Caleb and daughter Camryn — by saying, “Your mother taught our country and our state what real love looks like.”
Haley also told the children, “You are not in this by yourself. The people of South Carolina, we’ve got you.”
Riley said Coleman-Singleton was one of those “special citizens that shape so positively the personality and character of their community.
“In each of her roles, everyone that she touched was changed, their personality changed,” Riley said. “That is passed on, and that’s how a community is changed.”
Jackson and Sharpton both drew a line between Coleman-Singleton and martyrs of the civil rights cause in America.
“She joins a crowd of great witnesses who by their innocent blood made this country better,” Jackson said.
Sharpton recalled the bombing of a Birmingham church in 1963.
“Four little girls from Birmingham need a coach,” Sharpton said. “Sharonda is on her way.”
Sharpton and Jackson both noted the role the deaths of the nine at Emanuel AME at the hands of an avowed racist might play, in Charleston and in America.
Said Jackson: “This can be a transforming moment; we must use this moment to reach higher ground and never go back.”
Sharpton said, “We saw the terror of those nine, but then we saw their families look hate in the face and say that hate won’t win.”
And Riley recalled the way Coleman-Singleton lived her final day on this Earth:
“On her last day,” Riley said, “she left home, went to church to pray and to study the Bible — and then she went to heaven.”