Change starts at home.
Credit: Courtesy of Chris Singleton

Just one day after his mother was killed in her Charleston, South Carolina, church by a white supremacist, 18-year-old Chris Singleton stood at a microphone during a prayer vigil and shared a grace-filled message with the world. “Love is always stronger than hate,” he said that night. “If we just love the way my mom would, then the hate won’t be anywhere close to what the love is.”

Five years later, Singleton is still making that message his mission.

The former Chicago Cubs player has written a children’s book that teaches kids not only to accept, but to celebrate, people who are different from them. Different: A Story About Loving Your Neighbor tells the story of Obinna, a boy who moves from Nigeria to Charleston, and finds that he doesn’t look, sound, or dress like his classmates. Singleton’s mother, Sharonda, makes an appearance in the book as Obinna’s teacher, who reminds him that he is “beautifully and wonderfully made.” It’s a thoughtful tribute to the woman who first taught Singleton about love’s healing power.

Different is set to be released on June 17—the fifth anniversary of the shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church that took his mother’s life, along with the lives of eight others.

“Usually, that day is filled with a lot of tears for me and a lot of emotion for my family,” says Singleton. “And timing it up like this, I figured, yeah, I can shine some light on that day, and bring some smiles to my face and to my family’s faces as well.”

Singleton family
Chris, second from left, with his brother Caleb, his mother Sharonda, and his sister Camryn
| Credit: Courtesy of Chris Singleton

His mother may not be here for the book’s release—to see him memorialize her teachings of love and acceptance in print—but Singleton knows just what she’d be doing if she were.

“She’d be jumping up and down,” he says. “She’d be that obnoxious mom posting on Facebook twenty times a day.”

June 17 will also be the first time that Singleton reads the book to his son C.J., who is two.

“My son is Brazilian-African American,” he says. “I don’t even know how to say that! My wife is from Brazil, so she’s teaching him Portuguese. My hope is that when he gets older, kids will realize that he speaks two languages and that his mom is from a different country. But they won’t look at him and say, ‘Because of that, he’s less of a person.’ Or ‘because of that, I can’t be friends with him.’ Instead, they’ll ask him, ‘Hey! How do you say this word in Portuguese? That’s pretty cool.’ That’s my hope for my son.”

Chris Singleton with his son, C.J.
Chris Singleton with his son C.J.
| Credit: Courtesy of Chris Singleton

While the timing for his book’s debut was intentional, Singleton could not have predicted that it would be released as people across the country protest for equality and justice in the wake of the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

That timing, too, feels significant, he says.

“It means a lot to me, mainly because so many people are looking for something like this to teach that message of love to their kids or nieces or grandkids,” he says. “With everything going on right now, there’s nothing better we can do than to teach our young people to make this world a better place.”

There are discussion questions in the back of the book to guide those conversations, Singleton notes. “What would the world look like if we were all the same?” It’d be boring, for starters, he says.

“I remember my mom, being a speech language pathologist, we would go to houses of people of all different races and religions,” he says. “That kind of instilled in me to love people no matter what they look like. And now, five years after my mom was murdered, I’m just trying to reiterate that message to people.”

WATCH: Hoda Kotb's I Really Needed This Today Is the Chicken Soup for Our Southern Souls We All Need