Newark honors native killed in Charleston, S.C. massacre| Carter

Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, a Newark native, has been honored in many ways following her tragic death two years ago in Charleston, S.C.

Artists have captured her image in paintings.  South Carolina State University, where she ran track, inducted her into the 2016-17 Hall of Fame Class.

She is also pictured in a calendar that features her and the eight other people who were shot and killed in June 2015 during Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Dylann Roof, a white supremacist, has been sentenced to die after admitting to carrying out the massacre that stunned the nation.

Back home in Newark, the city did not forget Coleman-Singleton. During a memorial service a month after her death at age 45, Newark City Council President Mildred Crump, speaking at the Congregational Baptist Church that Coleman-Singleton attended as a child, said the city would honor the AME assistant pastor with a street dedication ceremony.

On June 3, Newark is keeping its promise. Pine Grove Terrace, the block in which she played, will bear her name where it intersects with Grove Terrace. From that day on,  "Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton Way" will be part of the West Ward landscape.

Among all the tributes in her memory, "this is number one,'' said Chris Singleton, her 20-year-old son, who is a junior at Charleston Southern University and an outfielder on the school's baseball team.

"It's a tremendous honor for her," added Singleton, who plans to attend the street-naming ceremony. "I'm going to be overwhelmed with a lot of emotion.''     

The main one being love. His mother embodied the word.

Love is stronger than the hate that engulfed Roof, who tried to start a race war. Love is what Coleman-Singleton instilled in Chris, Caleb and Camryn, his younger brother and sister. Chris continues to live this way, telling a crowd the day after the shooting:  "Love is always stronger than hate.  If we just love the way my mom would, then the hate won't be nearly as strong as the love is

Family and friends will gather at noon to celebrate Coleman-Singleton, a woman of strong faith, a mentor who encouraged young people and everyone she touched. In their reflections, they will say she was a genuine, unbelievably kind and loving soul. You can bet those who know her will call her "Tookie," an endearing nickname everyone still uses now.

"No one was a stranger to her,'' said Ruther Kinder, her cousin and Newark resident.

Pastor Stephen Singleton of Grace Heritage Ministries in Columbia, S.C., said Coleman-Singleton was the friend he could turn to for advice.

"We would bounce things off each other,'' he said. "There are special people in this world, and she was one of them.''

Mark Jones, her brother who lives in Newark, said his sister's name on a street sign is appropriate because she was a giving person who always was generous with her time. Out the blue, Jones said, she'd call him just to say she loved him. In that moment, he added, she'd could get him to tell her if something was wrong.

"I'd try to keep that macho image, but she'd see right through it,'' Jones said.

One of five siblings, Coleman-Singleton ran track for Vailsburg High School, earning a scholarship to South Carolina State University, where she was championship hurdler and joined the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. After she graduated from the historically black college in Orangeburg, S.C., Coleman returned to New Jersey and earned a master's degree in speech pathology from Montclair State University.

She began her career in Georgia, before settling in the North Charleston-Summerville, S.C., metropolitan area. At Goose Creek (S.C.) High School, she was the girl's track and field coach and a speech pathologist. She also had been working toward her doctoral dissertation.

No one was surprised when this spiritually grounded person became a reverend.

Her aunt, Brenda Hargrove of Newark, said Coleman-Singleton began attending Congregational Baptist Church in Newark, when she was 9 years old. As a teenager, she volunteered with the church's nurse's unit, which aided congregants needing medical assistance.

"She was always into the Lord,'' Hargrove said. 

Pastor Singleton said he could see her potential when she was a minister in training at Emanuel AME Church. She was sharp, gifted and inquisitive.

"She was on her way to being exceptional,'' said Singleton, who preached at her funeral attended by 2,000 people. "She had finally found that confidence.''

Family members still coping with her death don't understand how Roof could be so heartless.

"It's still just a hurtful thing when I see a picture of her,'' Hargrove said.

She retains the African-American history calendar in which Coleman-Singleton is featured with the "Emanuel 9." She keeps the page turned to January, the month bearing Coleman-Singleton's picture.

The death sentence, she said, is too good for Roof.

"He should have been given life in jail so that he can suffer the consequences of what he did.''

Kinder, who is Hargrove's cousin, said there needs to be closure to the horror.

"If they're going to do it (execution), go on and do it and get it behind us,'' Kinder said.

Chris Singleton, however, doesn't think much about Roof's fate.

"I wasn't too caught up in it,'' he said. "In the long run, things usually do work out the way they're supposed to.''

He takes one day at a time, he said, remembering that love is stronger than hate.

Always has been. Always will be.

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