Minor League Baseball has placed diversity and inclusion at the forefront of its growth strategy. We strive to create an industry where all identities are represented, welcomed, valued and empowered to enhance our league's culture, creativity, innovation and comprehensive service to the communities we occupy. We strive to be the most fun and inclusive league in all of sports and entertainment.
While conversations regarding diversity and inclusion happen daily in the Minor League Baseball office and among our 160 clubs, we recognize the need to do more to elevate the voices and stories of those who currently work in our industry. There is something uniquely powerful about sitting face-to-face with someone and listening to his or her experience.
The goal of this series is to spotlight the people, programs and stories in the baseball industry that champion diversity and inclusion and advance the mission of Minor League Baseball's diversity initiative. This week, in coordination with our CommUNITY Month presented by Allegiant, we profile Charleston RiverDogs director of community outreach Chris Singleton.
In early March 2019, Chris Singleton, a prospect in the Chicago Cubs farm system, announced his retirement from baseball at the age of 23. Life up until that moment was dedicated to the pursuit of a career in baseball, and for Singleton, that was the only certainty he had. Baseball had always been his constant.
"Throughout life, baseball has always been my therapy, and it continues to be that for me. When the opportunity came about from the Charleston RiverDogs, I knew I had to embrace it. I genuinely love helping other people, and the opportunity was a perfect fit for me as a person. It combined two of my passions."
For Singleton, who grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, attended college and played baseball at Charleston Southern University, and met his wife and began his family there, the opportunity to return home and work for the RiverDogs was a natural fit for him and for the team.
"Chris was already a well-respected figure in the Charleston community and an accomplished public speaker who has helped us expand our outreach to the Lowcountry, and he continues his baseball career off the field," said team president Dave Echols.
Singleton speaking at an elementary school in Charleston.
The transition for Singleton was a smooth one, and the job was quickly gratifying as he embraced the responsibility to connect with his neighbors and share his love of the game with underserved neighborhoods in Charleston and the surrounding region.
"Baseball in the Lowcountry was really popular two generations or so before mine. I first started playing baseball in Atlanta where there were so many young black kids like myself playing the game. Coming to Charleston in the early 2000s was kind of a culture shock for me. I was the only black kid on the team there. Now that I have this role, I want to make sure we're connecting our game with a variety of demographics. I'm trying to create a wave of minority fans."
Connecting with underserved communities has been a point of pride for Singleton. Promoting the game he loves and that has brought so much into his life has been a natural fit. The event that has given him the most gratitude in the early stages of his budding career in Minor League Baseball is the team's Larry Doby Heritage Weekend, an annual event the RiverDogs have hosted for over 20 years. During the weekend's events, the team pays homage to the Negro Leagues and celebrates African Americans in the baseball community.
Singleton out in the Charleston community engaging with local youth.
"The Larry Doby Heritage Weekend has been the initiative I've been most proud to work on. Not only are we honoring the history and celebrating it on the field with specialty jerseys and game day activations, but I also got to go out into the community and give away over 1,000 tickets to underprivileged youth. For a few kids, it was their first opportunity to go to a baseball game."
Singleton, whose mother Shardona Coleman-Singleton was one of nine people killed during the mass shooting at Charleston's Emanuel AME church in 2015, strives to bring unity to a community that has struggled with racial and religious tension for decades. He strives for unity. He strives to bring people together, build bridges and heal tensions.
"I've always believed that love is stronger than hate, and I try to embody that through my work. My mission is to bring people together from all different races and religions, and I can do that through the sport of baseball with the RiverDogs."
Singleton strives to make a difference, and he's a proactive advocate for the healing power of forgiveness and unity.
Baseball is a small piece of Singleton's story, and it is one medium by which he helps bring his community together. His work serves as a reminder to never underestimate the power of community, nor the unifying power of sports.
Singleton sitting next to a painting of his late mother, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton.